Top 25 Preseason Girls Basketball teams – Marian picked as top team
Birmingham – The horses are about to be let loose. And these are some thoroughbreds.
Virtually the entire rotation returns intact for defending Class A state champion Birmingham Marian – seven of the Mustangs’ top eight players are back and they are State Champs Network’s No. 1 team for the 2014-2015 season.
Coach Mary Cicerone enters her 34th season and has posted five state titles but has never repeated.
“This is a very committed group of young ladies, they won it all last year and they want another one (state championship),” Cicerone said. “They work hard, they’re very self-motivated and they all really get along with each other and love the sport, so it should be a fun year no matter how it turns out.”
Finishing with a 25-2 record last season, the Mustangs will begin the upcoming campaign ranked the No. 25 team in America according to MaxPreps.com.
Seniors Kara Holinski and Brittany Gray can both play inside and out and are the squad’s vocal leaders in the locker room. Junior point guard Bailey Thomas (10 points, four assists, three steals per game last year) is the team’s engine and coach on the floor. Her little sister, sophomore center Samantha Thomas, is one of the best tenth-graders in the state and maybe the whole Midwest region of the country. She averaged 10 points and six rebounds per game as a freshman in 2014.
“We’ve got to stay focused, that’s going to be a very important factor for us this year and maybe the difference between if we can repeat or not,” Holinski said.
Holinski and her teammates are not intimidated by the increased expectations.
“There’s going to be more pressure, but I think we enjoy that and thrive on it,” she said.
The Thomas sisters’ dad is Derek Thomas, former University of Detroit men’s assistant basketball coach and head coach at Western Illinois. He has become Cicerone’s right-hand man the past couple years and runs all the team’s defensive sets.
Senior Jaeda Robinson, a pesky defender and a solid shooter from mid-range and the perimeter, will be the team’s fifth starter. Reserve forwards Elizabeth Grobbel (junior) and Madeline Laurencelle are slated to be Marian’s first players off the bench.
Desire and effort is never a question for Cicerone when it comes to her team.
“You’ve got to kick these girls out of the gym, they don’t want to leave,” she said with a laugh. “Last year, I wanted to give them Thanksgiving off and they wouldn’t have it, they begged me to let them practice. That’s the kind of competitors I have.”
2. Benton Harbor (21-4), B: Coach Lisa Harvey-Gondrezick enters her fifth season and returns four starters including two of the state’s best. Kalabrya Gondrezick (5-8) signed with Michigan State and her sister, Kysre, is a 5-9 junior who’s been named the state’s top player by State Champs Network. Senior Dannee Brown (5-6) was named the team MVP last year. Gabbrielle Dortch (6-0) is the other returning starter and she’ll receive help inside from sophomore Kaniya Webster (6-2). Junior Juwana Young (5-7) could be the other starter.
3. Farmington Hills Harrison (17-4), A: The defending Oakland Activities Association Red Division champion, Harrison is loaded with returning players in its quest for a repeat. The Hawks are spearheaded by Division I college prospects, juniors Amber Stephens and Kristen Nelson, in the backcourt and senior center and Davidson-signee Kyla Roland. Seniors Katie Conrad and Deja Hunter round out the starting line-up.
4. Grosse Pointe South (22-2), A: Coach Kevin Richards return 11 of his top 12 players from a team that lost in the Class A regionals. Cierra Rice (5-9) signed with Illinois, is the school’s all-time leading scorer, averaged 18 points last season and can score inside and out. Senior Aliezza Brown (5-9) has been offered a scholarship by a few Division I schools. Junior Benna Ames (6-2) “is the most skilled post player in the state” according to Richards. Junior Anna Carmody (5-7) started half the game last season and senior Katie Kish excels on the perimeter.
5. Southfield-Lathrup (18-7), A: The young-gun Chargers return a talented and experienced roster laced with a number of Division I college recruits including 6-foot-2 junior center Taiye Bello, sharpshooting junior off-guard Antoinette Miller and star sophomore guard Deja Church. Bello’s twin sister, Kehinde, will start this season and join her sister holding things down on the block for coach Michelle Marshall. Senior floor leader Kendall Terrell (Adrian College) is a sparkplug in the backcourt and senior small forward Courtney Lucas has recovered from a knee injury suffered last season. Last season Southfield-Lathrup nabbed its ninth consecutive district title.
6. Goodrich (23-4), B: State champions in 2012 and ’13, Goodrich, once again, has a loaded roster led by senior guard Tania Davis, who signed with Iowa. Junior forward Alexis Sevillian is commitment to Iowa and will be a key player in the frontcourt. Senior Isabella O’Brien signed with Michigan Tech and will also be a key front court player. Davis is considered to be one of the early Miss Basketball candidates after being named the Associated Press Class B player of the year.
7. Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (22-4), C: Five starters return from a team that lost in the Class B quarterfinals to Eaton Rapids. Zakiya Wells, the daughter of coach Rob Wells, is a four-year starter at the point. She signed with Northwood. Nastassja Chambers (5-9) is a wing who led the team in scoring (13.5). Kaylee Morris (6-0) is a good leaper. She averaged 11.5 rebounds and signed with Concordia. Payton Sims is another senior and her strength is her perimeter game. Three sophomores will contribute considerably including Wells’ daughter, Ro’zhane.
8. Holt (18-4), A: The Rams lost to Grand Ledge in the districts and return four starters plus another that started a handful of games. Kameron Reed (5-7) has started all three seasons and she’s been offered a scholarship by Central Michigan and Western Michigan according to coach Doug Harkema (21st season). Point guard Tara Lierman and center Rylie Stiles (6-1) are four-year starters. Senior Kaetana Beech (5-9) is a defensive specialist and junior Lauren Seagren (6-0) became a starter late last season. Holt has five players 6-foot or taller.
9. Grand Rapids Christian (20-5), A: Three starters return from a team that lost in the quarterfinals. Coach Tom Butyen’s team will go 10 or 11 players deep and features an unselfish lineup led by senior Kortney Deurloo (5-8), a three-year starter. Junior Joselyn Taylor (5-10) is an athletic post player and senior Ashley Duncan (5-2) is back at the point. Senior Rachel Warners (6-2) played her best the last half of the season and sophomore Sydney Muller (5-7) made her varsity debut in the tournament.
10. Clarkston (18-5), A: Led by Associated Press Class A player of the year, Erika Davenport, who averaged 22 points and 14 rebounds a game last year, the Wolves will once again be a power out of the Oakland Activities Association. Junior Kayla Russell will run the point and veterans Jessica Altene and Ashley Skaggs fill out the rest of the frontcourt, along with Davenport. Senior Taylor Mullens will be the team’s top reserve and could spot-start in the backcourt. Freshman Kayla Luchenbach is expected to see action in the Wolves’ rotation as well.
11. Midland Dow (17-6): First-year head coach Kyle Theisen will have a good blend of experienced senior leaders and talented underclassmen as the Chargers will have four seniors and four sophomores. Senior forward Jenna Queary (5-10) and senior point guard Emily Lyman both played on the 2012-2013 Dow team that finished 21-1, and both will be asked to provide leadership. Sophomore center Kaylee Wasco (6-2) has scholarship offers from Central Michigan and Western Michigan, and will help lead the way in the front court. Talented sophomores Ellie Taylor, a 5-9 guard, and 5-9 forward Asjia Blanzon, a transfer from Flint Carman-Ainsworth, will play key roles this winter.
12. Ann Arbor Huron (19-5), A: Ariel Bethea (5-9) is the heart of this team. A three-year starter, Bethea signed with Detroit. Cheah Whitsitt is another senior who should be an impact player. Both players suffered injuries playing soccer and might not be ready for the start of the season. Sophomore Emily Marsh platooned with junior Cydney Hardy and both will likely start. Coach Steve Vinson will play 11 players and among those look for sophomore Katlin Brownlee, a transfer from Arbor Prep, to see significant playing time when she’s eligible the second semester.
13. Detroit Country Day (23-2), B: Longtime Yellowjackets coach Frank Orlando (MHSSA leader in career-wins, 10 state championships) has a nice mix of youth and experience with a senior class fueled by seasoned players such as Kristina Grace and Jordan Wright. The sophomore class is filled with talent paced by highly-recruited Destiny Pitts on the wing and 6-foot-2 twins Tylar Bennett and Sheldon Bochenek in the post.
14. St. Ignace LaSalle (24-3): Coach Dorene Ingalls returns six players who started at least two games, three were full time starters. Junior Abby Ostman (5-9) averaged 13 points and eight rebounds, and is a powerful player. “If she could dunk, she’d be Grant Hill,” Ingalls said. Senior Margo Brown is a three-year varsity player who scored 16 in the state final. Senior Sarah Smith (6-0) is back at center and look for junior Shakir Smith to have a big season. Ingalls will have a nine-player rotation.
15. Warren Cousino (17-7), A: Coach Mike Lee heads into his sixth season with his best squad. He returns four starters including two who started four years, Abby Vojtush and Haley Hoffman. Vojtush had seven threes in one game last season and Hoffman signed with Siena Heights. Sophomore point guard Kierra Fletcher averaged 15.6 points and is one of Macomb County’s top players. Kyle Semmones (5-9) is the team’s top athlete having played volleyball four years and softball three years.
16. Detroit King (20-2), A: The Lady Crusaders won their third consecutive PSL title then made it to the regionals. Two starters return led by Janae Williams, a 5-9 guard who signed with IUPUI. Junior Makala Kelly suffered a knee injury during the off-season and might not be ready for the start of the season. Sophomore Alicia Norman will play the point. King will have two seniors guarding the post area, Makala Henry (6-1) and Leah Mathis (6-2).
