GILBERT, Ariz.—After three days of action the 20th annual Nike Tournament of Champions is down to 10 teams competing for five 2016 division titles. Championship play kicks off at 9:00 a.m. at Mesquite High School with the Dan Wiley bracket. The Mike Desper Division is up at 10:30 followed by the Darril Kipp final at noon. The Joe Smith third place game takes place at 1:30 followed by the John Anderson championship game at 3:00. Tip off for the coveted Joe Smith crown is set for 4:30 and features Clovis West and Miami Country Day competing for the highest regarded title in scholastic tournaments.
Wednesday’s semifinal action was intense and once again Tony Bleill and Fred Kroner were taking in all the action for Blue Star Media. Here’s their take on the Desper, Anderson and Smith semis. Check back Friday for all the championship results and images from Gilbert.
Don’t ask Miami Country Day guard Channise Lewis how her team managed to squeak past Grandview (Aurora, Colo.) 66-60 in overtime to reach the championship game of the Joe Smith bracket.
“I don’t even know,” Lewis said.
You can hardly blame her. To advance, the Spartans had to survive the loss of their best player to fouls, a frantic final 20 seconds of regulation, and a Grandview team that was intent on continuing its Cinderella run.
“It took everyone,” coach Ochiel Swaby said. “It was a grind. We grinded it out at the end.”
It took more than Lewis’ 15 points, Kelsey Marshall’s 16 (before fouling out and missing the overtime) and Maria Alvarez’s 16 points (five three-pointers). It took a bit of moxie, too.
Consider the end of regulation. Trailing 57-55, Lewis made a steal with 15 seconds left but missed the layup. Teammate Dashaun Jackson grabbed the rebound and was fouled but missed the 1-and-1 with 9.9 seconds to go.
On the rebound, Grandview star and UCLA signee Michaela Onyenwere (10 points) was fouled and suffered an apparent head injury with 5.8 seconds left.
Grandview then lost the ball on the in-bounds play, with Lewis being fouled in the process. She sank both free throws with 2.2 to go, forcing overtime.
While Grandview played the OT without Onyenwere, Country Day was without Marshall, meaning each team’s best player was finished. The Spartans survived best, as Alvarez hit her fifth three-pointer of the night to spark a run.
“It’s a team effort to win at this stage,” Lewis said. “It’s not just going to be me or Kelsey. Everyone has to contribute.”
Country Day will face Clovis West (Fresno, Calif.) in Thursday’s title game. The Spartans will be emotionally ready for that one, which Swaby said is in contrast to the way his team played on Wednesday.
“We have some talented players; today was not their best emotional commitment to a game,” Swaby said. “I had a gut feeling today – because we put so much effort into the Poly game (on Tuesday) – that we took two steps back and we were not ‘up’ emotionally to play the game. I knew Grandview was going to give us a tough game because they’ve been in all of their games. But I was ready to be there and fight for them, and you saw the fight from the sidelines. The kids got going at the end and made some plays.”
The Spartans were more than the Marshall and Lewis Show on Wednesday.
“We believe in the kids,” Swaby said. “I know the numbers say a certain thing, and Lewis is going to Illinois and Marshall is going to Miami. But Maria Alvarez is a great, great basketball player. But Asha Taylor (eight points) is somebody that we just got this year and she’s somebody who is trying to figure out, learning how to play our style and play with the intensity that we want. I thought she was fantastic today.”
Leilah Vigil had 17 points for Grandview and Alisha Davis added 16. – Tony Bleill
In a take-charge situation, the Clovis West girls’ basketball team, from Fresno, Cal., showed early it meant business.
Before Wednesday’s buzzer sounded ending the first quarter of the Golden Eagles’ semifinal game against St. Mary’s Stockton in the Joe Smith Division of the 20th Nike Tournament of Champions, Clovis West had drawn four charges.
By the time the game ended, with Clovis West winning 63-58, the team had taken seven charges.
“We don’t have the athletic 6-foot-3 kids, or blazing speed, so we have to be fundamentally and mentally tough,” Clovis West coach Craig Campbell said. “We need to do the little things at a high level.”
Campbell’s lineup doesn’t consist of the traditional blue-collar grinders. His entire senior starting lineup has signed scholarship offers from Division I universities.
“Our program is built on grit and fundamentals,” Campbell said. “We’re great teammates.”
Taking charges doesn’t happen by accident. It’s an emphasis of the program.
“We tell them you can’t ‘flop’ and to show courage,” Campbell said. “This group shows a lot of maturity and keeps answering the call.”
