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The STATE CHAMPS! Network’s initial top 25 girls hoops teams in Michigan for 2019-20

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, December 13, 2019, 9:10 pm

Who will it be tipping off the finals’ return to Breslin Center in the spring (or the first stop at Hope College, if it comes to that)? Who’s got the best shot of hoisting the big wooden mitten at center court? While some teams are going for three-peats (or four-peats), some are just looking for their first chance. But here’s a look at some of the teams that have the best chances of being the ones getting sized for rings in March.

The STATE CHAMPS! Network’s initial top 25 teams for 2019-20:

 

1 DETROIT EDISON (27-1, won D2 title)

The Pioneers have the top-ranked player, according to ESPNW, in the 2020 (Clemson-bound Gabby Elliott), 2021 (Damiya Hagemann) and 2022 (Ruby Whitehorn) classes. And that’s not even counting the two other Division I signees at guard — Shaulana Wagner (Xavier) and Daija Tyson (Bradley) or their D-II forward, Ariel Jenkins (Ferris State). If this over-abundance of wealth sounds like a repeat from last year, well … that’s probably what we’re looking at: a repeat … again. Edison is going for its fourth straight title, aiming to match Flint Northern (1978-81) as the only girls program to do that. Looking at how stacked the Pioneers are, even after graduating Miss Basketball Rickea Jackson, who’s going to bet against them?

2 HARTLAND (22-4, lost to Wayne Memorial in D1 quarters)

If you want to talk depth, there are few teams this side of Edison with the kind of quality quantity that the Hartland Eagles possess. First off, there are the seniors, Michigan bound Whitney Sollom, under appreciated forward Madi Moyer and tough-as-nails floor general Nikki Dompierre. Add in the junior class, with speedy guard Syd Caddell and a 6-1 backup post in Lillee Gustafson. That’s a pretty complete team, without even going to the youngsters. But when you add in the huge sophomore group — guards Leah Lappin, Amanda Roach, Gracey Metz, Lauren Sollom and Emmy Sargeant — and it’s a team that’s poised to finally break through its ceiling of quarterfinals. 

3 EAST LANSING (20-3, lost to Coldwater in D1 regional semis)

The Trojans blew out to a 17-0 record before stumbling to a 3-3 finish last season, falling short of making it back to the final four for a second straight season. This year’s team, which returns all five starters, is just that much more experienced with another offseason under its belt, as well as just that much better with the addition of transfer all-stater Lamariyee “Sug” Williams from River Rouge. The Oakland University signee will give the Trojans another scoring option to go with likely Miss Basketball candidate Aaliyah Nye (Illinois), four-year starter Sanaya Gregory, senior Ahlura Lofton and 6-2 sophomore center Ella Miller. Soraya Timms, who was all-conference last season, is in the mix to start again, or come off the bench with juniors Annelise Lebeda, Allie Mayes and Bre’Naya Lane, as well as four-year contributor Kalaia Hampton, once she’s healed from an ACL injury.

4 PEWAMO-WESTPHALIA (27-1, won D3 title)

When you can start five seniors (and bring two more off the bench), four of them returning starters from the previous year, you’re probably pretty well set up for at leas some form of success. When two of those seniors — Hannah Spitzley (Western Michigan) and Ellie Droste (Grand Valley) — are among the top 25 or so players in the state, regardless of class, you’re probably pretty well set up to be one of the best teams in the state. A likely Miss Basketball candidate, Spitzley can play inside or out, and guard any position, while Droste’s flat-out speed makes it very hard to pressure the Pirates. Both can shoot from outside, while Kiera Thelen, Addy Bauer and Morgan Hengesbach provide solid complements. The Pirates are going to schedule tough, as well, playing teams like Edison and Southfield A&T, to prepare themselves for a run at a second straight D3 title.

5 EAST KENTWOOD (19-5, lost to Muskegon in D1 regional semis)

The young-yet-experienced Falcons have plenty of size, with 6-3 junior forwards Kaybriana Hallman and Madisyn Tillman, 6-2 senior forward Raven Jemison and wings Deyonce Thompson and Keliese Christopher to go with junior point guard Alexis McCully. The difference between making a long run — like in 2017, when they made the finals — or a short one — like in 2018, when their unbeaten season fizzled out on their home floor in the district semis — will be whether or not the Falcons can negotiate a district lineup that includes Byron Center (15-6 last year) and East Grand Rapids (20-3). 

