I think there are clear favorites to win the state girls basketball titles in Class 4A and 3A.
I feel pretty comfortable going with Lewis and Clark from Spokane (the defending 4A champion) and Prairie (which lost the 3A title game to loaded Holy Names in a battle of unbeatens).
Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that either will finish on top when all is said and done next March. But they start at No. 1 in The Times’ presason polls.
L-C has three starters back from last year’s team. A fourth, 6-foot-3 Abang Taka, apparently does not intend to play this season — although there’s always a chance that situation could change. She makes a difference, but the Tigers are still loaded, led by Devyn Galland, last year’s tournament MVP.
Prairie has Heather Corral (UW) back and let’s hope she can stay healthy. She missed nearly all of her sophomore season with a torn ACL in her right knee, then suffered the same injury to her left knee late last season. She’s a very gifted player.
Those are two talented teams, and there are plenty of others in the state as well.
Which is why it’s really difficult to decide on which teams to rank No. 2 on down in both classifications.
Let’s start with 4A. I’m going with Mount Rainier at No. 2. The Rams nearly trophied last year with a young squad led by freshman Brittany McPhee (and twin Jordan is awfully good, too).
You can see the complete rankings below, so I’m not going to go team by team. I’ll just touch briefly on some of the league prospects.
L-C isn’t a lock to win the GSL, and you’ll see that Central Vally is ranked No. 3. Plus, Mead and Gonzaga Prep will be tough, too.
I don’t have a Big Nine team in the 4A top-10, which is unusual, but I don’t see one that really stands out. Chiawana lost a ton from last year’s third-place team, but should be competitive along with Moses Lake (despite not having Jordan Loera, who is starting at Oregon). And keep an eye on Wenatchee.
Mount Rainier is heavily favored in the SPSL North. Auburn Riverside and Kentwood lost a lot to graduation, but I expect both to be solid again.
In the SPSL South, I still like No. 10 Federal Way, even though the Eagles lost several key pieces from the team that reached the title game last season. They have one of the best guards around in Darah Huertas-Vining. Emerald Ridge would have been in that top-10 if not for the loss of their two 6-foot seniors (Jadea Brundidge is now at Franklin and Jasmine Parker is at Mead). Of course, the Jaguars are still dangerous with high-scoring Taylor Buie.
KingCo 4A looks like a real dog-fight. I’m giving Woodinville the edge, and a No. 5 ranking, largely due to the athletic Ali Forde. And Eastlake gets a spot at No. 8. But don’t be surprised to see Issaquah in the mix again. Inglemoor deserves mention because of Taylor Peacocke — plus the Vikings got Chay Fuller from Holy Names.
Don’t forget about Garfield, either, which features high-scoring Nyasha Sarju and a healthy Shaunice Robinson (she missed all of last season with a knee injury).
WesCo will be tough again, too. The North Division should be a battle between No. 4 Lake Stevens and No. 6 Stanwood (some would say those rankings should be flopped, but the Vikings did finish fourth at state last season.
In the WesCo South, Jackson checks in at No. 9, even though they are still super-young. And they’ll be challenged by Edmonds-Woodway, despite heavy graduation losses. EW starts on the watch list.
Down in the GSHL, No. 7 Skyview of Vancouver has a really good squad.
The 3A team I’m most interested to follow this season is Juanita. I’ve been told the Rebels are good enough to be playing Prairie in the championship game. They won 19 games last season. I’m taking a little more conservative approach and putting them at No. 5 start. I also expect good things from Mercer Island this season, especially down the stretch. And with Hunter Hopkins, Lake Washington is always a threat.
No. 2 goes to Kamiakin of Kennewick, which has nearly everyone back from last year’s fifth-place team. And Wilson of Tacoma gets the No. 3 spot. The Rams are loaded and deep. If they play together, they should get a state trophy. Timberline is the other Narrows team to watch and would have been a top-10 team if not for the loss of Simone Martin to a knee injury. There’s a chance she could be back in February, which could make a difference.
Over in the GSL, I’m giving the nod to No. 4 Shadle Park. The Highlanders have a chip on their shoulders after failing to get to Tacoma (two straight losses to North Central to end the season kept them at home). But I also really like University and you can’t rule out North Central (third last season), despite key graduation losses.
Auburn Mountainview starts at No. 6 — exactly where the Lions finished last year, and they have everyone back. So, I don’t be surprised if that ends up being a little low. I think Lakes will cause some teams fits again, too, but the Lancers start on the watch list.
