2006-07 Preseason Rankings
By Gary Knox
St. Paul Central is loaded with talent. Angel Robinson, Kiara Buford, Theairra Taylor, Georgia Jones, Megan Howard and Ebony Black are all division players. Centennial is also loaded with talent and well coached. Megan Nipe is a versatile scorer and can play with anyone along with Kellie Schuneman and Emily Becken.
But, it is Minneapolis South, with the states' premiere Guard Tayler Hill and Clutch Point Guard Ephesia Holmes, who takes the #1 spot. If team chemistry, style of play, and defensive intensity count toward winning, the Lady Tigers is the team to beat this season.
1. MINNEAPOLIS SOUTH
The Lady Tigers is my #1 team. The dynamic duo of Tayler Hill and Ephesia Holmes makes this team hard to beat. The two have been playing together since 3rd grade. The chemistry between the two is like Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison. The two routinely drop dimes to each other without making eye contact. Seniors Hannah Cheese and Maresha Anderson bring leadership to the table. Freshman Tyisha Smith plays hungry. St. Paul Central may have the team with the most talent. But in the end, South's defensive intensity and foot speed will put the Lady Tigers over the top. Coach Ahmil Jihad has the girls pressing from the opening tip to the final buzzer. The Lady Tigers held Edison to 24 points on January 12, for a 105-24 win. The duo of Hill and Holmes finished with 37 and 30 points. Their style of play is intense all day long. They force a lot of turnovers that lead to points. Freshmen Tyisha Smith, 12 points per game, has world class speed and causes a lot of problems for opponents. But, the biggest difference maker is Sophomore Guard Tayler Hill. She made the first team All-Metro as a freshman. Her basketball IQ is second to none, unstoppable in the open court. Quick like lightning, Hill knows how to use the in-and-out move to break down defenders and can get to the rim and finish from any angle. She can dominate a game with the pass or she can take you off the dribble. Uncanny court vision, Hill understands the game, recognizes traps before they develop, and will make you pay if you press. She can rebound the ball and go coast to coast - finish or drop a dime. If you blink, you may miss a once in a life time play. She has no weakness in her game and can shoot from anywhere on the court. Hill moves well without the ball and can catch and shoot, block shots, anticipate plays, and is clutch when the game is on the line. Oh, did I mention she is also a shutdown defender. Hill leads the Metro in scoring at 27 points a game. But her biggest value is her unselfish play. She is a super star who loves to include her teammates. All this and she is only a sophomore. Ephesia Holmes is a crafty ball handler, nothing fancy just the fundamentals. She has the uncanny ability to break you down off the dribble, post-up smaller guards or light you up from long-range in the clutch. She can break a press with the dribble or with the pass. Ephesia knows how to push the ball in the open court and can finish with either hand. Holmes' basketball IQ is also very high, a big-time scorer who plays with high energy, but under control. She will be a big time division one player. Because of the one-two punch of Hill and Holmes and the defensive team concept of coach Ahmil Jihad, South is still the team to beat.
2. ST. PAUL CENTRAL
This team will be very hard to beat. With Kiara Buford and Angel Robinson, this team is built to win it all. This is a very deep team. There are six division one players on this team. But, the player to watch on this deep team is Ebony Black. In both big games against Hopkins early this year, she was the difference maker. Black shoots left-handed, can run the floor, post-up, plays big, shoots the 3-pointer with ease, can pass with either hand and can take you off the dribble. Black does it all. We already know what All-State Angel and Buford can do on the court. Angel is committed to Marquette, Buford the University of Minnesota. Angel Robinson is a special talent; She just broke the state record for steals, 690 and counting. Teams routinely are afraid to press her because of her superb ball handling skills. Robinson is a Rod Strickland type player. She can take you off the dribble and finish at the bucket with either hand or dish an assist to a teammate. She leads the Metro in assists. Buford with her height can rebound and shoot in the paint. She can also shoot from outside the 3-point line. Sophomore Theairra Taylor can run all day without getting tired. Taylor plays smart and exhibits nice sportsmanship. Taylor is a 5-10 shooting guard with speed on defense and offense, and can really shoot from the outside. Center Georgia Jones makes here living in the paint. Jones is quick off her feet and will erase a lot of shots in the paint. But she also has a mid-range game and can run the floor like a guard. Jones is long, athletic and difficult to defend on offense. This team because of its depth is a favorite to win it all.
