St. Frances back at No. 1 in VSN Girls Basketball Preseason Top 20


Aniya Gourdine (left), Cori Barnes and Ja’la Bannerman are among eight returning performers for St. Frances Academy. The four-time reigning IAAM A Conference champions are No. 1 in VSN’s Girls Basketball Preseason Top 20.

by Katherine Dunn
 
St. Frances Academy has dominated IAAM A girls basketball for much of the 20 years since the birth of the conference. The Panthers have won 12 championships, including the past four and could easily make it five in a row.

 

With University of Maryland-bound Angel Reese, the No. 2 overall senior player in the country according to HoopGurlz, the Panthers are back in the top spot in the Varsity Sports Network Girls Basketball Preseason Top 20.

In one of the best senior classes ever in Baltimore girls high school basketball, each of the top four teams have a player headed to a Power Five program. Eniyah Russell, from No. 2 St. Vincent Pallotti. has signed with South Carolina, No. 3 Roland Park Country School’s Mir McLean is headed to Connecticut, and Ajae Petty from Poly is on her way to LSU.

All of those college teams are ranked this week in the AP Top 25.

The IAAM A Conference, once again, should be the area’s top league with four of the top five teams, including No. 5 McDonogh School. Poly is the top public school team and, with a solid returning lineup and the addition of Petty, could make a run at the top spot as well.

Defending state champions Pikesville (Class 1A) and River Hill (Class 2A) also rank in the Top 10.

 
Here is the entire VSN Girls’ Basketball Preseason Top 20:
 
 

VSN GIRLS BASKETBALL PRESEASON TOP 20 POLL 

1.  ST. FRANCES ACADEMY PANTHERS

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: #1

Final 2018-19 record: 24-4

Player to watch: Angel Reese, Sr., forward/guard

In the paint: The four-time defending IAAM A Conference champion spins around versatile 6-foot-4 Reese, who is headed to Maryland. A USA Today first-team All-American last season, she is rated the No. 1 wing in the country and the No. 2 player overall by HoopGurlz. Also back are junior guard Aniya Gourdine and junior forward Anani Humphrey. The Panthers, ranked No. 20 in USA Today’s preseason Super 25 also bring in junior Zyan Reynolds, a 6-3 center transfer from Western who will take some of the pressure off Reese on the inside.

2. ST. VINCENT PALLOTTI PANTHERS 

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: #8

Final 2018-19 record: 15-10

Player to watch: Eniya Russell, Sr., guard

In the paint: With a strong returning contingent and some exceptional transfers, these Panthers may have the most overall talent in the Baltimore area. They’ll find out quickly just how they stack up when they host St. Frances on Dec. 10. Russell, a 6-foot transfer from Institute of Notre Dame who has signed with South Carolina, is rated the No. 13 senior guard and No. 43 overall player by HoopGurlz. The Panthers return senior shooting guard Jania Hall and add junior guard Vashae Rideout, a transfer from Western.

3. ROLAND PARK COUNTRY SCHOOL REDS

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: #2

Final 2018-19 record: 26-2

Player to watch: Mir McLean, Sr., forward/guard

In the paint: The Reds graduated three high-impact players from last year’s IAAM A Conference finalist team and have a few injuries that will challenge their bench early, but they return one of the area’s top players in UCONN recruit McLean, rated the No. 3 senior wing in the country and the No. 21 player overall by HoopGurlz. They also bring back sophomore guard Myah Simmons and senior point guard Rain Green, a Virginia Commonwealth recruit, should return from injury by the second half of the season.

4. POLY ENGINEERS

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: #4

Final 2018-19 record: 22-5

Player to watch: Ajae Petty, Sr., forward

In the paint: Class 3A state finalists two of the past three years, the Engineers return three starters, senior forward Dasia Townes and guards Jada Gross and Cache Wilson. The Baltimore City champions will get a boost in the post from 6-2 LSU-bound Petty, who will be eligible in mid-December after transferring from IND. She appears to blend well into Poly’s team-oriented approach that relies heavily on defense. 

5. MCDONOGH SCHOOL EAGLES 

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: #3

Final 2018-19 record: 23-7

Player to watch: Jayla Oden, Jr., guard

In the paint: The Eagles graduated seven seniors, who totaled 24 varsity seasons, from last year’s IAAM A Conference semifinal team and likely will have two freshmen and two sophomores starting. Oden, senior forward Ava Class and sophomore forward Nekhu Mitchell return to the starting lineup, but McDonogh will need young players, like freshmen guard Makaela Quimby, to contribute right away.

6. WESTERN DOVES 

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: #5

Final 2018-19 record: 22-5

Player to watch: Ny’Ceara Pryor, So., guard

In the paint: New coach Kenneth Robinson has three returning starters from last season’s Class 4A state semifinalist and doesn’t plan to change much about the Doves’ running style. Point guard Pryor, sophomore guard Gabrielle Johnson and junior guard Sanaya Gray all return to a team with just one senior, transfer Maya Henson, a forward from City College.

7. HOWARD LIONS 

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: #10

Final 2018-19 record: 18-4

Player to watch: Marisa Sanchez-Henry, Sr., guard

In the paint: After sharing the Howard County title with Long Reach last season the Lions return four of five starters and that goes a long way in a program that relies on chemistry and team play. In addition to Henry, who has signed with Wagner, the Lions return three other guards, seniors Anii Harris and Camille Malagar and sophomore Gabby Scott.

