St. Mary’s of Stockton looks to defend its title as the Cal-Hi Sports Caravan will be in full force at the nation’s largest high school girls basketball tournament. We are proud to be the media sponsor of this event for the first time. Go to SanDiegoClassic.com for more details.
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The nation’s largest high school girls basketball tournament begins four days of action on Thursday, July 18 when 168 teams in three divisions open play in the 27th Annual San Diego Classic.
What tournament director Wade Vickery started in 1987 with just eight teams competing at Santana of Santee, where he was the head coach at the time, has blossomed into the only big-time summer girls basketball tournament where all the girls must attend the same high school. There are no travel or all-star teams.
Today, the tournament is headquartered at RIMAC Arena at UC San Diego, with games also contested at Alliant International University and San Diego Canyon Crest Academy.
The division with the biggest field this year is the 2A with 112 teams competing, while the 1A has 32 teams.
The division Cal-Hi Sports will be focusing on as the media sponsor, with daily updates throughout the four-day tournament, will be the 3A, which has 24 teams, including defending champion St. Mary’s of Stockton.
Unlike years past, the 3A will advance first and second-place teams from each of the four pools, two with eight teams and two with six. With this being the first time this format has ever been used, the possibility exists that a first-ever team with a loss could win the Classic.
“With only 24 teams in 3A we went to this format so everyone gets six games,” said Vickery, who in 26 seasons at the Santana helm compiled a 610-119 record, with 19 league championships and nine CIF San Diego Section titles.
While the NCAA viewing this month will be in the “dark period” from July 13 to July 22, meaning Division I college coaches will be unable to attend the event, a plethora of small-school and junior college coaches will be on hand.
What they’ll see and what you’ll read about starting with Thursday’s action is a St. Mary’s of Stockton team that will have everyone on the bench, unlike at the End of the Trail, where Bri Moore and Charise Holloway weren’t in the lineup.
“We’re at full strength, and if we put it all together I like this squad a lot,” head coach Tom Gonsalves told Cal-Hi Sports.
Moore, a 2015 point guard, was the No. 3 rated girl at the Cal Sparks NorCal Tune-Up as a member of the host’s top team.
Holloway, a 5-foot-10 post that is effective at any position, and plays bigger and taller than she is, looks very solid this summer. She was with St. Mary’s in its second-place finish at the Tune-Up.
“I haven’t seen Bri a lot but Charise has dramatically improved her game, and she’s in better shape,” the 2004 State Coach of the Year remarked.
Another St. Mary’s girl that is starting to make some people think is incoming sophomore Kat Tudor.
“We’ve had to play Kat at the point because we were without Bri, and it’s helped develop her driving to the basket,” Gonsalves said. “She even finished with her left hand so well up in Oregon that a college coach asked me if she was left-handed. She is starting to be like Jackie Gemelos in that respect.”
Tudor also made the most ever three-point shots by a freshman last season when she nailed 112 while shooting 50.7 percent from outside the arc. Both accomplishments will make the Cal-Hi Sports Record Book, and if Tudor progresses anywhere near previous Ms. Basketball Jacki Gemelos, her name could be on several more record rook lists before she graduates in 2016.
Gonsalves also has a host of lightning quick incoming freshmen and sophomore guards that will be on display in San Diego.
The most remarkable of the babies is a girl that has really impressed Cal-Hi Sports correspondent Marissa Holbert of PassThaBall, and that’s incoming 5-foot-5 freshman Sierra Smith.
What makes Smith more amazing is she’s only 12 years old and already has her sights set on where she wants to go to college.
“She won’t be 13 until October 30,” Gonsalves chuckled. “Her basketball IQ for a 12-year-old is something I’ve never seen anything like. Plus, she’s a great kid, her academics are outstanding, and she already wants to go to Stanford.”
The one problem for St. Mary’s both at the San Diego Classic and in the upcoming season is a lack of height. The tallest starters are both 5-foot-10, Holloway and Tudor.
“Our style of play allows us to be short because we play so fast,” Gonsalves said.
The Rams will need that speed against a very solid 3A field that includes another St. Mary’s, and that’s St. Mary’s Academy of Portland, Oregon.
The perennially-tough Blues feature Tyschal Blake. She’s 5-foot-11, strong, quick, can play any position on the floor, and is on the Full Court Press Top 50 watch list of players from the 2015 class.
Last season, the Blues lost twice, by 28 points at home and 11 points on the road, to the Portland Central Catholic team St. Mary’s beat 48-47 (without two of its top seniors in the lineup) in last year’s San Diego Classic 3A title game.
Local San Diego teams that could make some noise are La Jolla Country Day and arch-rival The Bishop’s School, and possibly Horizon Christian.
Country Day returns (2016) Mai-loni Henson. The 6-foot guard was a near miss on the All-State Freshmen team. Another returner 2012 State Coach of the Year Terri Bamford will look to is incoming senior 6-foot forward Sabrina Callahan.
Bishop’s head coach Marlon Wells is looking for big things from highly regarded D1 prospect Imani Littleton. The 6-foot-3 All-State Junior Second Team member will get a chance to show if she’s improved from a high school season that saw her average 21.8 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.
Horizon has State Freshman of the Year Dijonai Carrington in the lineup and she’s a show in herself. The problem may be that Horizon opens with Portland St. Mary’s Academy.
Another team that could show well is the scrappy Mark Keppel of Alhambra squad. It will open against a team from Germany before meeting St. Mary’s (Stockton) on Friday.
“We’re missing some teams like Long Beach Poly but we’re thrilled to have St. Mary’s back, and with St. Mary’s of Portland and Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) coming down, looking at the brackets it looks like some tough games,” Vickery remarked.
The way its set up is if the two St. Mary’s win their first five games, they’ll meet in the championship on Sunday.
For all the brackets, additional information about the tournament, and daily scores once the tournament starts, go to SanDiegoClassic.com.
Editor’s note: We were informed July 16 that Dijonai Carrington of Horizon was injured at the Battle In The Boro in Tennessee and will not play in San Diego.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend