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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Initial top 25 teams for the 2021-22 MHSAA girls hoops season

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, December 8, 2021, 4:02 pm

Well, it’s about time we got these out. Sheesh.

Yes, we acknowledge that since the season has already begun, we can’t very well call these the “preseason” top 15 teams — we’ll go with ‘initial’ instead — and also that, because games have begun, we’ve had to factor in early-season results. (And, yes, that has resulted in a few revisions over the past day or so.) But we also acknowledge that these are based on what we know about what teams did in last year’s weird, COVID-shortened season, and who returns for those teams. Will they change as we find out new information? Absolutely. Bank on it. As teams prove who’s the best, we’ll move them up and down in (or out of) the rankings. The list of 10 more teams at the end of the top 25 is not intended to be comprehensive, either — they’re teams that will either be contenders in their division, or have an interesting storyline. We’ll dust off a true ‘honorable mention’ section, once we’re a bit into the season, and things start to shake out by divisions. 

But, without further ado … here are the ‘initial’ STATE CHAMPS! Top 25 girls basketball teams for the 2021-22 season: 

1 Detroit Edison (11-0, COVID withdrawal in D2 districts) — From the minute the news broke during districts that Edison’s run of titles would be over because of a COVID issue within the program, we knew that it would be odd for the Pioneers to be on the outside looking in. But for the first time since their run of three straight started in 2016-17 — due, certainly to circumstances not entirely within their control — Edison enters a season without the mantle of ‘defending champion.’ Does this mean there are questions about Edison’s ability to raise a trophy in Breslin in March? Aw, heck no. Shoot, if there’s a ‘safest bet’ to win a title this year, like most, it’s probably Edison, simply because that winning identity has been baked into their DNA since before the current crop of seniors even put on the jersey. The Pioneers certainly have the talent to extend their 59-game winning streak, with seniors Ruby Whitehorn (Clemson)  — a top-15 player in the class of 2022 — and Madisen Wardell (DePaul) — a top 100 player — and junior Dakota Austin, along with a big sophomore class that includes Anaya Billups, Na’Kiya Bonner, Myana Cooksey, Bailey Pickens and Devin Hagemann.

2 West Bloomfield (10-3, COVID withdrawal in D1 districts) — Discounting Detroit Edison, of course, there’s probably no other team as motivated to make up for last year’s abrupt end than the Lakers, who bowed out of the tournament with a COVID exposure issue, without fulfilling the promise they’d shown throughout the regular season. West Bloomfield lost key contributors in Logan Lewis, Jade Goodloe, Ashley Jenkins and Lola Chambers, but still return a A TON of talent in senior guard Myonna Hooper, junior forward Sydney Hendrix and uber-talented sophomore twins, Summer and Indya Davis. The Lakers will have to adjust to a new boss on the bench in Darrin McAllister, but there’s no question they’re loaded. 

3 Midland Dow (22-1, lost in D1 semifinals) — The Chargers return four of five starters from last year’s semifinal squad — and five of their top seven contributors — including all-staters Alexa Kolnitys (Davenport) and Abbey Rey (Lawrence Tech) and senior glue player Kourtney Fischer. Sophomore Klaire Caldwell will have a bigger shooting role this season, while senior Kennedy Caldwell will use her soccer athleticism to help plug the gap left by the graduation of two-time Saginaw Valley League MVP Jada Garner (Hope College). The Chargers have won three straight district titles and four of the last five, but last year’s trip to the finals was just the second time the program’s made it out of regionals (they were still alive in 2019-20’s COVID-halted tournament). Since going 17-6 in 2017-18, the Chargers have compiled a 66-6 record over the last three seasons, and already have big, early-season wins over Howell and Hudsonville.

4 Hudsonville (23-1, won D1 title) — “They’ve got everybody back.” That was the near consensus from opposing coaches whose brains we picked for the rankings, as the Eagles return four of five starters from the squad that captured the program’s first state title a year ago, setting them up to be a top contender for this year’s crown. Seniors Jaci Tubergen (Bowling Green), Alaina Diaz and Eva Joldersma all return to the starting lineup, along with 6-foot junior Maddie Petroelje. All but Joldersma averaged in double digits a year ago, as Hudsonville spread the scoring around, and any one of the four can be the option that gets hot and wears you down on a given night. Petroelje had 15 on 50 percent shooting in the semifinal win over Dow, while Tubergen went off for 28 in the title game, going 11-for-19 from the floor and 5-for-8 from 3-point range. 

