In part two of a two-part package in which we analyze each of the 50 teams weve selected as being among the nations best for the upcoming season, we look at No. 26 through No. 50. It figures to be a wide-open season, so some of these teams could easily jump towards the top after only a few games.
Editors Note: The StudentSports.com FAB 50 national girls basketball rankings will be released at various key junctures during the upcoming season. At this time, a weekly ranking is not being planned, so the girls basketball rankings will be available as a free story on this site. Please consider a total access subscription to studentsports.com and calhisports.com if youre also a fan of football or boys basketball.
26. New Trier (Winnteka, Ill.) 27-6 (nr)
Usually, returning only two starters from a six-loss team is not a recipe for a FAB 50 ranking, but the Trevians' two returners are Deidre Naughton and Cecilia Franklin, and they also add 6-4 freshman seansation Amy Jaescke to the mix. Illinois is down a little this year, thanks in part to Naperville Centrals Candace Parkers serious knee injury, and New Trier looks to be the preseason pick as the best in the state, even with only two returners.
27. Kickapoo (Springfield, Mo.) 31-0 (7)
Though four starters return from last year's unbeaten team, the tougher competition in Missouri and the loss of 6-3 center Laura Granzow drop the Lady Chiefs out of the top 25. Five-six senior Molly Carter and 5-8 junior Heather Ezell are quality players, however, and it wouldn't be a huge shock if Kickapoo extended that winning streak through the end of the season.
28. Oak Ridge (Oak Ridge, Tenn.) 36-3 (nr)
Last year, Oak Ridge was the only team that beat Shelbyville, but the Wildcats stumbled in postseason, and never got a chance to prove the first win wasn't a fluke. But with four starters back, even the loss of Angela Phillips to Kentucky shouldn't derail their momentum. Oak Ridge will return to the Nike TOC, and will also play Victory Christian, which will give Jill Prudden a chance to improve this ranking.
29. Shabazz (Newark, N.J.) 28-3 (41)
Though Shabazz doesn't travel much, the Bulldogs won the New Jersey state title last year, and look ready to repeat. Matee Ajavon and Shaida Williams are the senior leaders, but sophomores Kellindra Zackery and Jania Sims are also big-time talents. We'd love to see Shabazz at the Nike TOC, or the Diamond State Classic in Delaware, but regardless of the strength of schedule, the Bulldogs are still awfully good.
30. Freedom (Morganton, N.C.) 20-7 (nr)
With three seniors, five returning starters and the 'new' coach in his second year, the Lady Patriots look ready for major improvement. Senior Tara Tate and sophomore Kristin Kidd are not only alliterative, but talented, and Freedom will go to the Deep South Classic to prove itself at a major tournament.
31. Ankeny (Ankeny, Iowa) 21-5 (nr)
After a 3-5 start, Ankeny won 18 straight games and the state championship -- again. With five starters back, including 6-1 senior Mary Beth Biga, 6-2 junior Kristina Boss and 6-3 junior Nicky Weiben, a repeat seems destined. Toss in a veteran backcourt, and you're looking at an awfully good team that could be one the best Ankeny has ever produced.
32. Woodbury (St. Paul, Minn.) 29-0 (16)
Led by 6-2 junior Amanda Nisleit, the Royals should once again be the class of Minnesota. Senior point guard Katie Tacheny is also a D-1 recruit, and there's no reason to expect Woodbury to drop off too much. If the Royals, and other Minnesota teams, could play in eight-team tournaments out of state, they would be able to show the rest of the nation how good they really are.
33. Mt. Notre Dame (Cincinnati, Ohio) 23-3 (nr)
Six-three senior Mel Thomas is one of the best players in the country, and the other four starters from last year's 23-3 team return to join her. In addition, the Cougars play a tough schedule (Sacred Heart Academy, Mount de Chantal of West Virginia) and could wind up with a much higher ranking than this one.
34. Northern (Flint, Mich.) 12-0* (nr)
This is the last year Michigan will play girls' basketball in the fall, much to the distaste of many in the state. It will, however, finally allow some teams to play some out-of-state competition, which will give everyone a much better read on how good the teams really are.
35. Bellevue East (Bellevue, Neb.) 14-6 (nr)
First question: Where's South Sioux City? The Cardinals are the annual default pick for number one in Nebraska, but graduation has left them with plenty of uncertainty. Bellevue East, on the other hand, returns not only four starters, and not only 10 of its top 12, but also gets 5-8 transfer Yvonne Turner to run the show. Luckily, the Chieftains and the Cardinals will meet in the regular season, so pollsters won't have to decide who's the best team in Nebraska -- and who really belongs in the FAB 50.
36. Lincoln (Dallas, Texas) 24-6 (nr)
Not only are four Tiger starters back this year, all five of this year's will be back next year too. Led by 6-2 junior posts Dominic Seals and Simone Cooks, Lincoln should improve on last year's record, and clearly is a team to watch for 2004-05 as well.
