season preview: A team-by-team glance at Washtenaw County's girls basketball teams in 2012-13
The weather has turned and sports fans are heading indoors for the winter. That means it's time for girls basketball to take center stage. While teams all over the state have dreams of making it to East Lansing and the state finals, two local teams have more than just dreams, they have serious chances.
Here is AnnArbor.com's team-by-team look at what basketball fans can expect this upcoming season:
SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE RED
With a state semifinalist in Huron firmly planted atop the division, it seems to reason that this division will once again belong to the River Rats. With ten returning players from last year’s team and three returning starters, Huron should coast to another conference title.
That doesn’t mean teams such as Saline and Ann Arbor Pioneer won’t make some waves this season. Saline finished last season strong and Pioneer head coach Crystal Westfield has a history of building solid teams that can beat anyone on any given night.
ANN ARBOR HURON RIVER RATS
With a large chunk of last year’s state semifinal team returning, Huron head coach Steve Vinson said his team is very capable of once again getting to the Breslin Center. Being so close last season to a state final has provided extra incentive for his team.
"It does provide a lot of motivation to get back, but we know it’s not going to be easy,” Vinson said. “We can’t take anything for granted. Nothing is automatic.”
Vinson said his team’s biggest challenge this season is going to come under the basket where is team could struggle on the boards.
“Rebounding is our Achilles heel right now,” Vinson said.
While it will be difficult to replace Logan Sims and Devin Talley from last year’s team, Vinson expects seniors Bianca Williams, Alexis Garner and Auzhane King to step up as leaders. Combined with a deep bench, the Rats should be the team to beat come playoff time.
ANN ARBOR PIONEER PIONEERS
Two years removed from a 20-win season, the Pioneers are hoping to recapture that form after last season's disappointing finish. Head coach Crystal Westfield enters her 22nd season as coach, providing plenty of experience to draw from when it comes to turning the team around.
Senior Jennifer Fichera made some major strides last season and is expected to use her outside shooting ability to help pace the Pioneers on offense, while rebounding on the defensive end. Junior Emily Turner will also be expected to contribute while running the offense from the point guard position.
A quick, athletic team, the Pioneers will struggle when up against bigger, more physical teams.
ANN ARBOR SKYLINE EAGLES
A 3-18 record may not look like much, but for a program that was winless in its history entering last season, three wins was a big improvement. That improvement is expected to continue this season as the Eagles return five seniors to their lineup.
Led by Janae Sims, who averaged nine points a game a season ago, the Eagles will be more competitive this season than in years prior.
“We want to take that next step of not being just happy to win a game, but to be in games and get some more wins," said head coach Keith Wade. “It’s a work in progress, I can’t expect it to just happen overnight.”
Wade said his team's biggest strength this year will be how deep this team is compared to teams of the past. However the team will be without senior Allison Young who will miss the majority of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
In prior seasons the inability to rotate has hurt the Eagles, but with incoming twins Mia and Mya Morris joining the rotation, Wade expects a tougher team this season.
And with that toughness comes the expectations of finally getting a conference win in SEC play.
“I say this to anyone, this is one of the better conferences in the state. If we can just get one, the girls will see that they can actually play with the teams in this conference," Wade said.
The Hornets closed out last season on a roll that helped push them into the district final, before losing to Temperence Bedford. That team however had six seniors on it and plenty of experience.
This year's squad doesn't have that luxury.
Head coach Jeff Waltz knows his team is young and that they may very well struggle at times this season. But Waltz and the club have made it their mission to make sure teams know what they're in for when they face the Hornets.
“We play a brand of basketball where we try to execute what we do and limit those critical errors," Waltz said. "Teams will know when they play Saline that they are in for a dogfight."
Seniors Emily Reyst, Melissa Needham and Caitlin Ellis have already stepped up according to Waltz and taken the lead both on and off the court.
“I hope we can blend this thing and get it going. The girls have been working really hard in practice and done everything I’ve asked of them," Waltz said.
Ellis averaged almost six points a game in limited time last season.
Waltz said he expects his team be much more athletic this season, but admits that their defense must improve if they want to continue last year's end of season success.
