We have increased our coverage of the class of 2018—the junior class at the present time—from the top 160 players to the top 180. To do that, we essentially went through every high school roster in the state to identify top producers among the juniors whom we did not yet have in our rankings. Much to our surprise, we only found 33 girls that met that description—again, that are top producers for their high school team, are juniors and were not already in our rankings. We also had 13 girls who have moved out of the state or quit playing basketball, etc., whom we therefore have dropped. The net was +20 in the number of girls in this quarterly ranking.
Ranking the junior class is sometimes the most challenging age group. Rankings of any age group consist of course of a mix of potential and production. Among younger girls it’s mostly potential. By the time they’re seniors it’s most production. But the junior year, well, it’s like Saturday, the so-called “moving day,” in a golf tournament. It’s where we start to take actual production a lot more seriously, and for most players cut back on the importance of potential. We’re not betting on the come anymore, at least, not so much. It starts to be more of, What have you done for me lately?
Why Our Top Ten Players Are Our Top Ten Players
1. Carmen Backes, 6-2, forward, Chisago Lakes. Carmen Backes has increased her scoring from 22 ppg last year to 29 ppg this year. Her size and athleticism and her vertical ability make her a standout, and there’s also the little thing of her versatility. A couple years ago she was forced to play the point guard for Chisago due to other people’s injuries, and she led her team to the state tournament. Then, that very summer, she played the post for an undersized Tartan team. So, she is the real deal and is probably more of a sure thing for the next level than Yokie Lee, though Lee at 6-5½ has that incredibly high ceiling.
2. Yokie Lee, 6-5½, post, Byron (Kansas State). Lee committed to Kansas State last week. With her size and an invitation to try out for the U.S. national team last year, she is Minnesota’s best-known prospect nationally, at least since Christianna Carr left town. Locally, you can easily put together a list of 6 to 8 girls who could be in the conversation for the top spot, or for next year’s Ms. Basketball award, if you want to think about it that way. The case for Yokie Lee is, of course, her size, though that alone is no guarantee of success. She’s also got good hands and feet and shows reasonable mobility and anticipation in going after the ball whether it’s on the pass or off the boards. And, equally important, she continues to show reasonable improvement in most phases of the game.
3. Raena Suggs, 5-7, combo guard, Hopkins. Suggs has all the skills and abilities that define great point guards, but her team happens to have Paige Bueckers, so she plays off the ball more than on. And she is thriving either way. She just makes plays. In particular, when she doesn’t have the ball in her hands because it’s in the hands of the other team, well, then, she just takes it away from them. Or, when a teammate has the ball, she just gets open, whether its on a cut to the rim or on the 3-point line. She has raised her scoring from 7 ppg last year to 15, and for any other team she could be scoring twice that.
4. Maesyn Thiesen, 5-9, point guard, Sauk Centre. Thiesen had dropped to #7 in our ratings over a couple years due to size, quickness and competition. But upon reflection, all of those are really weak objections to one of the most instinctive, high-IQ point guards (almost Paige Bueckers-level) that you’re ever going to see. She is the definition of a point guard. She just makes plays of whatever kind is needed at the time, and her team usually wins.
5. Morgan Hill, 5-10, shooting guard, Mpls. South. As I was finishing up these ratings, Hill scored 39 points the other night, just in case I might be inclined to forget what she can do. And, that is, she can score in bunches, from anywhere on the floor at any time. I have never seen anybody keep her away from the rim.
6. Megan Walstad, 6-3, power forward, Eastview. Has had a number of injuries over the years and right now she’s not dominating like she has. Of course, maybe that’s the difference between the age group (in the summer) and the mixed-age high school teams, and Eastview plays as tough a schedule as any. Anyway, Walstad is scoring 11 ppg right now versus 12 ppg a year ago. Still, the sky’s the limit.