It wasn’t just the height for Hudsonville — which had five players listed at 6-foot for the finals last year — it was the length on defense that gave opponents fits. The Eagles held Renaissance to 27 percent shooting in the final three quarters of the title game, and Dow to 26 percent for the game in the semifinals. The Eagles won their seventh straight district title a season ago, but it was just the second time they’d gotten through regionals, after making it to the semifinals in 2015. 

5 Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (14-3, lost in D3 regional semifinals) — Perennial contenders, the Gators will be back at it again this season, with a roster that goes nine deep, featuring seniors Mya Petticord (Texas A&M), Karianna Woods and Jazmin Chupp at the guards, as well as the sophomore Utomi twins — Stephanie and Stacy — up front. Sophomore sixth-player Taylor Wallace could start for most teams, while freshmen Eliza Bush, Tyra Wright and Elaysia Franklin will give depth to a squad that’s used to playing deep into the postseason. Arbor Prep has won eight straight district titles, making final four appearances in six straight seasons from 2013-14 to 2018-19 before the run ended with a loss in regionals to eventual champ Grass Lake last season.

6 Hartland (20-1, lost in D1 quarterfinals) — The Eagles made their fourth trip to the quarterfinals since 2014-15, but that’s been their high-water mark so far, falling just shy of a trip to the Breslin Center with a 10-point loss to Midland Dow. Hartland graduated another highly successful senior class, but this year’s seniors — Amanda Roach (North Dakota), Leah Lappin, Lauren Sollom (Saginaw Valley) and Gracey Metz (Lake Superior State) — have all been on varsity since they came up as a freshman group, and have been playing together since they were all knee-high. Center Kate Jacobs (Lawrence Tech), a 6-foot-3 senior, joins the starting lineup, while junior Liv Linden and sophomore Sarah Rebowski will provide punch off the bench. 

7 Grand Rapids West Catholic (16-1, lost in D2 regional finals) — A program that hadn’t won a district in 25 years before doing it in 2019-20 and again last year, the Falcons have changed the culture, and become one of the true contenders, going 40-2 over the last two seasons. The two-time O-K Blue defending champions certainly have the horses to do it again this season, and perhaps claim a first regional title since 1995-96 — or more? Senior guard Abbey Kimball (Michigan State) and junior point guard Cadence Dykstra (Toledo) are the headliners, but the Pioneers have other shooters, too — including freshman Elisha Dykstra who scored 21 in her high school debut.

8 Birmingham Marian (13-6, lost in D1 regional semifinals) — Nobody’s got the size to match Marian’s 6-foot-3 Twin Towers, senior Sarah Sylvester — the Miss Volleyball finalist — and sophomore Mckenzie Swanson, and they’re complemented by a solid backcourt in seniors Grace Rotter and Anna Herberholz, both returning starters. The Mustangs will need to replace the offense from the graduated Shannon Kennedy, and depth could be a factor, but you never want to discount a team led by Mary Cicerone, who sits just single digits away from her 700th win. Senior Isabella Prezzato is the new fifth starter, while classmates Maria Hesano and Abby Lucchesi come off the bench, along with added size in 5-11 sophomores Elle Ervin and Abby Landa. There’s only one glitch in writing a deep run for the Mustangs in with a Sharpie — West Bloomfield’s in the same district, and only one can advance.  

9 Grass Lake (19-1, won D3 title) — The Warriors graduated three senior starters from the team that finally broke through their postseason road blocks and captured a ring — but there was still plenty left in the tank to think that they might be able to pull a repeat. The status of that will hinge on what comes from the knee injury suffered by Lexus Bargesser (Indiana) — a top-70 player in the nation in the class of 2022 — in the opener. If she’s healthy, she pairs with sharpshooter Gabrielle Lutchka (Northwood) to give the Warriors a chance to be among the elite teams. If not, they may struggle to live up to this ranking.

10 Portland (20-2, won D2 title) — The Portland Raiders weren’t on enough peoples’ radars last season — especially since they were in a division dominated in recent years by Detroit Edison — but they seemed to relish that underdog role … all the way to the trophy celebration. Portland returns four starters and five of their top six players to make another run at it, led by all-staters Ashley Bower (Wayne State) and Ava Guilford, and fellow seniors Alivia Densmore and Breckyn Werner (Alma College). Shalyn Dziewiatkowski is the lone new starter, giving the Raider two 6-footers, while junior Doltza Oiartzabal and sophomores Malia Thelen and Alexa Weber will come off the bench. The only two losses for last year’s Raiders were to capitol-area powers East Lansing and Williamston, but they won their final 14 straight to claim their first title in their first championship game appearance. 

11 Rockford (13-7, lost in D1 district final) — The Rams are a veteran squad, with four seniors in their top six rotation, including guards Elle Irwin (Ferris State) and Sami DeKuiper, and top-notch defensive forwards Alina Anderson and Megan McCauley. Junior Alyssa Wypych (Michigan Tech) and sophomore Grace Lyons can both shoot the lights out. The Rams — who haven’t won a regional title since their lone one in 2009-10 — were third in the O-K Red a season ago, and already have a key win over a Byron Center team that handed them a narrow loss a season ago. 

12 Byron Center (13-3, lost in D1 district final) — The Bulldogs return all five starters from last year’s squad that won the O-K White Conference title a season ago, before falling — as often has been the case — to East Kentwood in districts. Byron Center has gone 32-5 over the last two seasons, but — for all that it’s been *right there* — hasn’t gotten over the postseason hump against the Grand Rapids-area powerhouses. The last district the Bulldogs won was in 2015, while the last trip out of regionals was 2003 (when they lost in the semis to East Grand Rapids). Do they have the talent to change this? Yes. Senior Avery Zeinstra (Grand Valley) has been a four-year contributor, while sophomore Lily Zeinstra — who just picked up a Michigan offer — was all-conference as a freshman. Junior Mckenna Ferguson and senior Marie Baar round out the starting five, along with senior Cierra Laska (CMU softball), while junior Makenna Crandell is the first sub off the bench.

13 Wayne Memorial (18-3, lost in D1 semifinals) — The Zebras lost another Miss Basketball finalist after another run to the final four — their third since 2017-18 — but they’ll do what they do and reload with more talent, returning all but two from last year’s squad. Senior Davai Matthews (Long Beach State) will be the focal point up front, while juniors Paris Bass and Mayla Ham are both D-I caliber players on the wing. Sophomore Alexis Halley got her feet wet on varsity as a freshman last year, while Colleena Bryant, Tierra Golden and Mia Bazzi are all considered top players in the 2025 class.

14 Frankenmuth (18-2, lost in D2 regional semifinals) — The Eagles return plenty from a top-25 team that much was expected of in 2020-21. The question for Frankenmuth — like Grass Lake — will be the health of its star player, after junior Lexi Boyke (Central Michigan) tweaked a knee in the first week. If they stay healthy, the Eagles have plenty of power to play with anyone. Seniors Zoey Persails (Davenport) and Emma Kerkau (U-M rowing) can shoot, while sophomore Mia McLaughlin is a year more comfortable in the point guard role. Senior Faith Breinager (Siena Heights softball) rounds out the starting lineup, while classmates Grace Keinath and Nicole Rodammer come off the bench, along with juniors Amy Kern and Tiffany Keller and freshman Clare Conzelmann. The Eagles’ only two losses came to D2 champion Portland and D1 semifinalist Midland Dow. 

15 Saline (18-2, lost in D1 regional finals) — The Hornets graduated a boatload of talent, but still return enough to be dangerous, and — based on the returns from the summer and early season — still are. They’ve been a top squad in the ultra-competitive SEC Red for a handful of years, posting back-to-back trips to the regional finals, losing last year to semifinalist Wayne Memorial. Senior Sophie Canen (Hope College) and sophomore Kate Stemmer are back as starters, while juniors Taylor Kangas and Beth Ann Ford join the starting lineup, along with freshman Kadyn Maida. 

16 Birmingham Detroit Country Day (15-3, lost in D2 semifinals) — The Yellowjackets return four of five starters from last year’s semifinalist, the majority of the group that brought the perennial powerhouse back from its recent slumber. Sophomores Emma Arico, Aysia Yokely, Jaidyn Elam and Peja Liles all got experience on the big stage as freshmen, with the first three averaging in double digits, and Arico and Elam earning all-state honors. Ari’Yana Wiggins will be this year’s freshman, rounding out the starting five for second-year coach Jerica Williams.

17 Macomb L’Anse Creuse North (19-1, lost in D1 quarterfinals) — The Crusaders have gone 50-13 over the last three seasons, culminating in a run to the quarterfinals last year, where their perfect season ended in a 10-point loss to eventual runner-up Detroit Renaissance. L’Anse Creuse brings back everyone but one player — and a coach, with Claire Kapral taking over on the bench — from last year’s squad. Seniors Brooke Daniels (Oakland), Jekiah Mack and Olivia Chadwick for the core of the starting lineup, along with returning junior Makayla Downs. Sophomore Bella Stout is the lone new starter, while classmates Reese Sparks and Payton Sam will come off the bench with junior Tyler Osazuwa. 

18 Parma Western (18-5, lost in D2 semifinals) — Bumped up to Division 1 this year, the Panthers have all five starters back from last year’s D2 semifinalist, all of them seniors. Alyna Lewis runs the point, while Reece Hitt can shoot from the outside, and 5-foot-11 Hillary Griffin (Wayne State) is a wing with incredible court vision. Lilli Luma and Riley Kubiak round out the starting five, while junior Maddy Wolf and sophomore Palmer Fortress are the first two off the bench for Western. The Panthers don’t have a ton of postseason experience, though: Last year’s regional win was the program’s first. 

19 Redford Westfield Prep (9-5, lost in D3 regional semifinals) — The team we sent you a BOLO warning (be on the lookout) for last year might have just arrived. The Warriors brought in a championship pedigree, bringing Dave Mann (three titles in the 1990s at Redford Bishop Borgess) and Erik Lindsey over from Harper Woods Chandler Park Academy to coach with Doc Cornell, after the program won its first district in just its second year of existence. But they also have a talented roster (back intact from last year) to employ. Senior Asia Cochran (15 ppg.) and junior Shamya Reid (17 ppg.) should both go over 1,000 career points this season, while juniors Olivia McDavid and Danielle Billinger, along with sophomore Layla Marshall round out the starting five. Senior Naiya Darden is the first sub off the bench. The Warriors  — bumped up to Division 2 this season after losing to Bishop Foley in last year’s D3 regionals — already have wins over a strong D1 squad in Stoney Creek, and D3 regional finalist Hart. 

20 East Grand Rapids (14-3, lost in D1 regional finals) — The Pioneers lost Miss Basketball finalist Jillian Brown to graduation and sharpshooter Alli Carlson to an ACL injury, but they do have a great deal of talent back with four players who are Division I athletes in one sport or another, including 6-foot junior Macy Brown, the youngest of the three sisters. She’ll be joined in the starting lineup by seniors Allie Tol, Lizzie Lundeen and Kate Sheridan, along with junior Jasmine Honicutt. Seniors Claire Ward and Eliana Lamange lead the reserves, along with junior Claire Weaver and sophomore VV Lamange.

21 Farmington Hills Mercy (15-4, lost in D1 regional finals) — The Marlins graduated all but one starter from last year’s repeat Catholic League champions, and the early portion of the season will be fitting players into new roles around 6-foot-1 junior center Maya White. Senior Sarah Cunningham gives the Marlins another 6-footer in the starting lineup, while classmate Sophie Dugas is a solid defender. Junior Lauren Smiley and freshman Aizlyn Albanese round out the starting five, while junior Fran DeNardo, sophomore Ava Lorraine and freshman Emily Walker will contribute off the bench.

22 Belleville (11-3, lost in D1 district finals) — The Tigers went from 4-17 to 11-3 in the first season under Jason Wilkins, finishing second in the KLAA East behind D1 semifinalist Wayne Memorial, setting up a second striped contender in a division that’s long been the Zebras’ sole domain. Belleville lost three seniors from last year’s squad, but return two-year starters in senior Shani Lewis and junior Rachel Riley, pairing them with sophomore Daria Shelby and newcomers Rylan (freshman) and Jaya Buschell (junior transfer from Ypsilanti Lincoln). Junior Aniyah Stone-Palmer is a ready-made sixth player, and seniors Tre Gary and Angelina Diaz provide depth, while 6-foot-2 sophomore Mia Wright brings height off the bench. 

23 Detroit Renaissance (13-5, lost in D1 finals) — The Phoenix graduated all but four members of last year’s runner-up squad, and return just one player — sophomore guard Christian Sanders — who played meaningful minutes in the run to the finals. With no seniors in the rotation, and a steep learning curve to start, as coach Shane Lawal said, the Phoenix will be a team that’s to be reckoned with in March, rather than December. Junior Kiyla Brooks, sophomores Makayla Johnson and Nyana Pharr and freshman 6-footer Imani Johnson will round out the starting lineup.

24 East Kentwood (12-4, lost in D1 district finals) — The Falcons graduated four McDonald’s All-American nominees, but the cupboard is not bare behind them for coach Eric Large. Four-year varsity player Deyonce Thompson and classmate Jada Washington will be the veterans iin the starting lineup along with juniors Tianna Daye and Jaevyn Montgomery, and sophomore Kanyla Tyler. Seniors Mya Procter and Makenzie Mondy come off the bench with junior Kyreah Banks and sophomore Hormone Belton.

25 Grand Blanc (12-4, lost in D1 regional semifinals) — Last year’s Bobcats finished second in the Saginaw Valley League and won a district title, but this year’s squad, while talented, is still young, and will need leadership to balance things out. Senior Taylor Thompson (Wayne State) can score inside and out, while Saginaw Heritage junior transfer Jada McCree can both facilitate and find her own shot. Sophomore Chelsea Bishop and freshman Malaya Brown will both play big roles.

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Just missed the cut

Ten more teams you should pay attention to (in alphabetical order): 

Brighton (15-4, lost in D1 regional semifinals) — The Bulldogs haven’t won a regional title since 2006-07, and haven’t made it through quarterfinals since 1978-79, when they were one of the teams steamrolled by Flint Northern en route to the first of its four straight titles, but they’ve been a consistently strong programs in Class A/Division 1. In recent years, the problem of advancing has been more localized, as the Bulldogs have had to battle Livingston County rivals Hartland and Howell for KLAA West supremacy, not to mention postseason dreams. Junior point guard Mary Copple and senior forward Sarah Ebel lead a Brighton program that’s gone 57-10 over the last three seasons — but has taken seven of those 10 losses against Hartland (five) or Howell (two). 

Fowler (19-3, won D4 state title) — The Eagles graduated five seniors — including two starters — but return plenty to the squad that won its seven postseason games by an average of nearly 29 points per contest en route to the program’s second title. Chief among those returnees are the Riley sisters, senior Mia (Ferris St.) and junior Emma, who combined for 75 points in the final two contests. Fowler already has a home win over fellow D4 contender Saginaw Nouvel by 16.

Hemlock (14-8, forfeit loss in D3 semifinals) — The Huskies return four of five starters from a team that was set to get on the bus for Breslin when a positive COVID test knocked them out. They’ve won five straight district titles, and regional crowns in 2018 and 2021, and last year’s team was composed mostly of sophomores, giving the Huskies a veteran, experienced crew, albeit still young-ish. Juniors Regan Finkbeiner, Chloe Watson and Breanna Turner are joined by senior post Samantha Venegas and freshman point guard Klaira Salo in the starting lineup, while three more sophomores and a junior are the first off the bench. 

