GIRLS HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: 5 TO WATCH
A glance at five girls basketball teams and five players to watch for the 2014-15 season. It begins Monday.
Oakleaf: The Knights have a special nucleus in guards Destiny Arvinger and Jade Lewis, an electric 6-foot-2 scorer. The return of 6-foot-3 center Baileigh Larson after a season at Creekside is a major boost for the Knights. Oakleaf should be a contender in District 2-6A.
Potter’s House: The Lions, who play in the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association, will once again play a rugged national schedule and have a solid lineup to help them navigate it. Point guard Denisha Swain runs the offense, with 6-foot-3 Rella Boothe headlining the scorers. Shanice Norton and Ra’Jean Martin are also impact players. Watch out for 6-foot-7 center Naomi Ekwedike as she develops.
Ribault: The two-time defending state champion Trojans will again be favored to play for a title in Class 4A, despite losing player of the year Ja-Tavia Tapley to transfer and the Shepherd sisters (Tierra and Sierra) to graduation. Wing players Day’nesha Banks and Rennia Davis will see their roles increase. Point guard Kayla Rogers has already shown that she’s able to handle the pressure that comes with playing for Ribault.
St. Augustine: The Yellow Jackets have averaged 21.8 wins per season under coach John Algreen and are a good pick to reach the Region 1-6A final. Guard Leandra Franklin (12 ppg) and Tiausha Oxendine (6.7 rpg) are the headlining holdovers, and transfer Alyssa Quixley should provide a noticeable boost in scoring.
University Christian: The Christians are annually one of the area’s top programs and should again be a factor come postseason time. They’ve battled with Providence in recent years, although an infusion of talent should give UC a considerable advantage in District 4-3A play. Last season’s player of the year, Ja-Tavia Tapley (Ribault), headlines what will be a very physical, very quick Christians squad.
G-F, Kasha Austin, Jr., Hilliard: After spending one season at Charlton County, Ga. (20.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg), Austin returns to the program she helped lead to back-to-back Class 1A state semifinals. She has the potential to lead the area in scoring and will be among the top rebounders, although Palatka star and Ole Miss commit Jonell Williams will probably lead in that category.
G, Brooke Barlow, Sr., Bartram Trail: A second-team All-First Coast selection last season, she’s the primary scoring option for the Bears this year. She and post player Kirsten Clement could be one of the top 1-2 punches in St. Johns County.
F, Christen Carter, Sr., Bolles: The University of South Alabama commit averaged close to a double-double last season (10 ppg, 8.2 rpg), although she’ll probably see at least her scoring rise this season. The addition of transfer Reagan Banks will help Carter out in the paint and should make the Bulldogs (25-4 last season) one of the area’s top teams again.
G, Sydney Searcy, Jr., Nease: The University of Florida commit was an All-First Coast selection last season after averaging 22.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 5.4 spg and should be better this year with a better supporting cast.
G, Delicia Washington, Jr., Baker County: The 5-foot-11 scorer was the area leader in ppg last season (27) and one of the most electric playmakers in the region. The Florida commit remains the main offensive option on the Wildcats, and she can put up big numbers in a hurry.
Justin Barney The Times-Union