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Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Northwest Nike Invitational preview

By Mindi Rice
ESPN HoopGurlz

Concerns about St. Mary's guard Afure Jemerigbe's ankle have subsided somewhat, and just in time.

Jemerigbe, one half of the No. 1 team's dynamic duo with Chelsea Gray, injured her left ankle during the July NCAA viewing period. She has been nursing it back to health since, but the 5-foot-11 junior scored 17 points Monday as St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.) opened its season with a 74-63 win against Kennedy.

"Once she's loose and her ankle warms up, she seems to be fine," St. Mary's coach Tom Gonsalves said. "I think she's still not totally confident with it, but she played great."

Jemerigbe's debut on her ankle, as well as 22 points from Gray, helped the Rams get a 1-0 jump on the season heading into a big test this weekend -- the Northwest Nike Invitational in Beaverton, Ore.

The Rams kick off Thursday's tournament with Tualatin (Ore.), with a likely semifinal game Friday against another team in the ESPN RISE FAB 50, No. 5 Regis Jesuit of Aurora, Colo., which plays Sunset of Beaverton in the first round.

Jesuit opened its season Wednesday with a 62-51 victory against rival Mullen before catching a flight to Portland Thursday morning.

On the other side of the bracket, host Southridge, Oregon's four-time-defending large school champion, faces a tough team from Kentwood (Wash.), while Sacramento and Portland's Central Catholic play the late game. Those winners advance to the other semifinal.

Diana Rolniak
Regis features Utah recruit Diana Rolniak.
Kentwood features Nebraska-bound Lindsey Moore, No. 97 in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred; Central Catholic has Oregon State-bound Kate Lanz, and Sacramento features two top 2010 prospects in Erica Barnes and Brittany Shine. St. Mary's backcourt duo, Gray and Jemerigbe, are ranked 15th and 19th, respectively, in the ESPN HoopGurlz Super Sixty for 2010. Regis has Utah-bound Diana Rolniak, ranked No. 83 in the 2009 class, as well as UCLA-bound Mariah Williams and Pepperdine-bound T'Keyah Shealy.

"This year's field is probably the most competitive and balanced we've had," said Southridge coach Michael Meek of the third-year tournament. "The good thing is that every game the teams are going to have to battle. There is no easy game."

The semifinal winners advance to Saturday's 8:15 p.m. championship, which featured Washington's Auburn Riverside and Sacramento in the inaugural season and saw Sacred Heart Cathedral upset then-No. 1 Long Beach Poly a year ago.

"It'd be nice to have good teams to play it every year," Meek said. "Teams like something to prep for the (Nike Tournament of Champions). It gives teams a couple weeks to play and get ready."

Games begin at 3 p.m. Thursday at Southridge.

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Mindi Rice is a staff writer for ESPN HoopGurlz. She previously was an award-winning sportswriter at the Tacoma News Tribune and a barista at Starbucks, and grew up in Seattle, where she attended Roosevelt High School before graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism. She can be reached at mindi@hoopgurlz.com.