“They’re real excited, we kind of had a little bit of success there at the end and they want to build off of that and finish the job this time," he said.
SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE WHITE
This has been Chelsea’s division for the majority of the decade. But with an upstart Dexter program looking to build on a successful 2011 campaign, the Bulldogs may be in for a challenge if they want to win their third consecutive conference title.
Both Ypsilanti schools have rosters featuring great talent, but may struggle from a lack of depth at times. Adrian and Tecumseh both had tough times in the division a year ago and will most likely suffer again this season.
The Bulldogs' top two scorers graduated last season leaving Riley Singleton as the leading returning scorer. Singleton averaged 6.5 points a game last year for Chelsea while Grace Sauers averaged 5.3 points a game.
Singleton has committed to playing at Davenport next season.
Still, head coach Todd Blomquist is confident that his team's success won't be defined by their offensive prowess.
“The strength of our team is going to rebounding and playing defense. That’s been the program for our success for the last 14 years and we hope to continue that," said Blomquist.
The Bulldogs have won league title 11 of the last 14 years and the last two. But after losing in the district final last year, Blomquist said he plans on using that shortcoming to motivate the team even more.
“Certainly I’ve used that already and will continue to use that all year. We had a great year but, it can all end in a hurry. That’s a great focus point," Blomquist said.
The Dreads enter the season with a balanced club that is hoping to improve on a 17-win season last year.
“I think that we have a little bit of everything. Good interior play, good inside game, and some perimeter shooters," said head coach Mike Bavineau.
Leading scorers Emma Kill and Riley McDonald return to lead the Dreads on offense. McDonald is a four-year starter for the Dreads.
“I have a lot of confidence in those players. I think that we can matchup pretty well," Bavineau said.
Bavineau went on to say that Makenzie Svihra and Teia McGahey will also be expected to contribute on the offensive end.
While his team may be able to matchup with most teams, Bavineau did say that his team needs to work on fine tuning some the basics as the season gets rolling. Including getting physically tougher as a team.
“We’ll try to build each game and try to improve That’s what early games do and they let you know what it is you need to improve on," Bavineau said.
"This is it."
That's the team motto for the 2012 Phoenix. With an uncertain future due to the consolidation of the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts, head coach Chris Slater and his team knows this could be their last chance to do something memorable at Ypsilanti High School.
“This is your time to leave your mark. We can go out with a bang,” Slater said. “And that’s something people will remember for a long time.”
Last year's leading scorer Jasmine Jones returns for her senior year. Jones averaged nearly 12 points a game for the Phoenix last season and Slater thinks she will be even more productive this season. Ypsilanti will have six seniors on this year's roster.
Slater said his team still needs to be more physical on defense especially considering the tough conference they play in.
On the flip side, Slater think his team's ability to throw multiple looks at opponents on both ends will be its biggest strength.
“We want to throw a lot of looks at them and keep them off balance and hopefully get some easy scores off that," Slater said.
With the focus being on doing something special, Slater said his team has to remember how tough it was walking off the court last year and use it as motivation.
“I feel like the seniors get it. They were here last year during that district loss. They felt that pain and now as seniors, they feel like this is their year to make it happen.”
YPSILANTI LINCOLN RAILSPLITTERS
With a new head coach, establishing a style of play early will be important for the Splitters as former boys head coach Mike Foley takes over the girls team.
Foley said he has been impressed with just how hard his team has worked over the summer and early in training camp, despite having to learn a new system.
“It’s definitely a work in progress. I’ve seen great strides since this summer. We finally have all the girls working together that are going to be playing together," Foley said.
Developing a solid bench is one of the first priorities for Foley and his staff.
“You’re only as good as your assistant coaches and your next best five," he said.
With returning seniors Katelyn Morris, Arrielle Cargor (who each averaged more than 10 points a game last season) and Jaslyn Rollins leading the team, Foley is confident his team will be able to grow as a unit, while still winning games.
“Once these girls really learn the system and perfect it we can be very competitive," Foley said. “Coaching is not new to me and playing is not new to them. I think we have that common ground and I think we’ll have a successful season.”
