DODDS-Europe girls basketball preview: Season opens with an unusually familiar feel
In the high-turnover world of high school sports in Europe, the girls basketball season that tips off Friday is the DODDS-Europe version of "The Day the Earth Stood Still."
Seventy percent of last season’s All-Europe first team returns, along with half of the second team. In an environment where military moves and drawdowns stir up the player pool every season, that’s highly unusual.
Adding to the familiar feel of the new season is the location of those All-Europeans. Of the seven first-teamers back, two each will be suiting up for defending European champions. Two-time first-teamer Latanya Wilson (seven points per game) and ’08 choice Kiara Sanchez-Herrera (12 ppg) will anchor Kaiserslautern’s run at a second D-I crown, and sophomores Veronne Clark (15.6 points, five assists, 4.4 steals per game) and Elizabeth Styles (19.8 points, 4.8 steals per game) are among the eight returners who have fans of D-III champ Baumholder eager to get the season started.
All that experience in Baumholder has caught the eye of K-town coach Corey Sullivan, whose Lady Raiders will face the Lady Bucs twice in Region II play.
"To be honest, I think Baumholder may have the best girls basketball team in Europe," Sullivan wrote in an e-mail.
Sullivan will get a chance to test his estimate the week before the European tournament when his Lady Raiders are scheduled for a home-and-home showdown.
In Sullivan’s view, that’s perfect timing.
"I think our region," he concluded, "will definitely … make us tougher for the tournament."
They’ll probably need to be. Kaiserslautern, which lost just once last season, figures to be pressed in D-I by ’08 runner-up Ramstein, led by All-Europe second-teamer Lataiya Harrison (13 ppg), and Heidelberg, whose future brightened considerably when two-time All-Europe first-teamer Ashley Hicks (15 ppg) transferred from Vilseck to team with second-team All-Europe guard Fallon Puppolo.
Hicks already has helped the Lady Lions to a European volleyball crown, but experience might prove the difference-maker for K-town. The Lady Raiders dress six seniors in addition to Wilson and Sanchez-Herrera.
"We have eight total seniors this year, all having had varsity experience at K-town," Sullivan wrote, "which makes things nice to start out the year."
Baumholder, too, probably will benefit from Region II’s stiff tests. The Lady Bucs return the kind of talent — eight of the top 10 from last season — according to Hollenbeck, that figures to benefit from the competition.
"Styles, (all-region forward Katrina) Alsup and Clark are back for another season," coach Carter Hollenbeck wrote, "as well as Jasmine Thompson, who was a starter at forward last year, and Megan White, who is a six-foot center."
Barring cataclysmic changes, the battle in D-III will be for second place.
That’s a far cry from Division II, where European champion Mannheim bid goodbye to its two All-Europeans. Coach Adrian Crawford opens the season teaching his system to nine new players, which would seem to leave the door open to ’08 runner-up Aviano, led by All-European Alyssa Lane (22 points, 14 rebounds per game); Naples, which will benefit from another season from All-European Valentina Lee (24 ppg); and SHAPE, which returns All-European Ebonee DeVos, who averaged 14.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
Kaiserslautern’s Sullivan, whose only loss last season came at Wiesbaden, adds the Lady Warriors to the D-II title mix.
Change also could be in the cards in D-IV. Brussels, which won three straight European crowns around the nucleus of four-year starters Elizabeth McVicker and Caitlin Quinn, graduated that duo in June. While the cupboard’s not bare in Brussels, Rota, led by returning All-Europe center Bethany Walcott (17 points, 11 rebounds per game), will make the Lady Brigands’ path to a fourth straight crown a steep one.