7. Sam Haiby, 5-10, combo guard, Moorhead. Possibly the best all-around athlete on the list. I mean, how many are proven baseball pitchers? Just one that I’m aware of (though, yes, it’s true that Selena Shady, the Esko senior forward, played football last fall). But returning to basketball, Haiby may be the best inside/outside scorer on the list. She doesn’t get to the rim quite as easily as Morgan Hill, but is a better 3-point shooter. And she’s one of the top 3-point shooters along with people named Walker, Hicks, Garvey, Van Nett, Buck—none of whom gets to the rim like Sam does. She moves up from #9 to #7.
8. Emma Grothaus, 6-3, power forward, Mahtomedi (Lehigh). Another who likes to get to the rim but can also shoot it from long-range. She is also a double digit rebounder most nights. Oh, and a lock-down defender, which I hadn’t quite appreciated. So that’s mainly why she moves all the way from #13 to #9.
9. Krystal Carlson, 5-11, forward, Hastings. Carlson dominates inside most nights but she also plays on the perimeter. It doesn’t matter, the ball is going in the hoop either way. She drops from #6 to #10 basically because bigger girls are getting it together while Carlson remains a little bit short of 6 feet. At the next level, that will be a significant thing, though it is also true, like I said, that she can play on the perimeter and 5-11 is good size for a wing. So, she remains an elite prospect at #10.
10. Brynne Rolland, 6-2, post-power forward, Apple Valley. She’s not huge but she plays huge by using her body so well to seal off defenders and get the ball where she wants it, when she wants it. But her big move upward—from #27 to #10—was because now she’s also stepping outside and hitting 10 to 20 foot jumpers, especially from the right baseline to the right corner, and all the way out to the 3-point line.
Dropped Out of the Top Ten
12. Megan Walker, 5-9, combo guard, Minnetonka (Lehigh). You almost don’t notice Walker. She is so smooth and doesn’t make mistakes. Of course, when she has one of those days like the one she had the last time we saw her—with 6 3-pointers—well, then you notice. But everyday she protects and distributes the ball and scores 17 ppg without necessarily going crazy from long range. In other words, she does it all. Still, she drops down a couple of slots, from #10 to #12. To be sure, this does not indicate any regression or weakness on her part, but it’s true that some of her peers are now seeing some of the improvement that Walker experienced a tad earlier in her career. And some of these peers are 4-5 inches taller which, in the game of basketball, tends to be an advantage.
13. Theresa Mbanefo, 6-1, power forward, Blaine. Mbanefo is injured right now. She scored 12 ppg last year and has the ability to double that. But we’ll have to wait and see.
They’re rated “qualitatively,” you might say, not strictly on how many spots they gained. I would put Yokie Lee on this list. Anytime you move up to #1, that’s a big deal. But we won’t put her on this list since we’ve already said what needed to be said. Ditto anybody in our top 10.
1. Mary Burke, 6-1, post-power forward, Mountain Iron-Buhl. I always loved Mary Burke but this year she’s better competition and has out-played pretty much everybody to the tune of 19 ppg and 9 boards. Moves from #45 to #17.
2. Tayzha Buck, shooting guard, Red Wing. Her big sister went D1, so we always thought that Tayzha had the potential to be very, very good. Well, this year she is beginning to realize that potential, raising her scoring average from 14 ppg to 23 ppg with 7 boards and 3 assists. Not that there’s really anything wrong with a 14 ppg average as a sophomore, so we probably had her too low at #57. Now, she’s up to #18.
3. Annika Hoff, 6-4, post, Northfield. Hoff had the opposite problem of Rhoades. Not that being big and tall is a problem, but being big and tall is sometimes associated with injuries to the lower extremities. Hoff was injured a bit a couple of years ago, and so she has been moving up in the rankings from a fairly low start. But, now, she is playing really big on both ends of the floor, and has risen to being the #9-ranked post in the state, and #27 overall, from #104 a year ago.
