Cal Stars Nike skips End of the Trail title game to move on to Nike Nationals in Chicago. Girls of Summer tour continues with top 10 player rankings from Oregon event.
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End of the Trail tournament director Carl Tinsley tried to get the July 9 overall championship game of the tournament moved up from 1 p.m. to 11 a.m. to accommodate the travel arrangements of the Bay Area-based Cal Stars Nike team.
For whatever reasons, the Northwest Blazers (Washington) didn’t want to make the change, so they ended up playing the Tree of Hope team that Cal Stars Nike beat 82-71 in the divisional championships.
Even so, not playing did nothing to diminish the accomplishments of Cal Stars, and in particular 2016 rising superstar Sabrina Ionesco.
“She went off,” said Cal-Hi Sports correspondent and PassThaBall videographer Marissa Holbert.
Buoyed by the confidence she gained from playing on the recent gold medal-winning USA U16 team, Ionescu has taken her game to another level. The result is she is rising to the top of the 2016 class, not just in California but the entire nation.
“She was scoring offensively, going to the hole, driving and finishing or making nice passes, and she was hitting her shots. They couldn’t stop her,” Holbert said.
While Holbert felt Brittany McPhee, a 6-foot 2014 forward from Mt. Rainier (Des Moines, Wash.) and a member of the Northwest Blazers, was the top player in the tournament, she rated Ionescu a close second.
It’s just too bad the two didn’t get to square off in the title game, but with the Blazers win over TC Heat in their divisional championship coming at 9 a.m., the Blazers’ coaches obviously didn’t want to play back-to-back games. Cal Stars would have had to do the same thing since their win over Tree of Hope was played at the same time.
“I think Sabrina’s confidence and rapid improvement is a combination of her playing on the USA team, but also playing with and behind Natalie Romeo,” said Cal Stars coach Kelly Sopak from Chicago, where his team won its first two games on July 10 at the Nike Nationals.
Romeo, an All State selection last season in multiple categories, was injured on Sunday and didn’t play in the Platinum Division semis, the final win over Colorado Hoops Blue, or the win over Tree of Hope.
The initial prognosis in Oregon was a sprained knee. Romeo has returned home and will undergo an MRI this week.
Sopak tried as late as the morning of the championships to change flights to play in the title game, but not all the girls were on the same flight and the situation could not be accommodated.
“It was an emotional weekend for us with Natalie getting hurt. She was our leader,” Sopak said. “I was straight with the girls and told them the bottom line is we’re not as good without her, and the other 11 players stepped it up and improved, something they’ll have to continue doing this month.”
Besides Ionescu, another Cal Stars Nike girl that stepped it up despite not getting her shot to fall in the game Holbert saw her in was 2014 Richmond Salesian wing Mariya Moore. However, according to Holbert, “she made up for it with her nice no look passes, steals, and rebounds.”
Now the Stars will have to prove themselves without Romeo in Chicago, Tinsley’s Music City Madness in Nashville, a tournament where they may see the Blazers, and the Nike Nationals in Augusta, Georgia.
The Top 16 California girls at the End of the Trail as ranked by Holbert from girls she observed, with input from other analysts and reliable coaches attending the End of the Trail, are as follows, with high school and year of graduation included:
1) Sabrina Ionescu (Miramonte, Orinda) 2016
2) Mariya Moore (Salesian, Richmond) 2014
3) Chaya Durr (Sacramento) 2014
4) Bri Moore (St. Mary’s, Stockton) 2015
5) Kelli Hayes (Archbishop Mitty, San Jose) 2014
6) Mandy Coleman (McNair, Stockton) 2014
7) Charise Holloway (St. Mary’s, Stockton) 2014
8) GeAnna Summers-Luaulu (Sacred Heart Cathedral, San Francisco) 2014
9) Dominique Wheatley (Bonita, La Verne) 2014
10) Kat Tudor (St. Mary’s, Stockton) 2016
11) Sydney Raggio (St. Ignatius, San Francisco) 2015
12) Sierra Smith (St. Mary’s, Stockton) 2017
13) Joesetta Fatuesi (Wilcox) 2014
14) Tiara Tucker (Brookside Christian, Stockton) 2014
15) Zonyia Cormier (Sacramento) 2014
16) Breanna Alford (Miramonte, Orinda) 2014
Marissa Holbert of passthaball.com contributed to this report.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend