Washtenaw County girls basketball season preview: Team capsules and players to watch
A look at the 2011-12 Washtenaw County high school girls basketball scene:
AnnArbor.com file photos
Megan Hall (sr., G) Chelsea: A dangerous outside threat for an experienced Chelsea team, Hall averaged 12.5 points last season and shot 34.1 percent (15-of-44) from 3-point range.
Logan Sims (sr., C), Huron: Had to sit out much of last year after transferring from Father Gabriel Richard and is now acclimated to the system. Is a threat to score from outside and down low for the River Rats.
Devin Talley (sr., G), Huron: Led the SEC Red champion River Rats with 13.5 points per game in her first season running the offense last year. Should be even more dangerous with a year of experience under her belt.
ARBOR PREP GATORS
After leading Skyline in its first seasons as a program, coach Rod Wells is doing the same at Ypsilanti Arbor Preparatory Academy, a charter school that opened this year.
Arbor Prep only has freshmen and sophomore classes and will add a class each year, expecting to expand into a Class B school. For now, Arbor Prep will compete in Class D.
The team isn’t completely void of experience. Safaria Jones played at Lincoln last year and Julanna Dukes played at Ypsilanti. Plus, Wells has coached many of the girls at the AAU level.
“We’ll be a basic fundamental team, playing man-to-man,” Wells said. “I’d like to run (and press) eventually, but right now, don’t have the talent. We’ll be defensive-minded right now. Buying into being a tough team."
Strength: Work ethic.
Weakness: Lack of fundamentals and strength due to youth and inexperience.
CALVARY CHRISTIAN COUGARS
Calvary Christian will need to be a well-conditioned and healthy team because there are just seven girls on the roster. That’s not a bad turnout considering there are 45 kids in the entire school.
Coach Tim Howell said defensively the Cougars will play a half court trap and slow the tempo on offense.
“I think we’ve got experience will compete better than the past couple of years,” Howell said.
Howell doesn’t expect his team to become all-stars overnight, but thinks just a slight improvement in shooting percentage could make a huge difference.
“If we become a 35 percent shooting team from 25 percent, that’d be all the difference in the world,” Howell said.
Strength: Have experience six of seven players have experience under pressure.
Weakness: The team as a whole shoots a low percentage from the field.
The Bulldogs return eight players from last year’s district and SEC White title-winning team, and those eight players accounted for 90 percent of the team’s scoring and rebounding last year.
A loss to Olivet in a regional tournament game still stings, but coach Todd Blomquist believes that experience will benefit his team.
“They’re excited to try and get back there again,” Blomquist said.
In Blomquist’s 12-year tenure, his teams have won or shared nine conference titles and won six district titles, so that, as always, remains the starting goal.
“If this team continues to work hard and improve each game, they can realize it,” Blomquist said.
Strength: Experience, team returns 90 percent of its scoring.
Weakness: Need to sore up rebounding and defensive area.
Mike Bavineau said he’s confident going 13-deep into his bench this year. While he doesn’t plan to run and press the way many teams with deep benches do, he did say the depth will afford his team the luxury of playing harder for longer.
“We’ll want to keep the intensity level up,” Bavineau said. “Sometimes without depth there are ebbs and flow, and we feel we can avoid that.
“Any time you have depth, you want to utilize it."
Last year the Dreadnaughts were able to knock Huron out of districts despite having lost to them during the regular season. Bavineau feels those regular-season matchups better prepared his team to face the River Rats in the playoffs.
But with the SEC changing its format (again), his team will not play the likes of Huron or Pioneer during the regular season, which he said will likely be to his team's disadvantage come playoff time.
“I don’t care how we hard we try in practice can’t simulate (Huron’s) pressure,” Bavineau said.
The Dreadnaughts picked up their first win on Friday against Class D Plymouth Christian.
Weakness: Team has a tough time creating and converting on scoring chances.
GABRIEL RICHARD FIGHTING IRISH
The Fighting Irish will be a senior laden squad led by the Angela Broggi and Sarah Falvey, both four-year varsity starters.
With her combination of length and speed, Broggi will rotate between all five positions for the Irish on the court in order.
Beside Broggi and sophomore center Corra Dreffs, though, coach Matt Carroll is concerned about his team’s overall size.
“We’re big, but I don’t know if we’re big enough at the center position,” he said, noting that the Catholic League Central Division teams they’ll play in the CHSL tournament (Bloomfield Hills Marian, Dearborn Divine Child, Farmington Hill Mercy) traditionally have plenty of height to go around.
Carroll hopes the Irish's speed and athleticism can help make up for any disadvantage in height.
