College basketball: Top five player of the year candidates
Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese are clear front-runners.
The 2022-23 high school basketball season is officially underway, and varsity teams across the country are looking to make a name for themselves on a national stage.
At Just Women’s Sports, we’ve ranked the top 25 teams from coast to coast, each one of them poised to make waves in their home state and beyond.
Head coach: Alicia Komaki
The Trailblazers finished last season as California state champions and ranked in the national top 5. They return 11 of 12 players from last year’s roster, including two Team USA gold medalists, 2023 USC signee JuJu Watkins and 2024 forward Mackenly Randolph. The team also boasts 2024 guard Izela Arenas and 2023 Northwestern signee Crystal Wang. This season, Sierra Canyon’s motto is “Good to Great,” as the Trailblazers look to follow up last year’s successful campaign with even more hardware.
Head coach: Tamika Dudley
The Quakers took care of business last season, going undefeated and capturing the SCI National Championship. In 2022-23, Sidwell Friends begins a new chapter after graduating top recruit and current UCLA freshman guard Kiki Rice. Led by seniors Jadyn Donovan (Duke signee) and Khia Miller (East Carolina signee) as well as juniors Kendall Dudley, Leah Harmon and Zania Socka-Nguemen, Sidwell Friends is a threat to win it all once more.
Head coach: Stan Delus
There’s no shortage of elite basketball programs in the state of California, and Etiwanda is strong proof of that. The Eagles’ smallest margin of victory so far this season is 23 points, with eight of their nine wins coming on neutral courts. As a public school, Etiwanda has some of the nation’s top talent: Class of 2024 recruit Kennedy Smith and 2025 recruit Puff Morris are two of California’s most exciting players.
Head coach: Special Jennings
The reigning GEICO High School Nationals champion, Montverde carries a rich basketball tradition into the 2022-23 season. The Eagles are long, fast and talented, thanks to a highly touted roster that includes South Carolina signee Sahnya Jah, Mississippi State signee Mjracle Sheppard and 2024 paint powerhouse Lety Vasconcelos.
Head coach: Terri Bamford
Three names to remember: Breya Cunningham, Jada Williams and Tajianna Roberts. Williams and Cunningham won a gold medal in Hungary this summer as part of Team USA’s U17 squad and recently signed with Arizona as part of coach Adia Barnes’ 2023 freshman class. Roberts is a well-rounded 2024 recruit with her best basketball ahead of her.
Head coach: Tara Starks
Hopkins has won eight state championships since 2004, including in 2022, and is the alma mater of UConn star and 2021 National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers. This season, all eyes will be on Stanford signee Sunaja Agara and Michigan signee Taylor Woodson.
Head coach: Brion Raven
While it might seem odd to place a team with four losses at No. 7, South Grand Prairie suffered those losses to Sierra Canyon (57-47), Sidwell Friends (61-49), Montverde Academy (45-42) and La Jolla Country Day (47-44). The Warriors have ranked wins over Conway (Ark.) and St. John’s College (D.C.) and more than a handful of double-digit victories. The losses might hurt now, but the Warriors will be all the better for it later.
Head Coach: Dawn Carpell
St. John Vianney will open its highly anticipated season on Dec. 17 against Bishop McNamara (Md.). This season, the Lady Lancers will start three players bound for Division I schools: Holy Cross signee Janie Bachmann, NC State signee Zoe Brooks and Bucknell signee Ashley Sofilkanich. After winning 32 games last season — and falling only once, to Sidwell Friends on a neutral court — St. John Vianney knows exactly what it takes to reach the top.
It all starts SATURDAY!— SJV Lady Lancers (@SJVLadyLancers) December 14, 2022
Come watch your SJV Lady Lancers @ Home this weekend!
12/17/22 - 11 AM vs Bishop McNamara
12/18/22 - 3:40 PM vs Mount St. Mary Academy
Lets GOOO!!! 💪🔥@sjvcoach @pero_zoe @SJVHS_Athletics @SJVLancerNation pic.twitter.com/idLcrO0ddM
Head coach: Dan Rolfes
The 12-time state champion Red Knights are experts at controlling the pace of a game, regardless of where they’re playing. Led by Nebraska signee Natalie Potts and Illinois State signee Brooke Coffey, they have already overwhelmed their opponents at home in St. Louis and at the recent ‘Iolani Classic tournament in Hawaii. No team in the nation has a longer winning streak than Incarnate Word, with 72 straight victories.
Head coach: Ashley Hutchcraft
Any time a roster boasts a Gatorade State Player of the Year, it’s safe to say they’re in good hands. The Wampus Cats have the gift of Stanford signee Chloe Clardy as they embark on a revenge tour of sorts after an upset loss brought their outstanding 2021-22 season to an end. Conway lost its undefeated status at the start of December in a 15-point loss to South Grand Prairie and ultimately finished the season 29-2.
Head coach: Christina Raiti
Though the Crusaders are only a few games into the season, they have two of the most impressive wins so far — a close victory over Bishop McNamara (Md.) and a 30-point rout of IMG Academy (Fla.). On Saturday, Long Island Lutheran will look to pad its resume in another tough matchup against Paul VI (N.J.). Then in January, they’ll face both St. John Vianney and Montverde Academy. If the Crusaders, led by 2024 star guard Kayleigh Heckel and power forward Kate Koval, can win most (or all) of those games, they’ll have a case for being a top-5 team in the country.