OTHER WASHTENAW COUNTY TEAMS
With eyes set on a regional title, Manchester headlines the rest of Washtenaw County’s teams. The Lady Dutch return all five starters from last year's team that fell just short of semifinal appearance a year ago.
Gabriel Richard is coming of a district title, which they won by beating Chelsea. It will be a tough road for the Irish this season as a youth movement may catch up to them as the season progresses.
While a few of these schools are not expected to make deep playoff runs, they certainly can cause a few problems for teams in the region and around the state.
Look for clubs like Milan and Willow Run to improve on last year’s seasons.
Two smaller schools worth keeping an eye on are Ann Arbor Greenhills and Ypsilanti Arbor Prep. Greenhills won 16 games a year ago, while Arbor Prep was 17-2, but because it was a first-year program was ineligible for postseason play. Arbor Prep is scheduled to play in the Class C tournament this spring and could be a dark horse once the playoffs begin.
MANCHESTER FLYING DUTCHMEN
Coming off the most successful season in program history, the Manchester Lady Dutch have a major goal they want to accomplish: winning their region in the state playoffs.
With all five starters from last year's regional final team returning, The Dutch have the firepower needed to make it to the Breslin Center.
Last year's AnnArbor.com Player of the Year McKenna Erkfritz leads Manchester and is joined by fellow seniors Taylor Manders and Jesse Coltre in the starting lineup along with Maddie Collins and Taylor's sister Jessie Manders.
Erkfritz averaged 17 points and nine rebounds a game a season ago, while the Manders sisters each were scoring threats with Taylor scoring 11 points a game and Jesse netting 8.6 per contest.
A combination of size, speed and shooting makes the Dutch a tough matchup every night.
With another year under their belts playing together, Manchester may have as good of a chance to make a deep run in the playoffs as any in the area. Keeping their minds focused on playing on game at a time will be the biggest challenge for the Dutch for the majority of the season.
“Manchester’s never won a regional title, so that is next, one step at a time,” said head coach Cori Kastel. “If we can all stay on the same page and be consistent, they have a shot at going to the Breslin.”
MILAN BIG REDS
After a disappointing season last year, Milan officials decided to go in a new direction and hired boys assistant coach Brad Baden to take over as the girls head coach. Early impressions from Baden give him hope that his team can rebound and improve on last year's record.
"I don’t think it’s a huge change, last year they did a lot of good things and we’re trying use that foundation to introduce a wrinkle here or a wrinkle there," Baden said.
The Big Reds return five seniors to the team and will count on the leadership of Kara Smiatowicz to help bring along the underclassmen.
The Reds got the season off to a good start, beating Whitmore Lake 40-33 in the season opener. Lexus Kersey, a junior, scored 14 points in the win.
“It was big for us to get the first game jitters out of the way and get a road win," Baden said. "They were pretty excited and had some first game jitters, but right off the tip they were able to calm down.”
ANN ARBOR GABRIEL RICHARD FIGHTING IRISH
With six seniors having graduated from last year's districts championship team, head coach Matt Carroll knows there will be some bums in the road for his team. He admitted his team lost some basketball IQ, but is confident the team is ready for another long season.
"I'm impressed with how they are picking things up," Carroll said. "We have expectations of doing it again."
With a limited roster, Carroll expects juniors Kora Dreffs and Emily Hogan to provide a one-two punch down low for the Irish. While senior point guard Jessica Jenkins handles things from up top.
"This is her time to shine," Carroll said about Jenkins.
The Irish will focus again on playing tough defense, utilizing a high pressure defense designed to force as many turnovers as possible. Hopefully leading to some easy baskets.
WHITMORE LAKE TROJANS
After not winning a game in the previous two seasons, the Trojans finally broke through last season, winning four games in the process.
With seven returning seniors on the roster, head coach Jennifer Taylor thinks her team is primed to continue that growth this season.
“We’ve been looking forward to this season since the last game of last season," Taylor said. “It was a long time to see some wins for our program.”
Seniors Mariah Duffy, Abby Salata, and Melissa Dreffs return for their third seasons on the varsity roster, giving the Trojans lots of experience on the court. Salata was the team's leading rebounder a season ago and is the team's leading returning scorer. Taylor is counting on the trio to lead the team.
