Not many teams can lose a pair of college-bound stars and be just as good as the year before.
But the St. Mary’s girls basketball team might be even better.
The Knights went 30-0 last season and won the Division I title for the second straight year. They dominated not only Arizona competition but beat elite teams from across the country, making a case as the best team in the nation. Even though Shilpa Tummala and Cortnee Walton graduated, St. Mary’s has an incredible six players committed to Division I schools.
The Knights are led by 2011-2012 Tribune Player of the Year Chantel Osahor and Connecticut commit Courtney Ekmark. Danielle and Dominique Williams are also back as the Knights are once again heavy favorites to win the state title. Pinnacle, Dobson, Hamilton, Mountain View, Highland and Desert Vista seem to be their toughest competition.
In Division II, Seton Catholic is a similar favorite as it returns Julia Barcello, Anee Marie Holter and Susan Spinner from last year’s championship squad.
Valley Christian is the East Valley’s top team in Division III, while Tempe Prep takes aim at a Division IV repeat with the return of Marissa Rich and Camille Zimmerman.
Teams to watch
St. Mary’s — The Knights lost college-bound standouts Shilpa Tummala and Cortnee Walton but still have six Division I commits returning. Reigning Tribune POY Chantel Osahor and Connecticut commit Courtney Ekmark lead the way as St. Mary’s is the heavy favorite to win a third straight state title.
Pinnacle — Sydney Wiese is the star, but she has help. Forward Kenna McDavis is committed to Boise State, while Britta Nordstrom and Xavier transfer Jasmine Hotchkins are also talented. The Pioneers are the only Arizona team to beat St. Mary’s in the past two seasons and may have the best shot at the Knights this year.
Mountain View — The Toros have one of the top backcourts in the state in Rene Coggins, Sabrina Haines and Armani Hawkins. The team suffered a big blow in the offseason, though, when Iowa State-bound forward Jordan Jensen tore her ACL. Her return for this season is unknown.
Dobson — Katherine Hamilton is back to lead the Mustangs, who return all five of their starters from last year’s state semifinal team. Dobson was last team to beat St. Mary’s in the postseason, doing it in the 2009 championship game.
Hamilton — Lauren Evans has taken her game to Virginia Tech, and she leaves a big void. However, Aliyah Dickson, Kyndall Adams, Ashlee Moore and Corona del Sol transfer Alex Hogberg could lead the Huskies back to the finals.
Highland — When Miner Webster is on the bench, the Hawks can never be counted out. Leading scorer Olivia Lucero returns to lead the way, while Kathleen Cabrera is another key piece.
Desert Vista — New coach Jaysie Chambes Sheppard steps into a fruitful situation. Emily Wolph, Kylie Butler and Kristine Anigwe are a talented trio for a Thunder team which won 25 games a season ago.
Seton Catholic — The Sentinels thought they would be rebuilding last season after the loss of star Theresa Wirth. Instead, they won the Division II title and figure to be even better this year with Anne Marie Holter, Julia Barcello and Susan Spinner.
Tempe Prep — The Knights won the Division IV championship a year ago and with Marissa Rich and Camille Zimmerman returning, the opportunity for a repeat is there.
Valley Christian — Tana Kemmer is back to lead traditionally strong Trojans, but Logan Phillipe and Katie File are big losses. Kemmer led state with 134 made 3-pointers a year ago.
Players to watch
Chantel Osahor, Sr., F, St. Mary’s: Reigning Tribune POY should again dominate with her combination of passing, rebounding and scoring.
Courtney Ekmark, Jr., G, St. Mary’s: The Knights are stocked with talent but Ekmark, who committed to Connecticut in the offseason, will be relied on as the main scoring threat after the graduation of Shilpa Tummala.
Sydney Wiese, Sr., G, Pinnacle: Oregon State-bound sharpshooter is one of state’s best pure scorers.
Katherine Hamilton, Sr., G, Dobson: San Diego State-commit averaged 14.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.9 steals per game last year and will lead Mustangs again.