17. Farmington Hills Mercy (25-2), A: Coming off a memorable run into the final four in 2014, Mercy will rely heavily on senior co-captains Taylor Jones and Sierra Wangler (the only two players who saw significant minutes on last year’s club) this winter. Jones, a lanky forward with a nose for the basket and the clutch play, signed with Oakland University. She led the team in scoring at 17 points per game. Wangler, a crafty combo guard and the daughter of former Michigan quarterback John Wangler, will be in charge of directing the Marlins’ offense. Juniors Zora Pullen and Jordyn Schluter are expected to be big contributors in expanded roles, as is Jordan Johnson, maybe Mercy’s best outside shooter.
18. Detroit Cass Tech (16-7), A: Cass Tech lost to King in a district final and the Technicians return four starters led by three-year starters K’Lynn Willis (5-4), who signed with Hampton, and Taylor Parker (5-6), who signed with Kent State. The third guard is Candice Tate, a senior who only played half of last season after transferring in from Detroit Pershing. Zoe Oatis and Octavia Hearn could be the other starters with sophomore Camille Headen (6-4) playing valuable minutes off the bench.
19. Port Huron Northern (19-7), A: The Huskies lost to Birmingham Marian in the quarterfinals and coach Mark Dickinson returns four starters. Northern won’t have the depth it had last season but its core will be improved. Becka Richards (5-6) is a four-year starter and senior Riley Falko (6-0) is a highly-skilled post player. Junior Kiana Vatava (5-9) started the last half of the season and is an athletic forward. Caitlyn Gillespie (5-8) also plays inside and Kendyl Keyes is at her best on the perimeter.
20. Rochester Adams (18-3), A: The Highlanders’ dynamic inside-outside tandem of Amber Jamison and Raiven Owuso are finally seniors and will face the challenge of adapting to a new coach and a new league. Adams alum Shay Lewis takes over for long-time coach Fran Scislowicz, who retired this past summer. The defending OAA White Divisions champions have moved up to the Red and upped their competition level. Jamison, daughter of retired NFL linebacker George Jamison, is one of the state’s most gifted post players. She signed with Northwestern. Owuso is long and exciting on the perimeter and her younger sister, sophomore Ryian, and senior Olivia Argeros, will start at the forward spots and transfer Deja Dinkins (West Bloomfield) will assume point guard duties.
21. Rockford (10-11), A: Coach Jessica Yonkers awaits the arrival of her third child and the beginning of the season, which might coincide. The Rams have two of the top guards in the OK Conference in junior Brianna Young (5-6) and Logan McCane (5-9), who signed with Western Michigan. This team will rely on transition as no player is over 5-9. Senior Kavison Klausing anticipates well on defense and could well lead the team in rebounds. Tiana Colovos brings energy and sophomore Maddy Watters is being recruited by Central Michigan, Oakland and Western Michigan.
22. Flint Powers (23-3), B: Two starters return plus three seniors that saw playing time from a team that reached the semifinals. Junior Francesca Coury, a three-year starter, has keen court vision. Rachel Phillpotts (5-9) started last year as a freshman. Lindsay Kooy is the top senior and, at 5-11, sophomore Nicole Cramer is the team’s tallest player. Powers will be quick and athletic.
23. Saginaw Nouvel (12-14), C: The defending state champions return two starters including one of the state’s top juniors in Laurel Jacqmain who averaged 14 points last season. Nicole Buckingham (5-10) is the other returning starter who’s a versatile player who looks to pass first. Juniors Madison Graham and Bregham Klein should start. At 5-11, Klein is the team’s top athlete. Sophomore Charley Hengesbach (6-2) could be the fifth starter.
24. Waterford Kettering (20-4), A: With four straight Kensington Lakes Activities Association North Division crowns in tow the Captains are a team used to winning. Sisters Lauren (senior) and Haley Tewes (junior) are tough on the wing and senior captain Julia Kroll is a do-it-all type of player who is physical and is effective from the perimeter. Kroll and the Tewes sisters led Kettering to a district title last season.
25. Grand Ledge (23-3), A: Could be a rebuilding year but the Comets will still be one of the top teams in the Lansing area. Senior point guard Sophie Guzman is the lone returning starter. A four-year player, Guzman is a good ball handler who will look to score more this season. Mollie Tuthill (5-10) and Maddie Albert (5-10) are juniors who will add post presence and scoring from the wing. Four sophomores, who played on the JV as freshmen, will be asked to play significant minutes. Brooke Rambo (5-4) and Venessa Odlum (5-6) are the top two.
Scott Burnstein wrote story on Marian. Burnstein and Jeff Dullack contributed to this report.