Top 25 Michigan girls basketball teams for 2018-19: Edison claims No. 1 spot, followed by reigning Class A champ Heritage
With the 2018-19 girls basketball season underway, here are the teams that have the best shots of success this season, the best chances of winning a state title in their respective divisions. Two-time reigning Class C champ Detroit Edison comes in as the favorite in Division 2 — after the Pioneers opted up a rung to challenge themselves — while defending Class A champion Saginaw Heritage is not far behind. Next week, we’ll split the rankings out into top 10s in all four divisions. (Last year’s record in parenthesis, along with this year’s playoff division.)
1 DETROIT EDISON (23-1, D2) — How good has your program become when you can run a “B” team composed almost entirely of freshmen that’s talented enough to not only play against Class A teams, but beat them? Well, you’re also good enough to voluntarily opt up a division, and not only become an instant contender, but … well, the favorite, surely. Given that the “A” lineup contains arguably the best player in the senior (Mississippi State-bound Rickea Jackson), junior (Gabby Elliott) and sophomore (Damiya Hagenman) classes, there’s no doubt that the Pioneers should be the odds-on favorites in Division 2. And the “B” team, which has perhaps one of the top two freshmen in the state in Ruby Whitehorn, has plenty of firepower to add to the mix, if it’s ever needed. The scariest thing, though, is that of the 17 players suiting up for DEPSA this season, there is one … *ONE* … senior: Jackson (22.3 points per game, 10.4 rebounds), the 2018 Gatorade Player of the Year, and leading Miss Basketball candidate.
2 SAGINAW HERITAGE (27-1, D1) — The Hawks did lose two starters from last year’s title team, D-I shooter Jessica Bicknell (Detroit Mercy) and glue player Madison Camp, but still return plenty enough to be considered the odds-on favorite to repeat. At the top of the list is Miss Basketball candidate Mo Joiner (Michigan State), who can do a little bit of everything, and do it so well, along with an accomplished post scorer and rebounder, Shine Strickland-Gills (Central Michigan), and a deadly sniper, Mallory McCartney (Ferris State). Lauren “LoLo” Reed moves into the starting lineup, taking some of the ball-handling responsibilities off Joiner’s plate, while 6-foot-1 junior Keyonie Champion slides in at the other forward spot, and freshman Lauren Gunn is the first guard off the bench.
3 SOUTHFIELD A&T (16-6, D1) — Always a proponent of treacherously tough scheduling, Michele Marshall watched her A&T Warriors start last season 1-5 before ripping off 15 straight wins to capture a 15th-straight district title (a streak that dates back to Marshall’s Southfield-Lathrup program, prior to the merger of the Southfield schools). Three starters return from that team: Kayionna Willis, who started at the point as a freshman, Marshall signee Alexis Johnson, who led the Warriors in scoring (20 ppg.) and rebounding (12 rpg.) and ultra-talented junior wing Cheyenne McEvans who can score with anyone (16 ppg., 10 rpg.) and can guard all five positions. Add in senior transfer Soleil Barnes, a Toledo signee who scored 16 points per game, and was an honorable mention all-stater for Nordonia High School near Cleveland, Ohio, and 6-foot-3 junior center Jasmine Worthy, a transfer from Birmingham Groves, and you have a roster that is capable of making noise in D1.
4 WAYNE MEMORIAL (22-5, D1) — Camree’ Clegg was the first piece of the puzzle that helped the Zebras turn it around from a winless season in coach Jarvis Mitchell’s first campaign, but Wayne is hardly going to revert to that overnight now that the Miss Basketball runner-up is off to Clemson. Janae Terry (Illinois) averaged 17 points and seven rebounds, and will share the backcourt with an already highly-recruited freshman, Jordan Wright. Up front, junior Makailah Griggs-Zeigler (Michigan) is a matchup problem, Jayah Hicks (South Carolina State) is steady, and sophomore Alanna Micheaux is a star in the making, while seniors Sammiyah Hoskin, Alana Broadnax and Jasmine Elder provide depth.
5 DEWITT (21-2, D1) — The Panthers spent the entirety of the 2017-18 season ranked in the top 10 in Class A, but had the misfortune to be in the same Owosso district as top-ranked — and eventual runner-up — East Lansing, taking their second loss of the season at the hands of the Trojans in the district finals. All-stater Grace George is now a starter at Wayne State, but longtime coach Bill McCullen doesn’t have a bare cupboard: four senior starters return, three of them three-year starters, with last year’s sixth player, sophomore point guard Isabelle Gilmore, sliding into George’s open starting slot. Sydney Mills (5-foot-11, Hillsdale) and Maddie Petersen (5-8, Aquinas) will play in college, while multi-sport star Annie McIntosh (5-9) will join the Michigan State rowing team.
6. FLINT CARMAN-AINSWORTH (22-3, D1) — If the Cavaliers, winners of the Saginaw Valley League’s South Division, are going to get past Heritage — one of just two teams to beat Carman-Ainsworth in 2017-18 — it’s going to take finding a way to bust up the 2-3 zone. The Hawks employed the defense in both wins over the Cavs — 60-44 in the regular season and 63-40 in the regional finals that snapped a 16-game win streak for Carman-Ainsworth — and aren’t likely to change unless they have to. Coming off a school-record 22-win season, and losing just one senior to graduation, the Cavaliers — ranked No. 7 in the final Associated Press poll — certainly have the firepower to contend, with all-stater Destiny Strother (17.9 points per game) joining Joiner on the Miss Basketball watch list, along with junior Aaliyah McQueen, who missed half of last season, after transferring from Goodrich. Junior point guard Chenelle King is the one tasked with getting both of those scorers the ball.
7. EAST KENTWOOD (21-1, D1) — The Falcons have gone 47-3 over the last two seasons, but somehow that still seems to have been unfulfilling, especially since the lone loss last year was a district upset for the No. 1-ranked team at the hands of Caledonia. East Kentwood is younger up front than they have been each of the last two seasons, but there’s still talent up there in 6-foot-3 sophomore Kaybriana Hallman, a Comstock Park transfer, and 6-3 sophomore Madisyn Tillman. The strength of the team will be in the veteran back court, led by two seniors in point guard Mauriya Barnes (South Carolina State) and sniper Alona Blackwell (Oakland), and bolstered by sophomores Keliese Christopher and Alexis McCully.
8. MUSKEGON (22-3, D1) — The Big Reds graduated five seniors after losing in the program’s first-ever trip to the quarterfinals, but still have a ton coming back. Miss Basketball candidate Alyza Winston (Michigan State) is one of the best point guards in the state, but played only the second half of the season with Muskegon, after transferring from Mona Shores. This year’s team has another Mona Shores transfer, in Nia Miskel, while Diynasti Dowell can do a little bit of everything, and 6-footers Brionne Crews (Aquinas) and Kaitlyn Nash give the Big Reds size up front.
9. BIRMINGHAM MARIAN (18-5, D1) — Marian teams always play defense, and last year’s team could do that. The only problem was the Mustangs had so much trouble scoring points that they had trouble winning games they probably could’ve with a few more buckets. Enter junior sniper Sophia Mancini, sophomore forward Shannon Kennedy and freshman forward Sara Sylvester, who give the Marian lineup some scoring punch to go with steady veteran point guard Olivia Moore. That cast rattled off a 19-0 run at the end of the game to pull away for a convincing 60-47 win over last year’s semifinalist Grosse Pointe North in the Calihan Challege last weekend.
10. GROSSE POINTE NORTH (20-6, D1) — Everyone sort of penciled North in as a Division 1 favorite after its run to the semifinals, but longtime coach Gary Bennett would prefer people would pump the brakes on that idea, or even the idea that they should be ranked. “This is a completely different team than last year and we need to earn that honor,” Bennett said. Be that as it may, the Norsemen do have a veteran crew back, returning four of five starters, including Michigan State-bound Miss Basketball candidate Julia Ayrault, who averaged 19.1 points per game, scoring nearly 40 percent of North’s points on the season. Senior Maddie Mills is the lone newcomer to a starting lineup that also includes sophomore guard Maddie Kohler, senior guard Evelyn Zacharias and junior forward Christina Braker, while seniors Regan Sliwinski and Cariele’ Humphries are the first two off the bench. They’re going to need that experience to navigate through what should be an incredibly tough MAC Red Division.
11. MACOMB DAKOTA (19-4, D1) — The Cougars are blessed with a pair of 6-footers with versatile skills, and that will pay off this season, when 6-foot-1 junior Cameron Grant — who has 15 Division 1 college offers — takes over more of a ball-handling role. Western Michigan signee Taylor Williams has the length of a post at 6-foot-2, but the speed of a guard. That duo combined for 27 points and 23 rebounds per game last season. Senior Olivia Dameron can mix it up inside, as can center Jada Reese, while sophomore Jaimee Moshenko and freshman Ella Burger will provide outside shooting. As with GPN, it’ll be a tough slog through the MAC Red for Dakota, with North, Warren Cousino, Utica Eisenhower, Port Huron Northern and Grosse Pointe South all fielding solid-or-better teams.
12. FLUSHING (18-5, D1) — Everyone slept on the Raiders when they won the Class A title two seasons ago, but this year’s team seems like it might be just as under-the-radar. It shouldn’t be. The Raiders have a solid back court with seniors Thailiya Christensen and Quincy Davis and sophomore Alex Long, but it might be up front where Flushing separates itself. In addition to 6-1 Maddie Morrison, the four-time defending Flint Metro champs now have 6-foot-5 Lapeer transfer Becca Morrish, a sophomore, in the middle.
13. GRAND HAVEN (14-8, D1) — If the Buccaneers had been healthy last year, it might’ve been a considerably longer postseason run than the one that ended with a three-point loss to Muskegon in the district finals. But 6-foot-1 Kelly Olthof (Lake Superior State) was out until February with an ACL injury, and 6-foot-3 Esther Byington (Northern Michigan) tore her labrum five games in, leaving point guard Alli Keyser (Northwood) as the only big threat offensively. This year, the Bucs should be able to get enough scoring from seniors Anna Strom, Olivia McMullen and Dahlia Jerovsek, along with sophomore Jolee Houle, a transfer from Zeeland West, to keep opponents from zoning up on Grand Haven.
14. HARTLAND (20-6, D1) — Without their star in the front court, 6-foot-4 Whitney Sollom, the Eagles are very, very, very young. But pretty good, too. Sollom is expecting to be cleared this month to return from the knee surgery she had in April, and when she gets back, she’ll have to fit in with an offense that’s been more centered around guards in junior Nikki Dompierre, sophomore Syd Caddell and freshman Amanda Roach in her absence. Along with Dompierre, junior wing Madi Moyer probably has the most experience on the squad, which includes three other freshmen — Gracey Metz, Leah Lappan and Lauren Sollom — aside from Roach, and sophomore big Lillee Gustafson. The Eagles may not peak until later in the season, but that could easily spell a third straight district title, and a return to the quarterfinals, with a healthy cast, certainly is within reach.
15. MIDLAND DOW (17-6, D1) — Who gave defending Class A champ Heritage its toughest contest of the postseason? Yep. The Chargers, who lost by 12 in the district finals. Dow went 9-1 in its 10 games before that, finally gelling after point guard Maizie Taylor (Northwood) came back from knee surgery, and 6-foot-2 transfer Haley Jaster became eligible. Taylor pairs in the backcourt with likely Miss Basketball candidate Molly Davis (Central Michigan), who averaged 17 points per game, despite constant defensive attention last season. Ultra-quick sophomore Jada Garner returns as a starter, as does forward junior Alyssa Keptner, while the fifth starting spot will rotate between a handful of players, based on match-ups.
16. YPSILANTI ARBOR PREP (21-6, D3) — If you look at the name on the front of the jersey, it’s the same Gators program that’s made multiple final-four appearances — Class C champs in 2016, runners-up in 2017 (B) and 2018 (C) — but the names on the back aren’t as recognizable, especially not with senior guard Mahri Petree (Bradley) sidelined with a knee injury. The all-stater is expected back this month, but until then, it’s senior forward Kashyra Jackson (University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown), super-frosh Mya Petticord and a whole host of inexperienced players getting their first taste of action. Petticord is as advertised, though, and fellow frosh Makenzie Day provides outside shooting, along with senior Karli Waddell, giving the Gators plenty of offensive options to be a contender again in D3, especially with DEPSA opting up.
17. OKEMOS (17-7, D1) — The Chiefs have as good a top-two scoring options as anyone in the state with senior Laya Hartman (Northwestern) and junior power forward Jasmine Clerkley, but the key will be the rest of the cast knocking down open shots to deter opposing teams from doubling on those two. Junior guards Maddie Sermak and Kelsey Henrey, and sophomore Lexie Sermak will be counted on to add scoring, as well as shut down the opponent’s back court.
18. DETROIT COUNTRY DAY (23-4, D2) — The two-time reigning Class B champions are still very talented — plenty talented enough to win a Division 2 title if things go right — but just maybe not as deep as in years past. The Yellowjackets will be led by the senior trio of point guard Jasmine Powell (Minnesota), forward Adrian Folks (Indiana State) and wing Maddie Novak (Stetson). Jamia Elam will give the ‘Jackets some size inside. If Country Day is going to add to its collection of state title trophies, it’ll have to go through Detroit Edison in the quarterfinals to get there. Those two will face off in a regular-season meeting in the Winter Jam at Lawrence Tech on Dec. 22.
19. ADRIAN LENAWEE CHRISTIAN (26-1, D4) — Awww, it’s cute that you put the little D4 team in the rankings … they’ll say, if they haven’t watched girls hoops recently. The Cougars did sort of come out of nowhere to win the Class D title last year, but they’re certainly not a fluke, not a one-hit wonder, proving that already this season with a five-point win over reigning Class B champ Birmingham Detroit Country Day at Arbor Prep’s Icebreaker Classic. Last year’s squad averaged 54.6 points in a regular season that saw them lose just once — by one point to Class A Monroe — then 58.4 points per game through an unbeaten playoff run to win the program’s first state title. And the Cougars were oh so young, with three juniors to go along with six sophomores and the freshman superstar in the making. Four of their five top scorers were sophomores or freshmen. All five starters return from that championship squad led by 6-foot-2 sophomore Bree Salenbien (21.3 points per game, 9.8 rebounds), the Class D Player of the Year, and her sister, junior Dani (13.3 points, 6.5 rebounds), an all-stater. Bree Salenbien validated her rising superstar status by impressing on the summer circuit, and attending the U.S. National Team trials in Colorado. Junior guards Caitlin Anderson and Libby Miller and senior captain Brooke Brinning round out the starting lineup, while two more frosh, Lizzy Scharer and Cara Anderson, will play key roles off the bench. As an independent, coach Jamie Salenbien has the freedom to continue to schedule very aggressively, as well.
20. EAST LANSING (26-1, D1) — The Trojans ran the table on the regular season last year, and didn’t know what it felt like to lose, until they got to the biggest stage, getting stifled by the defensive-minded Heritage Hawks in the title game. One year later, after losing Miss Basketball Jaida Hampton (Wichita St.) and two other all-staters, the Trojans are reloading with younger players around a veteran core — three sophomores and three freshmen this year, no seniors and seven juniors. All-state junior forward Aaliyah Nye and point guard Sanaya Gregory are three-year starters, while junior Ahlura Lofton has experience. The key to whether or not the Trojans can continue their control of the CAAC Blue Division — they’ve won 14 of the last 16 division titles — will come down to the two match-ups with DeWitt, which bumped up to the Blue after years of dominating the CAAC Red.
21. FOWLERVILLE (19-6, D2) — The Gladiators won their first district title since 2002 — and third in program history — last spring, before bowing out in the regional final, with a five-point loss to eventual Class B runner-up Jackson Northwest. At 6-foot-1, forward Elie Smith can do a little bit of everything, slashing to the basket, shooting over defenders, and rebounding, while multi-sport star Jackie Jarvis is tough as nails at the point. Senior Grace Wallace, junior Frannie Updike and freshman Levee Clark round out the starting rotation.
