This much is clear about girls basketball: Every one of the big schools is chasing St. Mary’s.
After losing a heartbreaker to Dobson in overtime of the 5A Division I championship last season, the Knights returned armed and dangerous with every starter and a handful of other regulars back this season to implement their break-neck speed and trapping defense.
Nine players have been offered college scholarships, and only two are seniors.
“It’s some good notoriety and everything, but you’re always concerned about kids taking for granted,” St. Mary’s coach Curtis Ekmark said. “The good news is since we didn’t win last year, it gives you something under your hat the first month. A challenge will be finding playing time for so many kids. If we come together as a team, however, we will be tough to deal with at the end of the year.”
Hot on their heels are the usual suspects — Highland, Xavier (under new coach Mary Hauser) and Red Mountain.
So, too, are the Chandler schools. A city long known for its football prowess has made significant strides in the girls basketball world.
Chandler High’s athleticism and speed could give St. Mary’s a run for its money by the end of the season. The Wolves reached the semifinals last season and have been regular playoff visitors the past five years.
Hamilton doesn’t have anyone over 6-feet tall, but has more athleticism than most in the East Valley. A returning starting quartet of Erin Curry, Chelcee Pullam, Lauren Evans and Kyndall Adams are as good as any in town, let alone in Jeff Kain’s four years at the school.
Basha, led by Natalie Markovich and Kellie Miller, begins a new era under coach Rich Meseroll.
“There will be a drop-off of talent this year so teams that fared well last year and return their talent will be at the top of the class this year,” Dobson coach Tyler Dumas said.
Even the smaller Chandler-based schools are already ahead of that curve. Seton Catholic returns the core of last year’s state championship team in 4A-II. Kayla Bustos and Theresa Wirth combined for 33 points, 13 rebounds and nearly five steals per game in 2009-2010. Four starters are back for the Sentinels, who play against teams one and two levels above them (including last week’s Highland Thanksgiving tournament).
“It’s come a long way,” Seton coach Karen Self said of the Chandler girls hoops scene. “Let’s hope it continues, especially at the bigger schools like Hamilton which haven’t had as much success until recently.”
Nobody ruled their roost the way Valley Christian did in 2A. Scott Timmer’s Trojans went undefeated (30-0) last year en route to a state championship. Going another season without a loss will be difficult, and Stacey Jones will be out until around New Year’s because of a volleyball injury, but she’s one of two all-state players back along with Ashley Wolf. With defense and quickness already in place, returning starter Luann Bone will be counted on to hold up the interior.
Even Chandler Prep went to its Final Four last year among charter schools, and three regulars (one starter in Jayne Tetzlaff) return from a 19-9 season.