Guard Sarah Bates, who is heading to UC Santa Barbara, drew three charges. Arizona State-bound Bre’yanna Sanders drew one as did future San Jose State player Megan Anderson. Uncommitted sophomore Aari’yanna Sanders took two charges.
Playing in a bracket loaded with nationally ranked teams, eighth-rated Clovis West (according to USA Today) won a California showdown with No. 14 St. Mary’s Stockton.
The final margin was indicative of the talent.
“It’s like playing four straight state championship games in four days,” said Campbell, whose squad will take on the nation’s No. 4 team, Miami Country Day, in today’s 4:30 tournament championship at Mesquite High School.
“You have to get kids up for that caliber four straight days.”
To get to the semis, Clovis West topped No. 5 Centennial, from Las Vegas, on Tuesday.
Five Clovis players scored between seven and 14 points against St. Mary’s. The leaders, each with 14, were Boise State signee Tess Amundsen and Bre’yanna Sanders. Bates added 13 points.
“People ask, ‘Who’s your best player,’ and I say, ‘Pick one,’” Campbell said.
What helps the group excel is its work ethic. When Campbell announced that he planned to hold three workouts the week after Christmas, he received negative feedback.
“They wanted to do four workouts,” he said. “This is a gym-rat group.”
At Clovis, this squad is not the exception. The Golden Eagles entered this season with 11 consecutive conference championships and seven postseason sectional titles in the past nine years, including four in a row.
St. Mary’s was led by 6-2 junior Aquira DeCosta, who hit a game-high 25 points. Teammate Ariel Johnson, also a junior, had 12 points. – Fred Kroner
If you don’t beat Mesquite this season, good luck to anyone trying to beat them next season.
And so far, opponents haven’t been able to manage the former.
Mesquite, playing on its home court, knocked off perennial East Coast power Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.) 65-41 to advance to the title game of the John Anderson bracket. The Wildcats started one senior and four juniors.
“I’ve got everybody coming back next year, so next year is going to be an even better year for us,” coach Candice Gonzales said. “The way these girls are playing right now, I normally don’t see this until the end of their senior year. I would say in that aspect, we’re a year ahead of where my teams normally are.”
The Wildcats are playing like a team intent on winning a TOC championship on its court. Shaylee Gonzales scored 20 of her 22 points in the second half as Mesquite outscored King 43-19 after halftime.
They did it with what was frequently a four-guard offense, spreading the floor and allowing Gonzales and Lindsey VanAllen (19 points) to penetrate and finish, or find an open teammate. Christ the King had no answer.
“Our first half was a little bit slow, and we weren’t getting the calls we wanted (on drives to the basket),” Candice Gonzales said. “Our second half was much better.”
Mesquite will face Incarnate Word of St. Louis in the 3 p.m. final on Thursday.
“I attribute it to the girls: their unselfishness, their dedication, their work ethic,” Gonzales said. “And they love each other.” – Tony Bleill
Some high school basketball coaches will say that’s their life, but few are as involved with the sport as Dan Rolfes.
When he says, “it’s my full-time job,” coaching at Incarnate Word High School, in St. Louis, is only a fraction of his workload.
He’s in charge of the entire Blue Star St. Louis girls’ basketball program, which includes an associated Knights Basketball Academy for aspiring players in grades 2 through 8.
Did we mention that totals 39 club teams?
In addition to his duties at Incarnate Word, Rolfes coaches fifth- and seventh-grade club teams.
“I’m doing the whole spectrum,” he said.
He reaps the rewards when the players reach high school.
“Now all of them play within the same system,” he said, referring to what amounts to a feeder program.
That helps to explain how a team with only one senior (guard Naomi Johnson) in the regular rotation, has advanced into the championship game of the John Anderson Division in the 20th Nike Tournament of Champions event.
The Red Knights (8-1) secured their berth by virtue of a 51-43 verdict over previously unbeaten Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy.
It was a semifinal game where Incarnate Word at least doubled the score in each of the first three quarters, leading 16-4 in the first, 30-14 in the second and 37-18 in the third before Brentwood (8-1) created a two-possession game (41-35) in the final 4 minutes.
Rolfes was provided another teaching moment.
“There’s a fine line between running clock and not trying to score at all,” he said. “We were a little tentative on offense, but we’re eight games into the season and it’s hard to simulate that kind of pressure in practice.”
Incarnate Word featured three double-digit scorers, including junior Sonya Morris, who hit 15 of her 18 points in the first half.
“She did a nice job, both on offense and defense,” Rolfes said, “handling the Harvey girl (junior Sydni) early.”