37. Callaway (Jackson, Miss.) 23-4 (nr)
The Chargers lost to perennial Mississippi power Murrah in the state semis last year, but with four starters back -- including 6-1 senior Janae Mitchell and 5-11 junior Juanita Ward -- Callaway may be ready to wrest the crown from the Mustangs. The Chargers also play in the Nike TOC, which will give them a chance to prove themselves on a national stage.
38. Narbonne (Harbor City, Calif.) 25-7 (34)
The glory days of No. 1 rankings may be over, but the Gauchos are still a force to be reckoned with. They have guard Camille Lenoir, power forward Morgan Medlock and plenty of solid players. Will James Anderson be able to mold this group into a state champion? Probably not, but Narbonne is still a team that nobody really wants to play.
39. East St. John (Reserve, La.) 34-4 (nr)
A pair of all-state senior guards -- Kojavona Hamilton and Erin Keller -- will lead the small but deadly Lady Cats in their hunt for a Lousiana state title, and some national recognition. East St. John has no one taller than 5-9, but a ferocious fullcourt man press and a four-guard attack makes the Lady Cats very hard to match up with, and even harder to beat.
40. St. Mary's (Phoenix, Ariz.) 30-3 (nr)
Sophomore guards Nicole Neals and Dymond Simon may be small (5-4 and 5-3, respectively) but they are quick as a blink and have 6-2 soph Kaylee Murphy to pick up the pieces in the middle. The Knights aren't at the level of the Highland teams of the past couple of years, but then again, not many teams are.
41. Cardinal O'Hara (Philadelphia, Pa.) 21-6 (nr)
As good as the Lions are this year, they are most likely still a year away. Point guard Lisa Claxton (sister of Warrior backup Speedy Claxton) is just a junior and Heather Scanlon and Amy Gillespie are only sophomores. O'Hara will play in the Pickerington tournament this year, as well as against some of New Jersey's best, so the Lions will definitely be tested.
42. Underwood (Underwood, Iowa) 27-1 (nr)
If Eagles' fans are upset about this ranking, they have some justification. After all, Underwood did beat Ankeny last year, and returns four starters, including 6-0 senior Jame Boyd. But the Eagles are a small school and only play a few tough teams. If they beat them all, though, then 42 will definitely be too low.
43. Sapulpa (Sapulpa, Okla.) 25-3 (nr)
In coach Leah Beer's first two seasons, the Chieftains went 46-9, but despite the loss of Twiggy McIntyre to Kansas State, her third season should be her best. Earnesia Williams, Tobey Beer and Kendra Barnes are all juniors with D-1 talent, and Sapulpa is clearly the team to beat in Oklahoma, this year and next.
44. Heights (Wichita, Kan.) 21-4 (nr)
A solid veteran core led by 5-10 senior Taylor McIntosh should keep the Falcons flying high in Kansas, but a couple incoming freshmen might just boost Heights all the way to a state title. The Falcons have only lost six games in the last three years, and don't expect that total to go up much this season either.
45. West (Oshkosh, Wis.) 26-0 (27)
With three starters back and a key transfer, West should be as good, if not better, than last year -- and it's hard to get better than 26-0. One problem for national rankings, though, is that Wisconsin teams can't travel freely, so it's tough to determine how good they really are.
46. Murry Bergtraum (New York, N.Y.) 30-0 (1)
Sure, Kisha Stokes is the only starter back from last year's national championship team, but Shannon Bobbitt and Epiphany Prince both made major contributions. The Lady Blazers will play in the West Coast Jamboree in Northern California, as well as matchups with Willingboro of New Jersey and Christ the King, so they'll have every chance to show this ranking is far too low.
47. Garfield (Seattle, Wash.) 22-6 (nr)
Joyce Walker is starting to put together a powerhouse in Seattle, and with 5-6 junior guard Malia O'Neal, she's got an elite player to build around. The Bulldogs have only two senior starters and Walker's only been at Garfield for four years, so get used to seeing the Bulldogs in the rankings.
48. Fenwick (Oak Park, Ill.) 34-3 (19)
Point guard Kristin Heidloff is the only returning starter from yet another Fenwick powerhouse, but the Friars are reloading this year with a horde of talented freshmen. By season's end, this ranking could be way too low.
49. San Clemente (San Clemente, Calif.) 28-4 (nr)
Six-three Lindsey Pluimer and 6-4 Lauren Riley are a great post combo to build around, but the Tritons are a little thin at guard. Transfer Kate Jorgenson needs to step in at the point and make sure the two big kids get the ball -- if she does, San Clemente could surprise a lot of opponents who are ranked higher in this list.
50. Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.) 25-2 (15)
Like Murry Bergtraum, Christ the King was ravaged by graduation, but the Royals should never be discounted. They'll be back at the Nike TOC, and play their usual tough New York schedule, but it's hard to see them coming close to last year's level of success. But don't worry -- they'll be back there soon enough.
*Playing in fall season Clay Kallam is beginning his seventh season as the lead high school girls basketball analyst for Student Sports Magazine and studentsports.com. Kallam also is well-known as one of the best womens basketball analysts in the country. He operates his own web site, fullcourt.com, and contributes free-lance stories for other major publications like Street & Smiths.