High School Girls Basketball Preview: Princess Anne still resides at No. 1, but Cavaliers lost some firepower

5 things you should know

Is Princess Anne still the best in Hampton Roads?

With eight consecutive Class 5 state titles — and 10 state titles overall in 13 consecutive championship-game appearances — Princess Anne remains No. 1 until proven otherwise. Six seniors graduated from the 2021 state champs, N.C. State recruit Aziaha James, the repeat All-Tidewater Player of the Year, included. The Cavaliers’ two most talented underclassmen transferred. Experience drop-off notwithstanding, coach Darnell Dozier retools and reloads so well annually that Beach District title contention and a Class 5 state quarterfinal appearance are givens.

Lots of work to do after COVID

A minority of public- and private-school teams played last winter because of COVID-19, and none played close to a normal full schedule. In a sport already struggling in the area participation-wise, the lost season means varsity teams this season will be less experienced than usual. “We’ll have to spend more time working on fundamentals this season,” Menchville coach Adrian Webb said.

State tournament berths double for area Class 5 schools

Following the Virginia High School League’s latest cyclical adjustments for enrollment, Class 5 Region A and Region B are comprised totally of schools from Hampton Roads. That means the area is guaranteed a state finalist because A plays B in a state semifinal. Princess Anne is, naturally, the favorite in Region A, with Kempsville and Salem likely vying for the second state tournament berth. Menchville and Norview are big favorites to make state from Region B.

Other state tournament hopefuls

King’s Fork, the Southeastern District favorite and a state finalist in 2017, is the Class 4 Region A favorite. Grafton, Hampton, Warhill and Smithfield are the likely contenders for the second state tournament berth from the region. Lake Taylor, a perennial state tournament participant in Class 4, moves into Class 3 Region A. It should be in the mix with for a state tournament spot with 2020 state semifinalist Lakeland, ‘20 state quarterfinalist Booker T. Washington, 2018 and ‘19 state finalist Hopewell and Lafayette. Western Branch (Class 6 Region A) and Poquoson (Class 2 Region A) should contend in their regions.

Smithfield boasts star power

While the Smithfield boys won the Class 4 state title last winter, a lack of numbers forced cancellation of the Packers’ girls season after a few players opted out because of COVID. Numbers are still low and there is no girls JV team at Smithfield, but the varsity should be very good, thanks to two elite transfers. Combo guard Jayla Hearp moves in from Hampton, where she was the Daily Press Player of the Year as a freshman and led the Crabbers to a Class 4 state co-championship as a sophomore. Kyla Abraham, a 6-foot-5 center from Florida, is ranked the No. 62 senior nationally.

757Teamz Fab 15

1. Princess Anne

If the Cavaliers, 10-0 last season, are ever going to be vulnerable against area competition, it’s this season. Aziaha James took her talents to N.C. State after scoring 32 points in a 56-41 win over Patrick Henry of Roanoke in the Class 5 state championship game, center Michelle Ojo left for George Washington and four other seniors graduated. Zakiya Stephenson, who scored 13 points in the championship game, was among two standouts to transfer. Cavaliers coach Darnell Dozier just shrugs. With a talented sophomore nucleus of 6-0 Chloe Beddingfield, 5-9 Tinasia Spencer and 5-9 Celeste Bailey joining 5-9 senior McKenna Harris, Dozier expects his team to be good this season and dominant again by next.

2. King’s Fork

If anyone has the talent to knock Princess Anne out of the top spot in Hampton Roads this season, it’s King’s Fork. Niyah Gaston (12 points per game, 8.0 rebounds per game, 3.0 steals per game) and point guard Arlisha Boston (9.3 ppg, 6.0 assists per game) were two of the standouts for the Class 4 Region A semifinalists two years ago. Yasmine Brown returns to King’s Fork after averaging 25.5 points for Indian River as a sophomore. Sophomore guard Cyriah Griffin, a Princess Anne transfer, joins Coach Maurice Fofana’s cast with interest from at least 20 Division I schools. Imani Clemons, 6-3, is athletic and rebounds well.