22. WALLED LAKE WESTERN (22-2, D1) — A long dormant program a few years back, before it was resuscitated by 2017 AP Class A coach of the Year Skip Stevenson, the Warriors have now won back-to-back district titles after a 29-year drought. Longtime Oakland County coach Steve Emert took the Warriors to the regional finals last year, where they lost to Hartland by four. Western lost do-it-all guard Janara Flowers (Indiana State) and sniper Jordan Walczyk (Grand Valley), but returns four-year varsity players in ultra-quick point guard Kailee Ford (Aquinas) and ultra-tough Sarah Rachiele, along with tireless Jenna Galecki. Olivia Warren and Lia Krawiec, last year’s top two subs, join the starting rotation, while Jackson transfer Lauren Perdue will be eligible to play Jan. 21.
23. PEWAMO-WESTPHALIA (25-1, D3) — The Pirates went into last year’s Class C postseason ranked No. 1 in the state, and unbeaten— holding opponents to 20 points or less 16 times — then rolled to the semifinals with only one opponent (Springport, a seven-point win in the district finals) coming within 15 points of them. That run ended with a thud in the semifinals, an 11-point loss to eventual champ Detroit Edison that was the Pioneers’ closest playoff call. Edison beat the Pirates in the Class C title game a season earlier. P-W graduated the majority of its size in two 5-foot-10 senior starters — Emily Spitzley and Kate Hengesbach — but returns four of its top five scorers, and six of its top eight players from last year. Three of those players are just entering their junior seasons, led by Hannah Spitzley, point guard Ellie Droste and Kiera Thelen. Rachel Huhn is the only senior starter, while she and Emily Simon are the only seniors among the top nine players. Junior forward Hannah Spitzley (Western Michigan) is a lock-down defender who can check all five positions, while ultra-quick point guard Ellie Droste can break down the defense off the dribble, and shoot from the outside.
24. KINGSLEY (26-1, D2) — The Stags were relatively dominant throughout last season, rolling over the competition en route to their first semifinal appearance in a decade, before losing to eventual Class B champ Detroit Country Day. Junior point guard Brittany Bowman is the engine that makes the Stags go, but seniors Jacie King and Marie Pierson give Kingsley a very balanced offensive game. Juniors Jane Dunlap, Austyn DeWeese and Maddie Bies give the Stags plenty of size up front — when they’re all healthy.
25 (tie) DETROIT KING (22-3, D1) — King grad Gwen Burton takes over on the Crusader bench for longtime coach William Winfield, and inherits a roster that isn’t quite as experienced as the one she helped coach on an interim basis to the quarters last season. Del’Janae Williams (Indiana State) can score with anyone, and lock down opposing guards, but finding enough scoring around her will be key to a deep run. Freshman Aiyanna Tanksley can score, while sophomores Monica Williams and Marche Borden can apply the defensive pressure.
25 (tie) KENT CITY (22-4, D3) — The Eagles finally broke through the regional final hex, winning their first in nine tries — five of those regional finals appearances since 2011 — to get to the program’s first quarterfinal since 1989, before running into top-ranked Pewamo-Westphalia. It was a young squad that did it, too, as Kent City started three freshmen — Jenna Harrison, Audrey Dreyer and budding superstar Kenzie Bowers (19 points per game) — and two juniors. Senior Zara Weber can light it up from the outside.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Kalamazoo Central (D1), Grand Ledge (D1), Brighton (D1), Ann Arbor Huron (D1), Detroit Renaissance (D1), Warren Cousino (D1), Royal Oak (D1), Freeland (D2), Bay City John Glenn (D2), Frankenmuth (D2), Goodrich (D2), River Rouge (D2), Harper Woods Chandler Park (D2), Williamston (D2), Muskegon Oakridge (D2), Jackson Northwest (D2), Michigan Center (D3), Maple City Glen Lake (D3), Niles Brandywine (D3), Schoolcraft (D3), St. Ignace (D4), Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart (D4), Fruitport Calvary Christian (D4), Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes (D4), Kingston (D4)