Head coach: Steve Reynolds
Indiana’s top team remains undefeated after taking care of business against Michigan juggernaut West Bloomfield. South Bend Washington’s schedule is packed with fierce competition around the Midwest, and this squad is more than up to the task. The Panthers return two of their starters from last season’s state championship team in Purdue signee Rashunda Jones and Maryland signee Amiyah Reynolds, both of whom are sure to make waves next year in the Big Ten.
Head coach: Donna Moir
The Valkyries of Sacred Heart Academy are not only the best team in Kentucky, but are also guaranteed to put on a show. Top 2025 recruit and the reigning Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year, ZaKiyah Johnson, is one of the most impressive players in the nation. This season, the Valkyries are already playing with patience and a high defensive IQ.
Head coach: Nancy Warner
Utah’s defending state champions suffered their sole loss so far this season in a 64-56 battle with Sierra Canyon — a matchup that will surely benefit both teams as their seasons progress. Lone Peak’s potential is through the roof as they return their entire roster from last season. Pay special attention to BYU signee Kailey Woolston and 2024 guard Shawnee Nordstrom, both of whom can impact games in big ways.
Head coach: Jonathan Scribner
If you must lose a game, a tight one to South Grand Prairie (Texas) isn’t a bad way to do it. Duke signee Delaney Thomas leads a talented Cadets roster that also features 2024 standout guard Kyndal Walker. The gauntlet of a DMV high school basketball schedule is a tall order, but St. John’s College can count on depth and balanced scoring in the journey ahead.
Head coach: LaJeanna Howard
One of two Texas 6A district teams on this list, Duncanville girls’ basketball is consistently one of the strongest programs in the country. Due to a three-year probation stemming from recruiting violations, the Pantherettes are unable to participate in postseason play. If not for that, the 11-time state champions would have a real shot at another title.
Head coach: Krystle Johnson
The Lady Bucs have hoisted four state title trophies since 2017, and coach Krystle Johnson has won more than 92 percent of her 200-plus games at the helm. Thanks to its high-level discipline and impressive offense, Hoover will be a problem for any team on its schedule. North Carolina signee Reniya Kelly is a major key to their success, which already includes three separate wins over teams with a 5-star player.
Head coach: Timothy Miller
The Trojans are nearing a 70-game win streak, and they’re ready for more. For half a decade now, Hazel Green has been one of Alabama’s best programs, collecting five consecutive Class 6A state titles. Four of the Trojans’ five starters return this year, including Class of 2024 forward Leah Brooks, so a sixth title may be in the cards.
Head coach: Andrea Robinson
The other half of the dangerous Texas 6A district one-two punch, DeSoto has a young roster this season but a host of talented players in the Class of 2026. DeSoto’s three losses so far this season — against Duncanville, Montverde Academy and Summer Creek (Houston) — were all decided by single digits. After two consecutive Texas 6A state titles, the Eagles need to focus on building a strong foundation in this new era.
Head coach: Karen Weitz
Centennial boasts seven consecutive state championships and one of the Class of 2023’s most skilled players in Montaya Dew. Her speed and ability to finish from anywhere on the court made her a highly coveted recruit prior to her choice to sign with Arizona. Throw 2024 guards Kaniya Boyd and Danae Powell into the equation, and the Bulldogs are well on their way to success despite losing their season opener to Lone Peak.
Head coach: Oscar Hidalgo
Paul VI has every reason to be confident about this season, including returning most of its roster from last year. Power forward Mikayla Young and Notre Dame signee Hannah Hidalgo, a top-5 recruit in the Class of 2023, are the lone seniors on an Eagles squad that could do some damage. Last season, Hidalgo averaged 21.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 5.4 steals per game and was named the Olympic Conference Player of the Year. The Eagles fell in last season’s state title game, but a shot at redemption seems likely.
Head coach: Sue Phillips
Not many coaches have experienced the height of success like Sue Phillips has. Her teams are well-rounded and prepared for whatever gets thrown their way. After winning a gold medal this past summer as the coach of the U.S. U17 team, Phillips returns to San Jose with a loaded roster — including first-time Team USA player Morgan Cheli — and a chance at the California state title.
Head coach: Al Honor
Division I coaches across the nation have their eyes on Central Florida-based Lake Highland Prep, and for good reason. After a nine-point loss to Example Academy Red (Ill.) in theirsecond game, the Highlanders have bounced back with notable wins over St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) and Miami Country Day (Fla.). Class of 2024 guards Lexi Blue and Jada Eads lead the team in scoring with 12.5 points per game and 12.4 points per game, respectively, and 2023 guard Eleecia Carter (12.1 points per game) is not far behind.
Head coach: Craig Campbell
Clovis West has managed to win most of its 11 games comfortably so far this season. Until a single-point win over Our Lady of Good Counsel (Md.) on Dec. 8, Clovis West had defeated each of its opponents by a margin anywhere between 21 and 77 points. After its successful run at the recent East Coast tournament, Clovis West has put California programs on notice.
Head coach: Frank Oliver Jr.
Frank Oliver Jr. and the Mustangs will look to make their fourth-consecutive appearance in the Maryland state title game. After opening the season with a 25-point loss to Sidwell Friends, and then suffering a two-point heartbreaker to Long Island Lutheran, Bishop McNamara will need to focus on its long-term goals moving forward. In the cutthroat Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, it won’t get any easier.
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