3. Norview

The Pilots would’ve made a serious push for the No. 1 ranking were Hampton University recruit and 2020 All-Tidewater selection Le’Asia Foreman (12 ppg, 4.0 rpg) not sidelined by a knee injury. Still, with 5-11 guard Diamond Wiggins and 5-10 forward Jada Bryant returning from the 2020 Class 5 state semifinalists, the Pilots boast experience. Freshman Leyla Minor and Jazmin Smith provide an influx of talent and size on the wings, while Pariz Minor and Taniya James bring experience. Taylor Christful, a 5-5 sophomore, will run the show at point guard.

4. Menchville

The Monarchs showed their youth in a 2019-20 season that ended with a one-sided loss to Lake Taylor in the Class 4 Region A tournament. But the 20-3 record and just one Peninsula District loss were impressive for a freshman-oriented team. Kiara Beal (16 ppg, 7 rpg), highly touted Amari Smith (9.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg), Atiana Williams (7 ppg), Keylee Harrison (6 ppg, 5 rpg) and Hailliey Thomas (4 ppg) are all juniors now and ready to make the leap into the state tournament. Jayleen Hallums will fill in as a starter until Williams returns from injury.

5. Hampton

With three Division I recruits among a slew of returners, Hampton was poised for a repeat Class 4 state title before COVID canceled last season. Only reserve guard Kennedy Harris is left among the 2020 standouts. Nevertheless, Crabbers coach Shanda Bailey likes her “young, aggressive” team’s chances of reaching the state tournament. She’s certain high-flying 6-1 freshman Kaliya Perry will join the program’s gallery of Division I recruits. Senior point guard Prophet Sheffield returns from a season with private school Richmond Christian to run the show for a season before heading to play for Winston-Salem State. Dajenelle Linton-Robinson, a 6-foot transfer from Hampton Roads Academy, brings strength in the post.

6. Kempsville

The word is the Chiefs are good, and coach Darryl Moore does not dispute it. They’re loaded with young and talented sophomores who expect to make an immediate impact. The starting five are all 10th graders: point guards Makayle Goodman and Kiyah Fitchett, wings Chaise Hannibal and Zakyah Lindsay, and post Kenya Ramsey. Senior Safyah Carr and junior Jatori Jones, both guards, add experience.

7. Smithfield

The Packers welcome a new coach in Derrick Gatling, formerly an assistant coach with Hampton’s girls. There, he developed a relationship with Class 4 all-state pick Jayla Hearp, the do-it-all guard who averaged 16 points in helping Hampton earn a share of the 2020 Class 4 state title. Rim protection should be no problem with 6-5 Kyla Abraham, the Baylor recruit who averaged 13.5 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks for her Florida high school last season. A key to the Packers’ championship hopes could be how much pressure promising freshman Dynasti Pierce can take off of Hearp in the backcourt.

8. Lakeland

The Cavaliers pulled one of the biggest surprises of the 2019-20 season by reaching the Class 3 semifinals in their first state tournament trip with a rotation of all freshmen and sophomores. Returners Jaelyn Brown (14 ppg), Kemonye Canady (14 ppg), Kianna Gray (11 ppg), and Nyeisha Savage (8 ppg, 8 rpg) were among the stars of that run. Jamauri Demiel made four 3-pointers and Janjah Artis had eight points in the region semifinal win that clinched that first state berth.

9. Catholic

Larry Bowman, in his 51st season as a prep basketball coach, figures beating Paul VI for the state title in the largest private-school classification (VISAA Division I) is a longshot, but he thinks his team possesses the talent to get to the semifinals or the final. Division I prospect Cate Carlson has averaged more than 20 points the past two seasons and will get strong support from a starting lineup that returns intact. Jorah Eppley, Taylor Ethridge, Lexa Hunter and Grace Vaughan return from last year’s 11-4 team.

10. Western Branch

Jarvis Green is 30-6 in two seasons with the Bruins, who reached the 2020 Class 6 state semifinals before winning the 2021 Chesapeake high schools spring league with an 8-1 record. That makes it a pretty good bet the Bruins will join Lakeland in pushing King’s Fork for Southeastern District honors. The starting lineup, a mix of experience and youth, is Sharyiah Montgomery, Morgan Williams, Addyson Carver, Miyah Copeland and Comari Mitchell, who averaged 24 points in the Chesapeake league.

