Editor's note: ESPN will release the ESPN RISE FAB 50 national girls' basketball rankings each Wednesday of the season.
A lot has changed since early November.
After playing anywhere from 20 to 40-plus games, teams across the country made their cases on the national, regional and state level. Some fared about as expected, stumbling a bit with national competition but dominating their states, while others appeared almost out of nowhere, with young talent that played years beyond its age.
Although the ESPN RISE FAB 50 preseason No. 1, St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.), did not finish there, the Rams are one of a handful of teams ready to lay claim to the top 2009-10 preseason spot, returning every member of a squad that came together and won California's Division III title March 20.
But that's next season and, for now, there are a few loose ends to wrap up this season, starting with the top spot's path from St. Mary's to Ben Davis (Indianapolis), the ESPN RISE FAB 50's final No. 1.
The road started out small as Texas was one of the few states to play in November and St. Mary's, the preseason No. 1, held onto the top spot until the first week it played -- when Washington's eventual 4A champion, Kentwood (Covington, Wash.), beat the Rams, 74-67, Dec. 6 at the Northwest Nike Invitational.
From there, each week held a different leader -- St. Michael Academy (New York City) was No. 1 on Dec. 10 and 24, while Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.) led the week in between after defeating Sacred Heart Cathedral at the Iolani Classic in Honolulu. For Poly, the win was a chance to avenge a tough loss the previous season, but the following week's letdown -- going 2-2 in the Nike Tournament of Champions -- handed the top spot back to St. Michael.
The next week, the Eagles from New York City lost twice to strong teams from North Carolina in the Bojangles Shootout and Cardinal O'Hara (Springfield, Pa.) -- one week removed from winning the Nike TOC against a solid Bolingbrook (Ill.) team -- took over the top spot.
Just as quickly, the Lions handed it back with a home-court loss to league rival Archbishop Wood. When Indiana moved into the lead the following week, on the heels of South Bend Washington's title in the T-Mobile Invitational, it started to look like the list of who wouldn't be ranked No. 1 was going to end up shorter than the list of the top-ranked teams.
But South Bend Washington (South Bend, Ind.) and Ben Davis (Indianapolis) held Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, for seven weeks as they tore their way through in-state competition and brought on what typically is not possible -- a pseudo-national championship game -- when the two unbeatens met March 7 for the 4A title.
The game didn't disappoint, drawing at least 13,000 fans, but likely closer to 20,000, to Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium and going down to the wire. Sophomore Bria Goss hit what turned into the game winner -- a falling, twisting nightmare of a shot that, somehow, went in with 1.4 seconds on the clock -- deciding a clash of the titans by a shot that can define a career for a 71-69 victory.
Four days later, Ben Davis grabbed hold of the title and held on tight -- no teams finished a season with quite the dominance that the Giants displayed all year, defeating opponents by an average of 29.8 points. The only team in Indiana with a higher average margin of victory for the season was South Bend Washington (34.6).
The preseason No. 19, Ben Davis was put in an early position to move up if their play, and the relative successes of teams ahead, warranted. Propelled by a 24-point November win against Bolingbrook and with the team's continued success, the Giants climbed the ranks to No. 1.
The preseason top three -- No. 1 St. Mary's, No. 2 Bolingbrook and No. 3 St. Michael -- are the only members of the preseason top 10 to appear in the final top 10, while two -- No. 8 Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.) and No. 9 Oak Hill (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) -- don't appear in the final FAB 50. Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) is the only team in the final top 10 that did not appear in the preseason FAB 50.
And for those who want to start the discussion about next year or need something to chew on this summer, consider the following teams: St. Mary's, Mater Dei, Bolingbrook, St. Michael, Ben Davis, Murry Bergtraum (New York City) and Potter's House Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.). Food for thought to tide you until November.
The New York Federation game couldn't have been scripted so well if someone had actually written it. After No. 5 St. Michael defeated Copiague, 50-47, Saturday, the Eagles squared off in a highly anticipated but presumed unlikely game with No. 12 Murry Bergtraum (New York City) for the Class AA title. Down by 10 at halftime to the two-time-defending champs, St. Michael caught a hot shooting streak and benefited from Bergtraum's powerful big, Shukurah Washington, fouling out to win its first Federation title, 62-58, in its first trip to Glens Falls, N.Y., for championships.
Other than All-American and all-star games galore, the only high school competition remaining is this weekend's inaugural ESPN RISE National High School Invitational. Saturday's semifinals feature Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.) facing St. Francis (Baltimore) and Seton Keough (Baltimore) facing Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.). The two winners play Sunday in the title game.
Off the bounce
New Jersey crowned its Tournament of Champions winner March 23, as No. 37 St. John Vianney (Holmdel, N.J.) beat Shore Conference opponent Colts Neck, 56-44, for the second time this year behind 23 points from senior Katelyn Linney. Skylar Diggins, the savvy point guard for No. 2 South Bend Washington (South Bend, Ind.), was named Indiana Miss Basketball last week, three weeks after guiding the Panthers to a runner-up finish to No. 1 Ben Davis in Indiana's 4A class. Previous Indiana Miss Basketball winners include Purdue coach Sharon Versyp (1984), current WNBA player and Ben Davis alum Shyra Ely (2001) and Purdue freshman Brittany Rayburn (2008). After winning the program's first state title and finishing ranked No. 15 in the Fab 50, Kentwood (Covington, Wash.) coach Keith Hennig and his wife and assistant coach, Wendy, stepped down Monday. The couple plans to spend more time with their 3-year-old and 1-year-old who were staples on the sideline during the season. In his six seasons, Hennig went 136-25, including the 28-1 title season. Morgan Tuck, a 6-foot-2 freshman for No. 3 Bolingbrook (Ill.), is the first freshman to earn Ms. Basketball of Illinois honors in the award's 24-year history. Tuck beat out Adrienne GodBold, the No. 36 player in the ESPN HoopGurlz 100 for 2009, by 32 points. The last player to win the award multiple times was Candace Parker, who was Illinois' Ms. Basketball her sophomore through senior seasons at Naperville Central.
Introducing & Substitutions
With most seasons wrapped up in the previous weeks, no teams leave or join the Fab 50 in the final edition.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the McDonald's All-American and Parade All-American Selection Committees, he formerly coached girls club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Records through March 29.