6 FLINT CARMAN-AINSWORTH (18-6, lost to Saginaw Heritage in D1 regional semis)

Destiny Strother has taken her shot off to Marquette, but the cupboard is hardly bare on Linden Road. Illinois-bound Aaliyah McQueen is ready for the spotlight as the featured scorer as a senior, while Chenelle King runs the point. Seniors Jessica Aaron and Arie Lewis are back, as well, and the Cavaliers expect to get contributions early from freshmen Armoni Strozier and DeDe Smith. If there’s a time for the Cavs to capitalize, it would be now, with postseason nemesis Heritage figuring out where the new pieces fit after being hit hard by graduation. The north end of the Saginaw Valley looks to be up for grabs, but the southern half will likely stay firmly in the grasp of FCA. 

7 KALAMAZOO CENTRAL (14-7, lost to Portage Central in D1 district finals)

Still young, this Maroon Giants team has perhaps the biggest upside of any team in the state, if everything gels. Part of that is having one of the state’s top players in junior guard Morasha Wiggins — who has offers from everyone under the sun — but it’s hardly just a one-player show. Junior forward Laila Vincent gives the Maroon Giants an inside presence and a rebounding advantage, while sophomore guard Alaila Walker can shoot the lights out, and make teams pay for packing the lane. Youngsters Kendall VanDam and Kynnedy Brown will contribute with size inside. 

8 DETROIT RENAISSANCE (13-7, lost to Southfield A&T in D1 district semis)

A young squad with just one senior, the Phoenix are poised for a much better finish to last season — when they lost early in both the PSL tournament and the MHSAA postseason — if they can figure out ways to supplement the scoring they get from junior point guard Kailee Davis. A big class of eight juniors, led by Davis, will be the fuel for the Phoenix’s rebirth. Shannon Wheeler (6-2), Natalie Streeter (6-2) and Nia Heaston (6-1) give Renaissance a formidable front line, while 5-11 power forward Nika Dorsey will be a complementary scorer to Davis, along with shooting guards Mikyah Finley and Audrianna Hill. 

9 EAST GRAND RAPIDS (20-3, lost to East Kentwood in D1 district finals)

Despite boasting three 6-footers in seniors Amanda Grant, Hannah MacVicar and junior Mikayla Rutgers, the Pioneers are a very guard-driven team, which makes sense given the talent they have in the backcourt. Combo guard Jillian Brown is one of the most sought-after prospects in the 2021 class, who can score from anywhere, while sophomore point guard Alli Carlson runs the show, while Jillian’s frosh sister, Macy, gives the Pioneers another ball-handler and scorer. 

10 ADRIAN LENAWEE CHRISTIAN (26-2, won D4 title)

The Cougars return four starters from last year’s Division 4 championship squad, three of them seniors, and are gunning for a third straight title this winter. At 6-foot-2, junior Bree Salenbien can play pretty much any position, one to five, if needed, while senior sister Dani Salenbien (Hillsdale) runs the show from the point. Libby Miller is the outside gunner — hitting 69 times from 3-point range as a junior to earn all-state honors — while Caitlin Anderson is the defensive specialist of the bunch. Sophomore Lizzy Scharer gives the Cougars another shooter and defender, while freshman Avery Sluss can shoot the ball, as well. An independent, the Cougars will play anyone, anywhere, anytime — a large part of the reason they’ve won the last two titles. 

11 BIRMINGHAM MARIAN (21-2, lost to Grosse Pointe North in D1 regional semis)

With eight straight district titles and 15 in the last 16 seasons, Marian always fields a squad that can contend for the Catholic League crown and make a run in the postseason. How deep that run is can vary greatly, though. Last year’s squad looked primed to make a run at the program’s seventh state title (first since back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015), but the Mustangs were handed just their second loss of the season in regionals, by a Grosse Pointe North team they’d beaten at the start of the campaign. This year’s squad returns much of the same cast, with talented sophomore Sarah Sylvester in the middle, smooth shooting junior Shannon Kennedy on the wing and Sophia Mancini taking over the reins of the offense from the graduated Olivia Moore. 

12 BRIGHTON (21-3, lost to Ann Arbor Pioneer in D1 regional semis)

The Bulldogs lost just two players — Lauren Brown and Julia Henig — to graduation, returning the bulk of the team that won 21 games and split the regular-season KLAA West title with Hartland, losing to Wayne in the league championship game. This year’s squad will be powered by its big, eight-player senior class, led by 6-2 Bowling Green commit Sophie Dziekan in the middle. Sydney Hetherton gives the Dogs another physical presence inside to go with Dziekan, while guard Martha Pietila, Elaine Halonen and Isabella Vogt can all score, and get out on the break. The biggest issue for Brighton, as it was at times last season, will be finding enough outside scoring to keep teams honest defensively. 

13  SOUTHFIELD A&T (24-2, lost to Heritage in D1 finals)

The Warriors have made it to the final four twice in the last three seasons, going all the way to the title game last year, but may take a bit of a step back this season, at least early, as they work to mesh youngsters with the three returning starters: seniors Cheyenne McEvans (Buffalo) and Jasmine Worthy, and junior point guard Kayiona Willis. Both McEvans and Worthy average double-doubles, and with senior Riley Robinson (5-10), juniors Rhyen Williams (6-4) and Haddy Garjo (5-10) and freshman Brenae Rice (5-9), the Warriors should be able to control the glass. With the speed of Willis and the rest of the roster, the Warriors will be able to turn to their trademark pressure to generate offense, as well. 

14 YPSILANTI ARBOR PREP (19-7, lost to P-W in D3 semis)

Every year, it seems like the Gators are a young bunch, and every year, they wind up wherever the finals are held — Calvin, Breslin, you name it. Arbor Prep has made five straight trips to the semifinals or beyond, and that streak doesn’t look to be in jeopardy of ending this season. The Gators lost the last of the Petree sisters, Mahri, to graduation, along with Kashyra Jackson, but still have one of the top underclassmen in the state, in sophomore phenom Mya Petticord. Kaiden Glenn, a 5-11 transfer who averaged 15 points per game last year at Ann Arbor Huron, will be the secondary ball-handler for the Gators, while Jazmin Chupp does all the dirty work in the backcourt. Sophomore Karianna Woods is the fourth guard, while Celina Davis gives the Gators size inside at 6-2. 

15  MICHIGAN CENTER (19-3, lost to Springport in D3 regional semifinal)

Teagan Haynes, Alize Tripp and Shea Tripp and Kaycee Shannon were all starters on the Cardinals team that went 23-3 in 2018, making a run all the way to the Class B semifinals, and this looks like a team that could duplicate that feat. Teagan Haynes (Aquinas) is the senior point guard, who distributes the ball, and locks down the opponent’s top guard, while Alize Tripp (Concordia) already holds the school record for 3-pointers in a game and in a season, hitting almost 40 percent from 3-point range as a junior. Shea Tripp gives the Cardinals size inside, and can do a little bit of everything. It’s not wise to count the Cardinals out, either: In an early season matchup with Harper Woods Chandler Park, Michigan Center trailed by 20, but rallied to win by 12. 

16 ST. CLAIR SHORES LAKEVIEW (19-6, lost to Southfield A&T in D1 quarters)

The Huskies have uncommon size across the board, with four of five starters 5-9 or better, capped by 6-foot-6 star center Joslyn Brennan (Grand Valley), who burst onto the scene last year, averaging 16 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks per game, earning Macomb Area Conference Blue Division MVP honors. Lakeview lost just two players from a team that made it to the quarterfinals, and is better than it was at this time last year. Point guard Kayla Austin (6 assists per game) runs the show, joined by Tricia Sankiewicz and Taedom Stein in the backcourt, while wing Ari Wlodeck is just coming into her own. 

17 SAGINAW HERITAGE (25-2, won D1 title)

The Hawks won back-to-back state titles in the state’s biggest division, going 52-3 in that span, but lost a ton of talent in Moira Joiner (Michigan State), Shine Strickland-Gills (Central Michigan) and Mallory McCartney (Ferris State). There’s still some holdover talent, with two returning starters, now seniors, but it’ll be hard-pressed to keep the Hawks flying at that previous level, not with a Saginaw Valley League Red Division that has much more parity, with Midland Dow and Heritage dropping back, and Midland and Bay City John Glenn getting better. Between them, seniors Keyonie Champion (6-0 F) and LoLo Reed (5-4 PG), and sophomore Lauren Gunn (5-5 G) averaged 14.7 points per game last season for the Hawks, but they’ll get far more chances to be the key cogs in the offense this year. Freshmen Zar’ria Mitchell and Jada McRee will be counted upon to contribute. 

18 WAYNE MEMORIAL (24-3, lost to Heritage in D1 semis)

The good news: The Zebras might be as deep as they’ve been in coach Jarvis Mitchell’s six seasons. The bad news: Graduation and injuries have taken a layer of the top talent off the top of the program, and making it back to the final four for a third straight season is going to take a number of players jumping up into bigger roles. The Zebras are led by powerful, heavily recruited junior forward Alanna Micheaux and sophomore point guard Jordan Wright, but they’re the only two starters who return. Wayne graduated a Miss Basketball contender for the second straight year, and will be hoping to get Division-I caliber wing Makailah Griggs-Zeigler back from an ACL injury for the playoff push in the spring. Senior center Kayla Gray, junior guard Lechelle Austin and freshman forward Paris Bass join the starting lineup, while freshman guard Samiyah Jefferson will come off the bench with senior guards Gloria Jarvis and Layla Bell.