Howell (12-4, lost in D1 district finals) — The Highlanders have been one of the most consistently successful programs to not get anywhere over the last handful of years, stuck in a KLAA West Division with a pair of powerhouses in Livingston County neighbors Hartland and Brighton. Howell lost to nobody else last year (Hartland three times, Brighton once), and return four of five starters from that squad, including senior all-stater Maeve St. John (Northwood) and classmate Amelia Storm, along with juniors Sophie Daugard and Molly Deurloo. Junior Caitlyn Rayl is the lone new starter, while junior Jillian Smith, sophomore Stella Shinn and freshman Allison Farr will contribute off the bench.

Macomb Dakota (4-12, lost in D1 district opener) — If there’s a team that could get better in a hurry, it’s the Cougars, who return two starters from the end of the regular season, and two more from injury. Ella Burger (Spring Arbor) missed most of her junior season with an ankle injury, while Tamia Tounsel tore her ACL in the first game. Put those two back in with sophomore guard Samone Andrews and 6-foot-1 senior center Hannah Toutant (LSSU), and add senior Marissa Tocco as the fifth starter, and Dakota could easily flip its record from a year ago. Sophomores Tambre Williams and Gracie Maloney give Dakota two more 6-footers off the bench, while seniors Carly Moran, Angela Petrovitch and May Franzoni provide depth. 

Maple City Glen Lake (20-1, lost in D3 quarterfinals) — The Lakers return four of five starters from the team that went unbeaten until a four-point loss to Calumet in the quarters a year ago, led by 1,000-point scorer Grace Bradford, and fellow senior Jessica Robbins. Juniors Maddie Bradford and Ruby Hogan return to the starting lineup, while classmate Gemma Lerchen is the new fifth starter, and senior Skyler Bufalini and junior Olivia Mikowski are the first two off the bench. The Lakers have only had one season in the last seven in which they didn’t reach the 20-win plateau (2018-19, with 18 wins), going 145-18 in that span. They’ve won four straight district titles since that 2019 first-round exit, but last year’s was the deepest run since losing in the semis in back-to-back years in 2017 and 2018.

Newaygo (21-2, lost in D2 state finals) — The Lions made it to the finals for the first time since a mid-80s run of three straight regional titles, and back-to-back Class C state championships in 1984-85 and 1985-86. They graduated three seniors (two starters) — including half of the Long sisters combination — from last year’s squad, but return more than 30 points per game from this year’s seniors, Kayla Fisk, Jaxi Long, Emmerson Goodin and Lily Swinehart. Newaygo’s only two losses last season came against Portland.

Plymouth Christian Academy (10-4, lost in D4 district finals) — The Eagles have not won a regional title since the 2012-13 season brought their only one, but they’ve certainly scheduled like they want to get themselves ready to win another. With senior Anna Fernandez, the reigning co-MVP of the MIAC Blue and first-team all-stater, leading the way — scoring more than 30 points five times last season — the Eagles have already posted some impressive wins this season, beating D3 quarterfinalist Schoolcraft and D2 semifinalist Birmingham Detroit Country Day. Top shooter Morganne Houke was an honorable mention all-stater last year, and returns to the starting lineup along with fellow junior Lyndsay Weber. They’re joined by two juniors new to the program, Hailey Maulbetsch and Maddison Yeager, while juniors Grace Fernandes and Kate Eldridge come off the bench.

Schoolcraft (14-3, lost in D3 quarterfinals) — The Eagles return three starters from a team that won its second straight district title, and advanced to the quarters before losing to runner-up Kent City. There’s plenty of experience for first-year coach Jason Jarrett, including all-SWAC players in seniors Allie Walther and Mackenzie Miller. Junior Caley Kerwin is the other returning starter, while seniors Hannah Thompson and Maddy Ingle join the starting lineup, and junior Allison Bailey and Liv Ellison come off the bench. 

South Lyon East (12-7, lost in D1 district finals) — The Cougars were a team to watch last year, with a talented crew supplemented by transfer Taylor Anderson (Central Michigan), and responded by winning the program’s first outright league title in the Lakes Valley Conference, before falling to Brighton by five in the district finals. Anderson is one of four starters returning for East, along with seniors Ella Kruschka and 6-footer Madison Black (Alma College), and sophomore Anna Lassan, who is already has Division II offers. Junior Alyssa Melquist moves into the starting lineup, while Isabella Ramsaroep and Jada Joseph are the first two off the bench.