Julia Barcello, Jr. F, Seton Catholic: Barcello won the Section II Player of the Year award last season as a sophomore and should be even better this year as Sentinels look for three-peat.
Olivia Lucero, Sr., G, Highland: Led the Hawks in scoring last season with 12.7 points per game. Committed to Loyola Marymount.
Armani Hawkins, So., G, Mountain View: Big sister Arnecia Hawkins is now playing for Arizona State, so Armani’s role should grow. She’s one of the best sophomores in the state.
Emily Wolph, Jr., G, Desert Vista: Second on team in scoring (14.6 ppg) as a sophomore and takes over as go-to player this season.
Tana Kemmer, Sr., G, Valley Christian: Long-range bomber was top-5 nationally with 134 3-pointers made last season. Led team in scoring (15.4 ppg) and should again this season.
Alexa Hogberg, Sr., G, Hamilton: Big addition for Huskies as Corona del Sol’s leading scorer from a season ago (14.3 ppg) transfers in to give team another top-flight player.
Other players to watch
Arcadia: Kylie Herd, Sr., F; Campo Verde: Didi Moloi, Sr., F; Chandler: Jazmyne Bartee, Sr., F; Desert Mountain: Kristi Lee, Jr., G; Desert Vista: Kylie Butler, Jr. G; Dobson: Tori Lloyd, Jr., G; Miyah Leith, Jr., G; Gilbert: Kaitlin Quinn, Jr., G; Gilbert Christian: Colleen Young, Jr. G; Hamilton: Aliyah Dickson, Sr., F; Kyndall Adams, Sr., F; Highland: Kathleen Cabrera, Sr., G; Higley: Sydnie Martindale, So., F; Horizon: Rachel Goodman, Jr., G; Marcos de Niza: Sydnie Lengyel, Sr., F; Mesquite: Cecily Wilson, Jr., G; Mountain Pointe: Caitlyn Hetrick, Sr., G; Kaylah Lupoe, Jr., F; Mountain View: Rene Coggings, Sr., G; Sabrina Haines, So., G; Pinnacle: Kenna McDavis, Sr., F; Poston Butte: Jameeliah Jones, Jr., G; Queen Creek: Sarah Hefington, Sr., G; Makaily Worthington, Sr., F; Red Mountain: Erica Vasquez, Sr., G; Saguaro: Casey Rarrick, Jr., G; Scottsdale Prep: Kaye Munsil, Sr., G; Seton Catholic: Anne Marie Holter, Sr., G; Susan Spinner, Sr., G; St. Mary’s: Dominique Williams, Sr., G; Danielle Williams, Sr. G; Chloe Johnson, Sr., G; Brandee Walton, Sr., F; Tempe Prep: Marissa Rich, Sr. F; Camille Zimmerman, Sr., F; Westwood: Kiana Islas, Sr., F.; Xavier: Katie Werner, Sr., F.
Big voids: Season-threatening injuries have hurt a couple programs before the year has begun. Desert Mountain guard Carly Rose is expected to miss the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament after leading the team in scoring a year ago. Jordan Jensen may have to sit out as well with the same injury for the Toros. Jensen, a senior, has committed to Iowa State and would have given Mountain View the size to complement the team’s talented guards.
Transfers: The move which may have the biggest impact is Corona del Sol leading scorer Alexa Hogberg going to Hamilton. The Huskies made the championship game last season and with Hogberg adding to a nucleus of Aliyah Dickson, Kyndall Adams and Ashlee Moore, the Huskies have a shot to get back. Xavier point guard Jasmine Hotchkins transferred to Pinnacle, which will give the Pioneers even more firepower.
Nov. 19-24: Highland tournament
No. 29: Desert Vista at Highland
Dec. 19-23: Nike Tournament of Champions
Jan. 7: Hamilton at St. Mary’s
Jan. 16: Saguaro at Seton Catholic
Jan. 21: MLK Basketball Classic
Jan. 30: Dobson at Highland
Jan. 31: Gilbert Christian at Valley Christian
Feb. 5: Sectional tournaments begin
Feb. 13: State tournaments begin
Feb. 23: State championship games
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.