Monday, December 14, 2009 Updated: December 15, 10:31 AM ET
Long Beach Poly serves up notice
By Mindi Rice HoopGurlz
By all accounts, this could have been a tough year for the Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.) basketball team. After four consecutive California Division I titles, the Jackrabbits graduated Monique Oliver to Rutgers and lost senior Thaddesia Southall until January with a knee injury.
At the Iolani Classic, Long Beach Poly served notice that they will not be easily dismissed.
But just in time for the Nike Tournament of Champions, the Jackrabbits served notice that they should never be dismissed with a tournament championship at the Iolani Classic that came Saturday by beating then-No. 2 St. Michael Academy (New York City) 69-47.
"It was a battle," Poly coach Carl Buggs said. "The first half was kind of like two heavyweight fighters. But we came out in the second half and showed much more patience."
It was a key third quarter that swung the game for the Jackrabbits, who outscored the Eagles 25-12 on the way to the win. The final against St. Michael came after wins against Mid-Pacific (Honolulu, Hawaii) and Southridge (Beaverton, Ore.), which was coming off winning its own tournament a week earlier.
"We needed a tournament like this to get ready for the TOC," Sheila Boykin said. "[St. Michael] has some really great players on its team, but we got things figured out. It was a good win for the team."
Boykin, a 6-foot-2 junior, played well inside for Poly and picked up tournament MVP status at the Classic, during which she scored an average of 15.3 points. Ta'Nitra Byrd, Ariya Crook-Williams, twins Brittany and Ashley Wilson, and Jazzmine Shirley rounded out a nucleus that Buggs said played good team ball and will carry the team through the season, blending Southall's return into the core. Brittany Wilson, who will be attending Colorado with her sister, led Poly with 16 points in the championship game.
After flying back to the mainland Sunday, the Jackrabbits returned to practice Monday morning in preparation for their trip to Phoenix.
"This tournament was a good way to gauge ourselves and identify our strengths and weaknesses," Buggs said. "This is the kind of competition we're going to see down the road."
TOP 25 WEEK 5 RANKINGS
1. St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.)
2. Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
3. Bolingbrook (Ill.)
4. Shabazz (Newark, N.J.)
5. Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.)
6. Mt. Lebanon (Pittsburgh)
7. St. Michael Academy (New York)
8. MacArthur (Irving, Texas)
9. Memphis Central (Memphis, Tenn.)
10. Butler (Matthews, N.C.)
Complete HoopGurlz HS Nation
The Fort Smith (Ark.) Tournament of Champions has made a name for itself the past few years with a strong regional field and good competition. The 2009 TOC was no exception, as Incarnate Word (St. Louis, Mo.) got a 52-45 win against then-No. 16 Midwest City (Okla.) in Saturday's championship. After a 58-46 win against Wichita Heights (Wichita, Kan.), Incarnate Word's Brianna Puni scored 18 points in the championship and tournament MVP Jazmin Hitchens, a Ball State signee, added 12. Richa Jackson led Midwest City with 26.
The place to be
Where else could be the focus for mid-December but the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix? With half of the Joe Smith Division's 16 teams ranked in the HoopGurlz High School Nation Top 25, it should be one heck of a tournament. Play starts Friday and the top bracket's first game is the biggest of the day, featuring No. 3 Bolingbrook and No. 5 Long Beach Poly. Later in the day, No. 1 St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.) faces No. 22 Norcross (Ga.).
On the move
In an effort to straighten out the top 25, there was plenty of movement this week. Leaving the ranks are Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.) and Germantown Academy (Fort Washington, Pa.), while No. 15 Incarnate Word (St. Louis, Mo.) and No. 25 Redan (Stone Mountain, Ga.) make their debuts.
If you can't make it to Phoenix, try the Festival of the Phoenix in Newark, N.J., instead. Hosted by University Friday through Sunday, teams in the showcase-style event include No. 7 St. Michael Academy (New York City), No. 18 Trenton Catholic (Trenton, N.J.), University, Ramsay (Birmingham, Ala.), Cicero North (Syracuse, N.Y.) and Regis Jesuit (Aurora, Colo.). ... Among the non-tournament games of note this week are Thursday's North Carolina showdown between No. 10 Butler (Matthews, N.C.) and No. 17 East Mecklenburg (Charlotte). Both schools are in the 4A Southwestern Conference. On Monday, No. 22 Duncanville (Texas) hosts regionally ranked Mansfield Timberview (Mansfield, Texas). ... Timberview is coming off a 44-40 win against rival Mansfield Summit (Arlington, Texas). Maegan Conwright, a Kentucky signee and Timberview's senior point guard, led the Wolves with 17 points in the win. ... Another team preparing for the TOC, No. 1 St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.), hit 10 3-pointers during Saturday's 93-53 win against Bradshaw Christian (Sacramento, Calif.). The Rams now are 4-0. ... Auburn Riverside (Auburn, Wash.) extended its record to 5-0 with a 59-56 win Thursday against defending Washington 4A champion Kentwood (Covington, Wash.) and a 55-43 win Saturday against defending Washington 3A champion Kennedy (Burien, Wash.). ... In the Chi-Town Shootout at Whitney Young, the host team picked up wins against Morgan Park (Chicago) and Martin Luther King (Detroit, Mich.), extending the program's home winning streak to 80 games.
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Mindi Rice is an ESPN HoopGurlz staff writer. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.