8. SOUTH RIVER SEAHAWKS

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: #11

Final 2018-19 record: 21-4

Player to watch: Harley Herndon, Jr., guard

In the paint: The Seahawks return four of their top five scorers from the team that finished atop the regular-season standings in Anne Arundel County and reached the Class 4A East Region final. Point guard Herndon, senior guard Julie Fitzwater and senior forward Ashlynn Burrows each averaged double figures last season.

9. PIKESVILLE PANTHERS

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: #7

Final 2018-19 record: 25-4

Player to watch: Charia Roberts, Sr., forward

In the paint: The Panthers won their first state championship last year, taking the Class 1A title. They bring back three starters as they move to Class 2A. In addition to Loyola-bound Roberts, the Baltimore County champions return junior forward Kirstin Sterling and senior guard Tyra Robinson, who combined for almost 25 points last winter.

10. RIVER HILL HAWKS

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: #12

Final 2018-19 record: 20-7

Player to watch: Saniha Jackson, Sr., forward

In the paint: The defending Class 2A state champions return their leading scorer and rebounder in the 6-foot Jackson. After graduating just three seniors, the Hawks, who move to Class 3A, also bring back fourth-year point guard Kennedy Clark and sophomore guard Anhyia Smith, who both averaged in double figures last season.

11. MOUNT CARMEL COUGARS

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: #16

Final 2018-19 record: 19-8

Player to watch: Tsion Smith, So., guard

In the paint: The Cougars lost to eventual champion St. Paul’s School in the IAAM B Conference semifinals last season. The Baltimore County private school returns just one starter in 5-11 senior forward Shanysee Alexander, but have the talent to remain in contention with junior point guard Tamara Stanford transferring from nearby Chesapeake-Baltimore County, and the addition of two talented freshmen.

12. ST. PAUL’S SCHOOL GATORS

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: #14

Final 2018-19 record: 18-3

Player to watch: Destiny Ryles, Sr., guard

In the paint: The Gators still don’t have much height, but they didn’t need it last year to win the IAAM B Conference championship. They bring back three starters — Ryles, senior shooting guard Alex Sawyers and sophomore forward Laurie Satchell. The Brooklandville school will continue to rely on their speed, looking to play smothering defense and keep running.

13. FOREST PARK FORESTERS 

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: #17

Final 2018-19 record: 18-4

Player to watch: Neah Henry, Jr., forward

In the paint: The Foresters lost to eventual state champion Pikesville in the Class 1A North Region final last season. They bring back all but two players for a more experienced, deeper squad as they move to Class 2A. Along with Henry, senior point guard Josias Mickens and sophomore forward Danielle Jones return.  

14. ST. JOHN’S CATHOLIC PREP VIKINGS

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: Not ranked

Final 2018-19 record: 12-13

Player to watch: Kayla Cooper, Sr., forward

In the paint: The Vikings struggled in their first season in the IAAM A Conference, but with that experience and four starters back, they relish the underdog label as they work to move up under new coach Maddie McConnell. Cooper, who is committed to Albany, joins three returning guards, senior Sarah Yoda, junior Jasmine Huskey and sophomore Jalyn McNeil.

15. COPPIN ACADEMY EAGLES

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: Not ranked

Final 2018-19 record: 21-6

Player to watch: Nyshea Weaver, Jr., guard

In the paint: The Eagles return every starter from a young team that lost to Smithsburg in the Class 1A state semifinals last season. Weaver and senior guard Jayla Richardson lead the returning contingent while the Eagles also picked up a strong post player in 6-3 junior Aniya Hills, a transfer from Randallstown.

16. OLD MILL PATRIOTS

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: #6

Final 2018-19 record: 22-5

Player to watch: Deja Atkinson, Sr., forward

In the paint: After reaching the Class 4A state final last season, the Anne Arundel County champions will be rebuilding with Atkinson the only starter back. Only five of the 15 players, including five freshmen, have varsity experience. Senior forward Mikayah Mallett and guard Jaya Dews came off the bench to average a combined 14.2 points last season.

17. RESERVOIR GATORS

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: #20

Final 2018-19 record: 17-7

Player to watch: Tiffany Hooker, Sr., guard

In the paint: The Gators lost three starters and eight players overall, but they have enough young talent to remain on the Howard County radar. Point guard Hooker and junior guard Kate Abunassar return to the starting lineup. With depth and athleticism, the Gators aren’t big, but they have a solid defense that could translate to points as the offense continues to develop.

18. JOHN CARROLL SCHOOL PATRIOTS 

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: Not ranked

Final 2018-19 record: 6-17

Player to watch: Julia Williams, Sr., guard

In the paint: The Patriots return all but two players, including five who were in the starting lineup at some point last season which could help them pull out of last place in the IAAM A Conference. Along with 5-10 point guard Williams, they return 6-foot senior forward Vonnie Lidie.

19.  SEVERNA PARK FALCONS

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: Not ranked

Final 2018-19 record: 16-7

Player to watch: Jessica Albert, Sr., forward

In the paint: The Falcons must overcome considerable turnover, but return three starters as they try to move up in Anne Arundel County. The 5-9 Albert, a point forward, returns along with 6-0 forward Lena McLaughlin and shooting guard Camryn Chew, both seniors.

20. HEREFORD BULLS

Final 2018-19 VSN Top 20 rank: #13

Final 2018-19 record: 22-2

Player to watch: Reese Harden, Sr., guard

In the paint: The Bulls return only one starter from last year’s Class 2A state semifinalist team, point guard Harden, but this team has a lot of promise. Last year, the Bulls suffered their only regular-season loss to eventual Baltimore County and Class 1A state champ Pikesville. This season, Hereford will play in Class 3A.