This week Rivals.com and Student Sports Basketball are counting down the nation's preseason Fab 50 high school girls' basketball teams, as compiled by Student Sports Executive Editor Mark Tennis and Rankings Editor Doug Huff. This third of three separate releases looks at the top 10 teams, led by Long Beach (Calif.) Poly.
"It took awhile for Poly to break through and win the Division I state title in California, but now it looks like the Jackrabbits are going to be contending for titles for many years," said Tennis. "Barring injury, they should win a third one in a row this season.
"We normally aren't going to have two teams from the same state in the top five, but Notre Dame and Hampton are loaded and Hampton wound up as the team we liked the most for the fourth spot. Virginia girls' basketball also showed a lot of strength last year when its teams competed out of state."
Rivals.com Girls' Basketball Preseason Fab 50: 10-1
10. Dunbar (Fort Worth, Texas) 32-4 (42)
The Lady Wildcats have won two Class 4A state titles in the past three years, and the one constant on both teams is 6-foot forward Brooklyn Pope. The returning second-team EA SPORTS All-American and four-year standout averaged 19 points and five blocks per game as Dunbar downed Dickinson 62-51 in the state final. Dunbar did lose District 7-4A Player of the Year LaShandra Hill, but as long as Pope is on the court, this team will be favored to win it all in Austin. Senior wing Tiesha Martin (5-9) also returns after being selected second team all-district. As the younger players in the backcourt gain some experience, Dunbar should be rolling by the time district play begins.
9. Germantown Academy (Germantown, Pa.) 26-2 (30)
Caroline Doty returns for her senior season as one of the nation's top players. The 5-10 guard, who has committed to UConn, has been ranked nationally since she was 15 and can play both at the point and on the wing as she's an accurate three-point shooter. The Patriots will be pursuing a 10th straight Inter-Ac League title, and they usually play enough ranked teams from the region to provide a basis for comparison on where they should be ranked nationally. Another player to watch is 6-3 junior center Meredith Carter.
8. Washington (South Bend, Ind.) 28-1 (28)
The defending state Class 4A champion Panthers are led by 5-foot-9 point guard Skylar Diggins (24 ppg, 6 apg), a top candidate for state player of the year. Veteran senior guard and Penn State recruit Emily Phillips (9 ppg, 5 apg) and Shalena Murray (5-11) will also be key contributors as Washington contends for a third straight state title game. The schedule includes a January trip to the McDonald's Chicagoland Classic.
7. Murrah (Jackson, Miss.) 37-2 (17)
The Lady Mustangs' lineup remains intact after they won their seventh state Class 5A title last season. The lineup includes first team all-stater LaSondra Barrett, a 6-foot-1 forward who averaged 16.5 points and 11.3 rebounds a game as a junior. Junior guard Tanecka Carey (5-8; 15.1 ppg, 5.0 apg) and junior forward Brandi Simmons (5-11; 14.4 ppg, 12.1 rpg) both won Jackson All-Metro honors for the second time last season.
6. Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco, Calif.) 32-2 (12)
The No. 2 team in California last season starts out in the same spot this year with an even better squad. Eight players return from the CIF Div. III state title team, including one of the state's top players, 5-11 guard Jazmine Jackson, who has committed to Pepperdine along with 5-8 guard and tough defender Lauren Bell. Another returnee who has gotten taller, stronger and faster after already being hard to defend is 5-9 guard Ki-shawna "Ki-Ki" Moore. Also starting at guard is Cal Poly-Pomona commit Rosslyn Beard. Junior outside shooter Ashley Boggs comes off the bench for instant offense, but the biggest addition will be Jazmine's younger sister, 6-0 Kamilah Jackson, who'll start at center. "Our kids are definitely more experienced and with Kamilah we have a presence in the middle we've not had in the past," said Irish coach Brian Harrigan, who will find out early how good his squad is when they travel to Oregon Dec. 6-9 for the Southridge tournament that not only includes the Fab 50-ranked hosts but also Long Beach Poly.
5. Winter Haven (Winter Haven, Fla.) 28-3 (21)
Four starters are back for the defending state Class 5A champions, who will be seeking their third crown in the last four years. Senior Tiffany Hayes, a UConn recruit, leads a trio of 6-foot regulars returning, including Memphis recruit Kiara Francisco and Amanda Woodside. A key graduation loss was point guard Amanda Smith, now at Kentucky. She will be replaced by junior Desirai Smith.
