It was by glorious happenstance that the table was set early on the national high school scene for the season's most intriguing plot line. Two California schools, Long Beach Poly and Sacred Heart of San Francisco, each with a rough-and-tumble superstar, clashed in Beaverton, Ore., on the evening of Dec. 9. The fact that Sacred Heart triumphed is immaterial; the game ignited a debate that raged for the four months thereafter.
What has not been debated is the power, grace and work ethic of the star players -- Jasmine Dixon of Poly and Tierra Rogers of Sacred Heart. They both were lights that shone brightly every night during a grueling season. For both of them, the season ended in a championship in the most populated, and sometimes most competitive, state in the union.
So it is entirely appropriate that the Cali girls, Dixon and Rogers, highlight the first-ever ESPN HoopGurlz High School All-American team. They are joined by Elena Delle Donne of Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Del.; Nneka Ogwumike of Cy-Fair High School in Cypress, Texas, and Azania Stewart of Notre Dame Academy in Middleburg, Va.
We decided to absorb the pressure and name just one team representing the five student athletes who best exemplified our high school ideal. Emphasis was placed on the recently concluded season, though the athlete's entire body of work was taken into consideration. Focus also was trained on the player's contributions to her team's success.
What will become abundantly evident after scanning the core accomplishments of this group is that drive and work ethic are common denominators for elite-level performance.
ESPN HoopGurlz 2008 High School All-Americans
Poly, Long Beach, Calif.
Senior 6-1 wing (committed to Rutgers)
13.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 4.4 steals, 3.2 assists
Pound for pound, Dixon, without question, was the most physical girls high school player in the country. She held that distinction since the first day of her much-ballyhooed freshman season at Poly, and the addition of a midrange jump shot made her one of the most unguardable players on the high school level. Dixon is powerfully built, explosive and relentless. She was the soul of the most talented team in the nation. In fact, Poly's only fault may have been its overreaching schedule.
Elena Delle Donne
Ursuline Academy, Wilmington, Del.
Senior 6-4 guard (committed to Connecticut)
31 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals
Delle Donne's drive to succeed may have in fact sabotaged an opportunity to sweep the national player of the year awards. That drive led to a bout of mononucleosis, which held her out of 10 games and effectively extinguished Ursuline's hopes of being a factor nationally. When Delle Donne played, Ursuline won every game and a state title. She displayed -- with the second 50-point outing of her career and uncanny consistency of her shot -- that she may be the most potent scorer of her generation.
Cy-Fair, Cypress, Texas
Senior 6-2 forward (committed to Stanford)
18.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.5 steals
Ogwumike has a regal elegance to her persona, on and off the court. But don't let that mask an iron will, eye-of-the-tiger approach to the game. Cy-Fair endured its only two losses of the season because Ogwumike and her younger sister, Chiney, were competing at the state volleyball championships. Otherwise, Cy-Fair was unblemished -- largely because of the abilities of its graceful, wise, do-everything forward. Ogwumike has length, strength, an ever-expanding skill set, and vises for hands.
Sacred Heart Cathedral, San Francisco
Junior 5-11 wing (undecided 2009 recruit)
9.4 points (SHC keeps no additional stats)
Rogers is, hands down, most inspirational for weathering a stretch that no teenager should ever have to endure. She lost her father, Terray, in a halftime murder and later collected a painful hip-pointer injury during the state quarterfinals. Rogers gritted through both, delivering in storybook fashion the game-winning shot during the state semifinals; her season ended in a state title.
Even before such tests, she showed that she has a nose for the ball and expanded her game considerably with the addition of a reliable jump shot.
Notre Dame Academy, Middleburg, Va.
Senior 6-4 post (committed to Florida)
13.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.0 blocks
No longer a stranger in a strange land, this British import caught on quickly to the American way of being judged by the number of notches (for victories) on one's belt. NDA was a consensus preseason No. 1 choice largely because of Stewart's prowess on defense -- as a close-range deterrent and rebounder. Notre Dame remained among the nation's elite because Stewart further transformed herself into a strong offensive presence on the boxes, as well as team leader. She may have been the most underrated high school player in this country, at least.
Chris Hansen also contributed to this report.
For more in-depth coverage of women's college basketball prospects and girl's basketball, visit HoopGurlz.com