Strength: Athleticism, overall length and experience.
Weakness: Lack of height at the center position.
Greenhills is coming off of a season in which it went from worst to first in the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference. That had much to do with moving down to the Red Division, which is made up of smaller schools.
Still, the confidence gained from the success is there.
“This is the best basketball skill team that I’ve had in a while,” said coach Lisa Mack.
And it never hurts to return a senior captain who averaged a double-double as Marissa Thompson (12.5 ppg, 11.2 rpg) did for the Gryphons last year. Thompson and junior guard Jackie Oestreich will be the go-to player for Greenhills this year.
Strength: According to Mack, “basketball skills” like shooting, ball handling, passing.
Weakness: Playing team basketball.
HURON RIVER RATS
Huron coach Steve Vinson likes his teams going at full speed up and down the court at all times. This season, he feels confident going 12-deep on his bench, so he hopes the River Rats can keep a higher tempo for longer and tire teams out.
“We’ll be faster than we’ve ever been,” Vinson said. “There will be a lot of pressing a lot of running and hopefully some shots going in.”
Logan Sims, who played just half the season last year after transferring from Father Gabriel Richard, should help Huron’s lack of height, but as a whole the River Rats will try to combat that with speed.
There’s no one better in the area to lead the way than senior guard Devin Talley who led Huron in scoring last year with 13.5 points per game. Also returning is junior Bianca Williams, who scored 10.5 points per game last year.
Strength: Speed and depth.
Weakness: Lack of height, offensive consistency.
Just having starting point guard Arrielle Cargor back means the Railsplitters return more than 35 percent of their offense. The speedy junior guard averaged 12.7 points last season and will be relied upon to do more of the same.
Cargor is one of four returning starters from last season, three of whom have started for three years.
Lincoln has won its first two games of the season, the first in dramatic fashion with a late fourth quarter comeback. Second-year coach Mike Hotchkiss believes starting the season off on a high note can make a difference for a group that has enjoyed limited success.
Strength: Speed and leadership among returning starters.
Weakness: Running set plays on offense.
MANCHESTER FLYING DUTCHMEN
Manchester returns its top two scorers and rebounders in McKenna Erkfritz and Taylor Manders. Erkfritz averaged a double-double last season (15.7 ppg, 11.5 rpg), while Manders put up 13.7 ppg and contributed 4.2 steals.
Coach Cori Kastel is confident that if teams exclusively focus their efforts on locking down the two juniors there are plenty of complementary players who could rise to the challenge.
“I expect everybody to double McKenna and put a lot of pressure on Taylor,” Kastel said. “The other three will be able to step up.”
Last year the Dutch didn’t follow up its first district title the way Kastel hoped, but hopes falling short inspires her team and that momentum from the volleyball season -- where many of the girls won the program’s first-ever conference and title -- carries over.
“We have all the talent. It’s just whether or not they live up to expectations,” Kastel said.
Strength: Speed, ball handling, top two scorers returning.
Weakness: Lack of chemistry with younger, less experienced players.
MILAN BIG REDS
Last year was a challenge for Milan, which dealt with a mass exodus of talent. That talent still isn’t restored from the 2009-10 season, but there are signs of progress.
“Last year, we were plagued with turnovers. We still may turn the ball over, but we can make up for it with our defensive prowess,” Scott said. “We’ll have to rely on senior leadership.”
Senior forward Corinna Schneider will likely be the most consistent scorer, but Scott knows it won’t be to the level of two years ago when Lindsey Lammers was good for close to 20 points a night. Rather than one go-to scorer he hopes Milan spread the wealth.
“If I can get six points per girl, eight girls deep, that’d be great,” Scott said.
Strength: Speed and defense.
Weakness: "We get young fast and aren't very big,” said Scott.
Though the majority of Pioneer’s players are seniors, as coach Crystal Westfield puts it, the team is “young in experience.”
Pioneer graduated four starters and its three top scorers from last year’s district championship squad, including first team Class A All-State guard Kamilah Carter and Maya Richmond, who were both capable of taking over games.
“We aren’t going to have someone who scores 25, but we do have the potential to have several girls at double figures,” Westfield said. “We’ll keep the scoring balanced and that’s how we’ll win our games.”
Westfield says her team is fast, but is learning how to harness that speed and run the offense effectively. “We are going to have to learn to control the skills that we have,” Westfield said. “I have to teach and we have to learn.”
Strength: Athleticism, speed, intensity.
Weakness: Experience, offense, lack of height.