What about Metro? Well, Holy Names is the defending state champion, but lost a great deal. Still, it’s about program and Lee Adams does a great job. Plus, he still has Sophie Reichert and Jasmine McCleave.
Metro is always though, which is why I’ve also found spots for No. 9 Seattle Prep and No. 10 Cleveland. Prep graduated only one player — of course it was high-scoring Kari Luttinen. Yet they are talented and deep. Cleveland, which won the title in 2010 and just missed a trip back to the Dome last season, is really young — but also really talented and deep, from what I’ve heard.
I’m keeing a close eye on Lakeside and Franklin as well.
One of my dilemmas was how to sort out WesCo 3A. I see four really good teams up there, but am going with No. 8 Glacier Peak to start. The Grizzlies got to the Final 8 last year, remember, and feature Katie Hawkins.
But I expect Shorecrest, Lynnwood and Meadowdale to be right in the mix, too. Lynnwood, in fact, likely would have gotten that ranking if not for the unfortunate knee injury to Mokun Fajemisin, who averaged 16.3 points as a junior last season. She’s out for the year. The Royals will still be really good, though.
Kennedy Catholic, an annual contender, is very young this season and I’m taking a wait-and-see approach with them.
So, have a look at these and let me know what you think:
(2010-11 record in parentheses)
1. Lewis and Clark (Spokane) (21-6)
Tigers took 2010-11 title with a young squad and get the nod coming in
2. Mount Rainier (Des Moines) (22-7)
McPhee twins head talented squad that reached Final 8 last season
3. Central Valley (Spokane Valley) (10-11)
Brooke Gallaway leads experienced squad that should contend
4. Lake Stevens (23-4)
Pahukoa twins want to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish
5. Woodinville (21-7)
Ali Forde gives Falcons the edge in dynamite KingCo Conference
6. Stanwood (15-8)
Eight players return with at least some starting experience
7. Skyview (Vancouver) (16-7)
Storm is talented enough to still be playing in March
8. Eastlake (Sammamish) (21-4)
Kendra Morrison and supporting cast make Wolves dangerous
9. Jackson (Mill Creek) (13-10)
Timberwolves are still quite young, but have post-season potential
10. Federal Way (25-3)
Guard play gives Eagles a chance to make another trophy run
Others to watch (alphabetically) – Auburn Riverside, Beamer (Federal Way), Bellarmine Prep (Tacoma), Bethel (Graham), Chiawana (Pasco), Edmonds-Woodway, Emerald Ridge (Puyallup), Garfield, Gonzaga Prep (Spokane), Inglemoor (Kenmore), Issaquah, Jefferson (Federal Way), Marysville-Pilchuck, Mead (Spokane), Moses Lake, Mount Tahoma (Tacoma), Skyline (Sammamish), South Kitsap (Port Orchard), Wenatchee.
1. Prairie (Brush Prairie) (27-1)
If Heather Corral stays healthy, Falcons will soar to the top
2. Kamiakin (Kennewick) (19-8)
Khadidja Toure (OSU) gives seasoned Braves title hopes
3. Wilson (Tacoma) (17-9)
Rams have everyone back, plus some talented newcomers
4. Shadle Park (Spokane) (15-8)
Highlanders are hungry after missing state trip last season
5. Juanita (Kirkland) (19-7)
Watch out for the tall, talented Rebels, who could climb even higher
6. Auburn Mountainview (23-9)
Lions have everyone back from sixth-place team, including Carr sisters
7. Holy Names (Seattle) (29-0)
Rebuild? Defending champs likely will just reload
8. Glacier Peak (Snohomish) (15-11)
Grizzlies get the early nod out of competitive WesCo 3A
9. Seattle Prep (16-10)
Loss of their leading scorer might not phase Panthers
10. Cleveland (Seattle) (21-6)
They might be young, but Eagles are deep and talented
Others to watch (alphabetically) – Camas, Eastmont, Franklin (Seattle), Hazen (Renton), Kennedy Catholic (Burien), Lake Washington (Kirkland), Lakes (Tacoma), Lakeside (Seattle), Liberty (Renton), Lynnwood, Meadowdale (Lynnwood), Mercer Island, North Central (Spokane), Shorecrest (Shoreline), Timberline (Lacey), University (Spokane), Yelm.