"They're already showing the signs in practice. Showing leadership and stepping up in practice and being vocal and making an impact on the floor," Taylor said.
Taylor said that the Trojans will have to focus on staying fundamentally sound throughout the season if they want to continue competing game in and game out. But with so much experience on the team, she was confident that wouldn't be an issue.
With no senior class at the school yet, head coach Rod Wells doesn't have the benefit of turning to a senior class to assist with the team's development.
Luckily in it's first season Arbor Prep won 17 games and is adding pieces that Wells thinks will make them even more dangerous this season.
“I think I have a lot of talent that learning how to play the game. They’re learning to play as a team. But there is still some work to do," Wells said.
Rod's daughter, Zakiya Wells led the team in scoring last year averaging 17 points a game and Rod thinks that she can score even more this season. That's in large part because of the addition of freshmen Nastassja Chambers and Jasmine Henry.
But being that the team is still so young, Wells must keep his players aware of the circumstances in every game.
“We have to understand that it’s the little things that win games. Blocking out, setting picks properly. That’s what I have to get them to understand," Wells said.
After not being able to compete in the playoffs last season, Arbor Prep is scheduled to play in the Class C playoffs this year. And while the playoffs will be exciting, Wells and the team are looking forward to playing every night.
“We’re going to be an exciting team to watch. Our motto is 94 feet, 32 minutes. We like to put pressure on the ball," he said.
ANN ARBOR GREENHILLS GRYPHONS
First year head coach Rachel Cortis is wasting no time in making some major changes to her lineup.
Returning leading scorer Jackie Oestreich will move from the point guard position to the wing in an effort to open her up for more scoring opportunities. While it took some getting used to by Oestreich, Cortis is sure it's the right decision.
“If you can get your best scorer on the wing or on the outside you can get a lot more scoring out of them if they’re not using their energy bringing the ball up the floor," Cortis said.
Replacing Oestreich at the point will be Sabrina Wu.
The Gryphons return only two seniors to the team, but Cortis thinks her team will do just fine if they can remember to communicate and do the little things on the floor.
“Been really focusing on fundamentals and the little things. Hoping that will turn into bigger things down the road," Cortis said. “I think we’ll do just as well as we did last year.”
WILLOW RUN FLYERS
With eight seniors from last year's team no longer there, Willow Run is in the middle of trying to grow as a team while building on last year's strides.
Cliff Russell takes over as the Flyers head coach and is looking forward to seeing this team develop as the season goes on. While it sounds like a cliche, the Flyers are taking the season one day at a time.
“If we do that, the wins and losses will take care of themselves. We have to grow this season and grow into winning," Russell said.
Seniors Samaria Gibbs and Chamaria Canada were the team's two leading scorers in their first game of the season, a loss to Detroit Edison. Canada scored 13 points in the loss.
“Our team played hard, but we don’t have a lot of game experience on the team. Even the toughest practices don’t really match what happens in the game," Russell said.
Aside from winning games on the court, Russell said he is focused on helping his players grow as people away from the court.
“There are 13 or 14 girls on the team now and I'm very proud of every one of them."
WASHTENAW CHRISTIAN WILDCATS
The Wildcats have won two consecutive district championships and should be in the hunt for a third this season. But head coach Bob Trevino has made it clear that there is a target on their backs this season.
Thankfully the Wildcats can rely on their experience when those games get rough.
“They have some experience winning tight games and the great thing about the kids is that they’re humble kids and they know they’re going to have to work and fight for everything they get," Trevino said.
With only eight players on the roster, the Wildcats will look to senior Rachel Ballentyne to lead the way. Ballentyne was the team's second leading scorer a year ago and is joined by sophomores Kara Gross and Michela Donat in handling the offensive responsibilities.
The Wildcats have had to scramble to fill out their season schedule because of various problems that came up with other schools. However, Trevino is confident that his team will get a full season in and be ready come playoff time.
“We have some real good kids and real good attitudes," Trevino said. “The kids are really dedicated and excited to get going.”
-- Information for Ann Arbor Rudolf Steiner and Ypsilanti Calvary Christian was not available.