RUDOLF STEINER STORM
The Storm fell in the Class D district final last year to Washtenaw Christian. Returning from that team are two of the Storm’s most potent offensive threats in Anika Sproull and Tessa Belanger.
Gone from the team, however, is Maureen Terrill, who made everything go for the Steiner last year.
With a year under coach Jim Belanger already under their belt, the Storm should be used to his high-pressure defensive system that emphasizes creating turnovers and scoring on the transition.
Strength: Not Available.
Weakness: Not available.
Former junior varsity coach Jeff Waltz takes over for Jason Pickett, who is now coaching the boys varsity team at Farmington Hills Harrison after eight years of leading the Hornets.
Waltz said that the on-the-court product will look very much the same as years past with one exception: “I’m probably a little more animated,” Waltz said.
The Hornets have a wealth of experience, with seven seniors on the he team, all of whom saw significant minutes last season. The reason it’s not eight, however, is that Saline lost Jill Borowski to a season-ending injury in the preseason.
Borwoski was sure to be the Hornets’ starting center and the team’s leading returning scorer.
“We obviously know it’s a huge loss, but we’re not making any excuses,” Waltz said.
Strength: Defense and toughness.
Weakness: Lack of confidence.
One game into the season and first-year head coach Keith Wade and his team already have the monkey off their backs: They won a game.
Yes, it came against Whitmore Lake, which hasn’t won a game in more than two years. Still, a win is a win and now the Eagles can focus on just playing and not having to worry about the goose egg attached to their record.
“We’re obviously trying to bring the program from the ground up,” said Wade, who took over for Rod Wells. "Believing will be half the battle because they took so many big losses last year.”
Though Skyline has yet to have to worry about attrition due to graduation, the struggles of the program have brought about low numbers and few transfers as well, so the team hasn’t exactly retained 100 percent of its talent.
Wade has adopted a unique spin on of Bo Schembechler famously quotes as it pertains to the girls who have stuck with the program.
“Those who stay, will play,” Wade said.
Weakness: Lack of winning experience.
WASHTENAW CHRISTIAN WILDCATS
As is the case often at Washtenaw Christian, numbers are low for Bob Trevino’s squad, but the roster isn’t quite as young as it looks on paper.
“We have two freshmen that got minutes as eight graders, so they’re not completely deer in headlights out there,” Trevino said. “They have some experience and are comfortable out there.”
The Wildcats won their district last year and have five players returning, including top scorers Becca Grimes and Rachel Ballantyne.
We will have to rely on starting five and work youngsters in as we can,” Trevino said. “This year will really come down to staying healthy and being able to run.”
Strength: Fitness, chemistry and competitiveness.
Weakness: Lack of depth and experience outside starting five.
WHITMORE LAKE TROJANS
Whitmore Lake hasn’t won a game in more than two seasons, and it started this season 0-2, but coach Jennifer Taylor is seeing progress.
In a season-opening loss to Milan, the Trojans lost by three after being down 16-3 in the first quarter. And thought the team is still turning the ball over too much (about 35 times per game) it’s still about half as many as it was giving up during games last season.
“Last year, if we were down by 13 in the first quarter we would have lost by 40,” Taylor said. “These girls are much improved, and they’re still without their starting point guard, who is out with mono.”
Taylor expects her lineup to be at full strength within the month and with it will come a reduction in turnovers and hopefully, some wins.
Strength: Competitiveness from top to bottom. Taylor said her team improves greatly in practice because of even competition between first and second string.
Weakness: Overall strength, especially inside and on the boards.
WILLOW RUN FLYERS
After four years under the direction of Anthony Davis, Willow Run will now be coached by Kevin Van Riper. As was the case last year, when low numbers and ineligibility caused the junior varsity and varsity teams to merge, the Flyers will field just one team.
Throwing players into the fire has its benefits. Young girls get experience quickly, but there are also obvious downfalls as someone who needs the JV level to develop doesn’t enjoy that.
If the Flyers can get Keya Lawson open on the outside, she is as dangerous an outside shooter as any in the area.
Strength: When left alone, Lawson can be dangerous from the outside.
Weakness: Low numbers.
The Ypsilanti program more than doubled its win total in Chris Slater’s second year as head coach last season. That progress will be tough to maintain with the graduation of multi-year starters Allante Larkin, Delisia Morris and Tyler Richardson.
The good news for the Phoenix is leading scorer Jasmine Jones returns after a sophomore season in which she averaged 14 points, four assists and three steals.
Whether she’s able to be as effective without Morris, Richardson and Larkin demanding as much attention remains to be seen.
Strength: Returns top scorer.
Weakness: The team graduated a lot of talent.