4. Hampton (Hampton, Va.) 30-2 (9)
Last season's point guard, Penn State signee Evelyn Lewis, will be difficult to replace, but luckily Tiffany Davis played the two-guard last season and is naturally a point. She has been described as perhaps the most exciting returning player in Virginia in both boys' and girls' hoops, and has the ability to make plays anywhere on the court. Complementing Davis are fellow returning starters Alyssa Bennett and Joycelyn Davis, whose versatility gives coach David Six some options he didn't have last season. "We're going to be able to go small with this team," Six said. "That's something we could not do last year because the team did not have enough speed." Transfer Debbie Smith, LaKita Hicks and Toya Carter round out the starting lineup. The Crabbers are competing in the T-Mobile Invitational along with Long Beach Poly and Chaminade-Julienne on Dec. 28-29 in Albuquerque (N.M).
3. Cy-Fair (Houston, Texas) 39-1 (7)
The Lady Bobcats are on a mission to avenge last season's heartbreaking overtime loss in the Class 5A state final to Rockwall, which finished No. 4 in the final Fab 50 rankings. Leading the team is returning EA SPORTS All-American Nneka Ogwumike, a 6-foot-3 center who averaged 21.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and is also a standout volleyball player. She is complemented by her younger sister, 6-foot-2 sophomore Chiney Ogwumike, and both are considered among the nation's top 10 recruits in their respective classes. Other key returnees are five-foot-7 senior Mansa El, an All-Region player, and 5-foot-4 senior Nicole Morris. .
2. Notre Dame Academy (Middleburg, Va.) 29-1 (3)
In four seasons as head coach, coach Mike Teasley has turned Notre Dame Prep into a national power and this could be the best team he has assembled. Only one starter was lost from the team that went 29-1 last season and lost only to Fab 50 No. 1 Collins Hill of Georgia. There are eight Division I athletes on the roster, led by Mia Nickson, a 6-2 power forward who averaged 13 points and eight rebounds per game and has committed to Boston College. Azania Stewart, a Florida commit, will hold down the center position and should be tough to defend. Guard Josette Campbell (6-1) was the first athlete off the bench last season and saw significant minutes. Teasley knows what it takes to build a winner at Notre Dame Prep. He won two state titles as an assistant on the boys' team, and this squad looks to be a contender for a national title.
1. Poly (Long Beach, Calif.) 36-1 (2)
Winning state titles and being ranked high nationally is nothing new for teams at Poly High of Long Beach, Calif. It has been a fairly recent phenomenon in girls' basketball, however, and this season the Jackrabbits may have their best team yet. After finishing No. 2 in last season's Fab 50 and with the return of most of last season's stars -- including California's consensus preseason top player, 6-1 Jasmine Dixon, who recently committed to Rutgers -- Poly begins the season No. 1 in the Rivals.com preseason Fab 50.
The Jackrabbits, who are the two-time defending state Division I champions, were in the mix to be the preseason No. 1 team in the land even before being joined by one of the nation's top juniors, 6-3 Monique Oliver, moved to Long Beach from Nevada.
Oliver, who averaged 26.7 points and 13.5 rebounds per game at Cheyenne High of Las Vegas, gives Poly a big-time presence in the paint to go with Dixon's versatility. Dixon was the CalHiSports.com State Junior Player of the Year and an EA SPORTS All-American. She averaged 15 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.7 steals per game. April Cook, a 5-7 guard, is the defensive stopper. Also sure to make major contributions are 5-8 senior wing Janae Perkins, 6-0 junior wing/forward Kelli Thompson, 6-2 sophomore post Deshia Southall and 5-7 sophomore wing Brittany Wilson. In fact, Poly's second unit isn't that far removed from being one of California's top teams. The Jackrabbits will be tested right away in December at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, where they will be the favorite.
The Rivals.com Fab 50 is compiled by the staff of StudentSportsBasketball.com and is co-edited by Student Sports Executive Editor Mark Tennis and Rankings Editor Doug Huff. Student Sports has tracked and ranked the nation's top high school basketball teams for more than a decade, and Doug Huff has more than 35 years' experience covering prep sports nationally.