SportsGirls basketball preview
Turnover injects intrigue into two of three divisions
December 1, 2016
Wide-open title races in Divisions I and III and an ongoing rivalry in Division II headline the 2016-17 DODEA-Europe girls basketball season, starting this weekend with a full slate of games across four countries.
The regular season includes two active weekends before the holidays, then resumes Jan. 6 for the run to the European tournament, scheduled for Feb. 22-25 at Wiesbaden, Germany.
Division I The large-school girls bracket has produced four different champions over the past five seasons. This year appears to be similarly unpredictable.
Ramstein has been a consistent presence in the tournament’s elimination rounds for years, and broke through last year for a long-pursued championship. But that process restarts this season, as All-Europe guard Ashley Mateo is the only starter back from a roster that graduated six seniors. The Royals will look to incoming transfers and junior varsity call-ups to fill out the rotation. .
Vicenza, the team Ramstein edged in overtime to win last season’s title, is in a similar predicament.
The Cougars lost not just sharpshooting senior guard Emma Knapp but also freshman phenom Jordan Wakefield, leaving the team with a lot of production to replace from among a roster that features eight freshmen. Star post Adrianna Lovelace will serve as the senior centerpiece of the new-look squad.
Kaiserslautern and Stuttgart advanced to the semifinals last winter and could seize on the vulnerabilities of Ramstein and Vicenza.
The Raiders boast the stability of six returning players, including a core of senior Althea Honan, junior CeCe McKenzie and sophomore Le’Jhanique Brown. The Panthers have just three players back, but they too boast a proven foundation in point guard Marissa Encarnacion and forward Meaghan Ambelang, both seniors.
Elsewhere in the division, Vilseck is eying a breakthrough into the upper tier of Division I. The Falcons return three starters, including senior forward Mohagony Lediju, and are candidates to improve on the respectable 7-5 overall record they produced a year ago.
Lakenheath, Naples, SHAPE and Wiesbaden will seek to improve their station this season after posting losing divisional records in 2015-16.
Division II Black Forest Academy’s championship was a mild surprise last year, coming as it did at the expense of an archrival Bitburg team that won the previous year’s championship game and seemed destined for a repeat.
A BFA title this season would be no surprise at all.
The Falcons return five rotation players from last year’s roster, including an established star at three key positions on the floor. All-Europe point guard Naomi Ruegg will orchestrate the offense and spearhead BFA’s infamously stingy defense. Senior wing Cailynn Campbell is back after leading the team in scoring a year ago. And junior Katie Greathouse reprises her role as one of DODEA-Europe’s most dominant post players.
That’s a lot for any team to deal with, but Bitburg has a history of equitable competition with BFA and returns standout post Elise Rasmussen to lead this year’s efforts.
Beyond those two established contenders, the Division II scene is uncertain, with 2015-16 semifinalists American Overseas School of Rome and Bahrain and dependable contenders Aviano and Rota in the mix. AFNORTH is a team to watch with four returning starters, including senior guard Sinem Butun.
Division III The small-school landscape closely resembles that of Division I, in parity if not in size.
Defending champion Ansbach should retain its advantage in the paint with the return of the formidable post duo of Sabiana Edouard and Arcelia Escobar. Point guard Eliana Vargas is back to run the Cougar offense.
Sigonella, which came up short in a double-overtime loss to the Cougars for last year’s title, has its own key trio back. Versatile seniors Kisiah Chandler and Elizabeth Camus lead the way with capable aid from sophomore guard Jessica Jacobs.
Incumbent semifinalists Alconbury and Baumholder figure to remain squarely in the championship picture, while new arrival Hohenfels could be an immediate factor.