4. Autumn Thompson, point guard, Stephen-Argyle. Always a stellar ball protector and distributor, Thompson has added scoring to her resume including a couple of 30+ games in recent weeks. Moves from #91 to #34.
5. Terra Rhoades, 5-7, shooting guard, Minnehaha. We always liked her passion for the game and her hard-nosed approach to playing it. She was like the boy named Sue. She was and is small, so it was “get tough or die.” So, she proved she belongs. Now she has raised her scoring average from 11 to 19, and so she has moved from #86 to #39.
6. Sidney Zieske, wing, Waconia. Zieske has always been highly regarded on the summer circuit and she is now showing a lot more on the winter circuit as well. Specifically, she is a lot quicker than I remember, and she is Waconia’s best ball-handler though shooting is really her obvious strength. She recently committed to D1 Montana State, and moves all the way from #93 to #20.
7. Sidney Blandin, 5-9, shooting guard, Farmington. Another who is now beginning to fulfill her potential as a scorer, scoring 14 ppg. She can score and has scored in the high 20s when needed. She moves all the way from #124 to #65.
8. Naomi Hagstrom, forward, Zimmerman. Last year Hagstrom led her team in rebounding and 3-point shooting. It is a measure of Zimmerman’s vast improvement that this year she leads in neither one. But she is still doing it all—16 ppg, 7 rebounds, an average of 1-of-2 3s per game with 2 assists and 2 steals. She moves up from #133 to #87.
9. Annika Simonson, 5-11, forward, Heritage Christian. She’s long and lean and athletic, and—at Heritage, at least—that makes her a volleyball player. And, that, will be the primary factor to hold back her basketball development. But, right, now, she has all the tools except the strength to really mix it up inside. So she moves from #155 to #81.
Finally, who are these mysterious newcomers? Well, they’re not mysterious at all. They are:
1. Chantel Anderson-Manning, 5-7, point guard, Cretin. Manning-Anderson is small but very, very quick. She is scoring about 10 ppg and she is a total pest as an on-ball defender. She is rated #63.
2. Madi Kerzman, 6-2, post, Becker, who has gotten the opportunity to play now with Alex Johnson graduating, and she has responded with 16 ppg and 10 rebounds in the early going. She is rated at #79.
3. Betsy Schoenrock, 6-3, post, NRHEG. The 6-3 junior is new to the NRHEG rotation, but she has become a force so far this year. She is the Panthers leading scorer and rebounder off the bench, and enters the rankings at #88.
4. Sophie Sowada, 5-11, power forward, Little Falls. The Flyers are 2-12 through no fault of Sowada’s. The junior is averaging 18 ppg and 10 boards, and recently outscored Becker’s Kerzman 16-8 in a head-to-head matchup. She is #93.
5. Tina Haraldson, 5-6, point guard, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton. She is doing it all for her team—15 ppg, 7 boards, 5 assists, 5 steals. We have her at #100.
6. Autumn Tucker, 5-3, point guard, St. Paul Como Park. I won’t say she has replaced Andrayah Adams. Nobody could do that. But she is the best ball-handler at Como this year and is also scoring in double figures. #102.
7. Monique Wooten, point guard, Mpls. North. The best of the new crop at Mpls. North . Wooten does a little bit of everything, from 16 ppg scoring to 7 boards to 5 steals per game. #105.
8. Caitlyn Schreier, power forward, Visitation. She’s big and physical and averages 17 ppg and 14 rebounds.
9 (tie). Taylor Johnson, 5-7, point guard, and Delaney Young, 5-11, power forward, Park. Park is just 5-6 but has been a surprise at 4-2 over the past 6 games, including wins over St. Paul Central, Hill-Murray, Forest Lake and Stillwater. Johnson and Young have been a big part of that, both averaging in double figures for the year and 28 ppg between them in the 4 recent wins. They’re rated as a tie at #127.
10. CaseyVolkmann, combo guard, Wadena-Deer Creek. #120.
There are another 22 newcomers to our 2018 player rankings.