19 MACOMB DAKOTA (12-9, lost to Port Huron Northern in D1 district semis)

One of a handful of teams that was bitten hard by the injury bug last year, slipping from back-to-back 19-win seasons to win 12 games a year ago, the Cougars can compete if they stay healthy. Ball State-bound, 6-1 forward Cam Grant was averaging a double-double through 10 games before tearing ligaments in her ankle, while 6-2 Dena Moyer had double ACL surgery two years ago, and is just coming back to form. Junior Jennifer Zaprawa (5-10) gives the Cougars another post presence, while classmate Jaimee Moshenko is the distributor.  Ella Burger averaged double digits scoring as a freshman. 

20 HUDSONVILLE (15-10, lost to Muskegon in D1 regional finals)

The Eagles will go as their youngsters go, led by sophomore guards Alaina Diaz, and Jaci Tubergen, sophomore wing Eva Joldersma and 6-0 freshman Maddie Petroelje. Junior forward Ash Bailey provides complementary scoring, while Ashley Strick and Emma Costen control the boards. 

21 HASLETT (19-7, lost to Edison in D2 semis)

Despite the Vikings returning four of the five starters that helped carry them to the semis last year, they have a younger bench, and play in the tough CAAC Red, with a stacked non-conference schedule, meaning the record might have a few crooked numbers, but it’ll make them battle-tested. Seniors Olivia Green (5-11) and Brooke Bradley (6-0) form the front line with junior Skyla Nosek (5-11), who came back from a 10-game injury absence to play her best basketball in the postseason. Junior Emma Campbell is the distributor at the point, while Tori Martin can nail shots from anywhere. Haslett will depend on sophomore Audrey Archambault and freshmen Emily Homan and Grace Isenhath off the bench. 

22 GOODRICH (14-11, lost to Edison in D2 quarterfinals)

The Martians lost two starters for the majority of last season with ACL tears, and had no complementary scoring to take the attention of defenses off all-stater Maddie Voelker (Northwood), who still managed to score 23.9 points per game against a loaded schedule of tough opponents. As a result of all the injuries, though, the Martians had nine different girls start games last season, giving them depth this year, and were able to improve quickly enough to win a regional title. Senior center Olivia O’Brien is back after missing all last season with the knee injury, joining junior forward Mia Baston in the frontcourt. Jessica Velazquez developed into a scorer last season, helping take some of the burden off Voelker, while Raegan Lauinger averaged nearly five assists per game. 

23 GRASS LAKE (21-2, lost to Michigan Center in D3 district finals)

The Warriors return all five starters from a team that looked destined for a deep run in the playoffs — only to fall to Cascades Conference rival Michigan Center in the district title game. While they don’t have great size — two players 5-10 or taller — but can move the ball at light speed up and down the court. Junior Abrie Cabana (Grand Valley) is the ringleader, coupled with sophomores Lexus Bargesser and Gabrielle Lutchka to form a formidable backcourt, accounting for a combined 45 points per game. Faith Patania and Lauren Pongracz round out the starting lineup, while Amber Boomer comes off the bench. Of key interest will be the two regular-season matchups with Michigan Center — on the road on Dec. 18, and at home on Feb. 4. 

24 WALLED LAKE WESTERN (23-2 lost to Hartland in D1 regional finals)

After a few seasons of coaching turmoil a handful of years ago, the Warriors have settled into a perennial contender under veteran coach Steve Emert, churning out 20-win seasons with regularity, going 45-4 over the last two seasons. Emert’s style is always to get up and down the floor and pressure on defense, and he’s got the crew to do that again. Jenna Galecki (16 points, seven rebounds, four steals), Olivia Warren (10 points, five steals) and Lia Krawiec (eight points, six rebounds, seven steals) are all back from last year’s lineup, while seniors Riley Dillon and Maddie Ludwig, junior Zoe DeRoche and freshman Ruthie Harrington will be counted on to contribute. 

T25 WEST BLOOMFIELD (20-3, lost to Hartland in D1 regional semis)

The Lakers graduated just two seniors from last year’s team that won the Oakland Activities Association’s White Division, and captured the program’s first district title in 20 years. Two double-digit scorers in senior Mya Bobo and junior Logan Lewis are back for West Bloomfield, which bumps up to the OAA Red this season, and should be a contender to finish behind perennial powerhouse Southfield A&T.

T25 WILLIAMSTON (18-4, lost to Haslett in D2 district finals)

Luck has to change sometime for the Hornets, who’ve had injuries and early exits from the postseason haunt them over the last couple of seasons. Williamston certainly has the talent to make a deep run in the postseason, starting with 5-10 point guard Kenzie Lewis (Bowling Green). Evey Peplowski (Louisville rowing) gives the Hornets size inside, but has range, as well, and Kaley Douglass can shoot.