11. Lake Taylor

With West Virginia recruit Ja’Naiya Quinerly and Old Dominion recruit Ashanti Barnes back as seniors last year, the Titans would have assumed their perennial position as a Class 4 state title contender. COVID canceled their season, and hopes of a fifth state title since 2010 were dashed. Saundra Sawyer, the architect of the Titans’ success, will rebuild with only one varsity-experienced player in Rakyla Jones (8 ppg, 5 rpg, 4 apg, 3 spg), who will be joined in the starting lineup by Makiyah Williams, Damani Roscoe, Avanni McDaniel and Tanaya Baxter.

12. Grafton

The Clippers earned a hard-fought state quarterfinal spot with an upset of King’s Fork two years ago in the Class 4 Region A semifinals, then walked into the state semifinals last year at 10-0 as the region’s only team playing at the height of the pandemic. The starting lineup from the state semifinal loss to Louisa returns intact: Nikki Gibson (10 ppg, 10 rpg), Kiara Bomboy (15 ppg), Zariia America (13 ppg), Alyssa Talayumptewa (7 ppg, 7 rpg) and Maesyn Blaylock (7 ppg, 7 rpg).

13. Salem

The SunDevils return just two key players off of a team that went 7-2 last season (6-1 in the Beach District), but they are good ones. Quiana Vazquez, a 5-6 senior, averaged 16.4 points, 4 assists and 3 steals, and is considered one of the best guards in the area. Elyseia Brown, a 5-8, junior, improved over the summer after posting solid numbers (12.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg) last season. Inayah Lendow, Morgan Joquin and Wisdom Banks round out the starting lineup.

14. Nansemond-Suffolk Academy

The Saints return six seniors who played significant roles on the 2019-2020 team that went 23-5 and reached the VISAA Division II state final. Cammy Reid (16.5 ppg), Maren Council (6.0 ppg), Alyssa Waddy (6.4 ppg, 11 rpg), Emma Conrod (4.0, 5 apg) and McKinlee Goodloe (7 ppg). Longtime Saints coach Kim Aston said, “They are hungry to get back (to the state final).”

15. Manor

Manor (formerly Wilson) gave eventual Class 4 state co-champion Hampton a scare in the region quarterfinals. Roger Smith’s cast is all-new but talented. Junior point guard AJ Richardson is stacking up mid-major offers after a good summer with Boo Williams’ 10th-grade team in the EYBL. Richardson is a versatile floor general with the ability to shoot, slash and dish. Backcourt mate Desire Short, a Lake Taylor transfer, can handle the ball, shoot 3s and get to the rim. Sophomore Jada Clark gives the backcourt a defensive standout, while 6-2 center Daria Hunter is poised for a breakout senior season.

The next five: Booker T. Washington, Churchland, Warhill, Lafayette and Kellam.

Five players to watch

Jayla Hearp, Smithfield, 5-10 senior guard

East Carolina recruit Hearp led Hampton to a 2020 Class 4 state co-championship. She was the Daily Press Player of the Year for Hampton as a freshman, averaging 20 points. She averaged 16 for the state champs as a sophomore before missing her junior season when Hampton did not play because of COVID. A shooting guard with the Crabbers, she’ll handle the ball more with Smithfield.

Cate Carlson, Catholic, 5-10 junior guard

After averaging more than 20 points per game the past two seasons, Carlson has offers from Old Dominion, James Madison and UNC Wilmington, just to name a few. She can play any position and score by going to the rim or shooting the 3. Larry Bowman’s 51 seasons as a high school coach include a Group AAA state title with Salem, and he says Carlson is the best he’s coached.

Kyla Abraham, Smithfield, 6-5 senior center

At No. 61, Abraham is the only player in the state in the espnW HoopGurls 100 national recruiting rankings of high school seniors. Committed to 2019 NCAA champion Baylor, Abraham averaged 13.5 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks as a junior in leading Choctawhatchee of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, to a 19-3 record.

Kiara Beal, Menchville, 5-8 junior guard

Beal was a standout as a freshman when the Monarchs went 20-3 and matched eventual state champ Hampton with just one loss in Peninsula District play two years ago. A playmaker who can score and rebound, Beal averaged 16.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists as a freshman and is drawing interest from Division I and II schools.

Diamond Wiggins, Norview, 5-10 junior guard

Wiggins had a big second half — hitting a pair of 3-pointers among her 10 points — to keep the Pilots surprisingly close to powerhouse Princess Anne in the Class 5 Region A final. With Hampton University commit Le’Asia Foreman (19 points against PA in the region final) sidelined because of a knee injury, Wiggins will be counted on even more.