Harvey collected a game-high 20 points, but 13 came in the final 8:45. She was the Eagles’ lone double-figure scorer.
Sophomores Marisa Warren (12 points) and Rickie Woltman (10 points) were other offensive leaders for the Red Knights.
Warren and sophomore Kiki Britzmann (four points) have been a part of Rolfes’ club program since they were in sixth grade.
The bottom line on Wednesday was the outcome.
“This was a good win for us,” Rolfes said. – Fred Kroner
A look at the roster reveals what kind of team Highlands Ranch (Colo.) will have in the future. Six of nine varsity players are in either ninth or 10th grade.
“We could run the table at the fresh-soph level,” Highlands Ranch coach Caryn Jarocki said.
A look at the performance o the court shows what kind of team Highland Ranch has currently. The school’s Wednesday semifinal win in the 20th Nike Tournament of Champions event was its third in three days and moves the Falcons (9-1) into today’s championship game of the Mike Desper Division against Bishop O’Dowd at Mesquite High School.
In order to advance, with a 49-45 triumph over Miramonte, from Orinda, Cal., Highlands needed to overcome an 11-point first-half deficit.
Sophomores led the way. The team’s top four scorers are all in the 10th grade: Kasey Neubert (17 points), Tori Beck (10 points), Autumn Watts (8 points) and Jordan Matthews (7 points).
“They play club for me all summer (with the Colorado Basketball Club) and they were pushed and punished,” Jarocki said. “It made them a lot better.”
The summer team played in the 17-and-under division, an age level higher than where they could have been slotted.
That’s why games like Wednesday’s aren’t unnerving.
“We get ourselves in that position now and then,” Jarocki said, referring to the need for a rally. “We have big hearts.”
The key against Miramonte (8-2) was no secret. The Matadors hit six first-half three-pointers and led by three at the break.
In the second half, Miramonte made no three-pointers.
After what Jarocki described as the “just look at her shoot defense,” in the first 16 minutes, Highlands began challenging the shooters.
“Great defense in the second half,” Jarocki said.
There was also the matter of boardwork. Eight of nine fourth-quarter rebounds were grabbed by Highlands Ranch players.
Six-footers Neubert and Watts were the catalysts.
“They’re a nice combination,” Jarocki said. “Neubert is the enforcer and Watts has the smoothness.”
Her younger players are trying to acquaint themselves with the recruiting game. College coaches can’t call the sophomores directly, but leave messages for Jarocki to pass along.
“I give it to the kids and say, ‘please call,’ but it’s hard for them,” she said. “They have no idea how it works. It takes a ton of guidance.
“I just say, ‘call and say hello and the adults will lead the conversation.’ Once they do it, they’re fine. They’re polite, nice kids.”
Miramonte was led by junior Clair Steele with 13 points. – Fred Kroner
Mesquite isn’t the only TOC team with an incredibly bright future. Bishop O’Down (Oakland, Calif.) started two freshmen, a sophomore, a junior and a senior during its 63-57 victory against Cactus Shadows (Cave Creek, Ariz.) to reach the Mike Desper bracket final.
That youth is exciting, but it also means a roller coaster is unavoidable. O’Dowd looked like world-beaters in Tuesday’s win but struggled to advance on Wednesday.
“If you watched us yesterday, we looked 10 times better,” coach Malik McCord said. “We expect these dips. We only have three players who played heavy minutes (last year). We’re telling them it’s OK. But when they figure it out and really start to jell, that’s when we’re going to be special. In a year or two …”
He didn’t need to finish the sentence.
The Dragons’ lineup features San Diego signee Myah Pace, plus junior Zakiyah Mahoney (19 points), sophomore Jada Holland (10 points) and freshmen Kayla Hankins and Daylee Dunn (12 points). Dunn, a Blue Star 30 player, has drawn attention despite her inexperience.
“She can shoot from anywhere on the floor,” McCord said of Dunn, who hit four three-pointers. “She attacks, she plays great defense and is really developing. She’ll stretch the floor and if you come out on her, she’ll go by you. She just needs experience.”
The Dragons trailed by 11 in the first half but used their defense to create turnovers after halftime, steaming to an 11-point fourth-quarter lead on Dunn’s three-pointer.
“That’s our bread and butter,” McCord said of his defense.
Caitlin Bickle, a highly regarded 6-1 junior, scored 24 to lead Cactus Shadows.
O’Dowd will meet Highlands Ranch (Colo.) in Thursday’s title game. – Tony Bleill