You watch this team warm-up before a game, and you know they mean business. Centennial takes on the personality of their coach Jill Becken. This is a discipline team who plays hard before, during and after each game. The Lady Cougars is a discipline running team that can all shoot from the perimeter. Their fast break leads to a lot of open lay ups. But they can also start their offense off the break, keeping defenders on their heels. Their only loss was a 66-73 defeat to Central. Megan Nipe can run, shoot and finish. Kellie Schuneman and Emily Becken make-up a team that is tournament ready.
4. CHAMPLIN PARK
Plain and simple, this is a very talented team. Senior and team captain Jenny Theisen is a big-time performer. Theisen is CLUTCH when the game is on the line. The Rebels are fresh off a championship against Cretin-Derham Hall at the Hopkins Holiday Tournament. Senior Guard Ashlynn Fuller was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament. Fuller is a very quick guard, does it all and forces a lot of turnovers. This team is balanced. Jenny Theisen, Natalie Giggler and Ashlyn Fuller all average over 14 ppg. This is a TEAM first TEAM. Coach Carl Pierson plays a discipline brand of basketball. The Rebels don't turn the ball over. They move the ball very well and can really hit the outside shot. This will be a very difficult team to beat come tournament time.
5. CRETIN-DERHAM HALL
Wisconsin-bound Alyssa Karel is a special player. She may have the best "handles" in the girl’s game. Karel handles the ball like a yo-yo on a string but her game isn't flashy. She just gets the job done. Her mid-range game is big-time. Karel shoots the jump-hook off the catch or off the dribble. The consummate point guard, Karel, is fearless in the open court. Her court-vision and dime-dropping ability keeps her teammates involve. The senior guard leads her team in scoring, assists, rebounds, steals and is 2nd in blocked shots. With that said, this is a balanced team. Moly Geske, 13 ppg, and Carolyn Dienhart, 10 ppg, can play the game. Coach Amy Bellus is a great motivator in the huddle. Look for this team to make some noise in the playoffs.
6. BENILDE-ST MARGARET'S
The Red Knights is always a good team year in and year out. Coach Bob Lyons and the Red Knights program speak for itself. Fresh off last year's class 3A State Championship, MVP senior guard Kachine Alexander will be counted on for a repeat performance. Alexander can play with the best of them. Athletic, smart, quick, she does it all. Alexander averages 22 points a game. Brittnay Mayclin and Lotoya Williams will be counted on heavily if the Red Knights are to repeat as champions this year.
Edina did not play well against Wayzata on Poster Night. The Wayzata Trojans 6-2 Sophomore Post/Guard Kate Thompson dominated the game with her great floor game. Wayzata's Kate Thompson is a big time player in the making. Poster night proved too much for Edina to overcome losing 34-53. But, Edina is still a great team. Senior Lauren Young, Junior Natalie Pastor and Freshman Taylor Young make up a great trio. The Hornets Coach Jenny Johnson has the team playing well again. And, that loss proved to be a wake-up call for the Edina Hornets.
8. EDEN PRAIRIE
Eden Prairie is led by Junior Laura Weber. Coach Clayton Hargrove will look to Seniors Heather Cook, Tanya Hall and Lindsey Sather to provide leadership down the stretch. Junior Kjersten Bradley averaged 9 points per game.
9. CROOKSTON This is the #1 team in class 2A and the state runner-up in 2006. All-Tournament Players Molly Simmons and Kamille Wahlin return with another year of experience. They were sophomores last year. The Crookston Pirates is a young but talented team with no seniors on the roster. Coach Kris Evje has the team playing championship basketball. Kamille Wahlin leads a balanced team with 17 points a game, Tayler Davis 13, Sydney Epema 10, Molly Simmons 9, and Macy Hanson 7.
I like Hopkins at #10. They've lost twice to #2 Central, to #1 South and to #6 Benilde . Hopkins has a very difficult schedule . This is a team that can beat anyone on any given night when they get it going. They had it going against Central in the Thanksgiving Tournament, but lost in overtime when Point Guard Catlin Rowland fouled out in regulation with Hopkins holding the lead. This was a devastating loss for the Royals. Now Rowland is out with a leg injury and is wearing a boot. I believe Coach Brian Cosgriff will have the Royals playing championship basketball again before it's all said and done. This is the defending state champion and they know how to play winning basketball, come playoff time. However, they will need to get it going pretty soon.