The talent level keeps rising, and it could be at an all-time high.
With Cashmere’s Hailey Van Lith leading the way, there’s no doubting the quality of high-school girls basketball players in Washington this season.
“It’s as strong of a year as any,” said Chris Hansen, managing editor of ProspectsNation.com.
He ranks Van Lith, a senior guard who has signed with Louisville, at No. 2 in the nation in the class of 2020, with three others in the top 40 — Garfield’s Dalayah Daniels (California) at No. 26, Kentridge’s Jordyn Jenkins (USC) at No. 28 and Meghan Fiso (Michigan), who transferred from West Seattle to Garfield this year, at No. 40. Eastlake’s Keeli Burton-Oliver (Arizona State) sits at No. 90 to give the state five in the top 100.
Strong, for sure — but stronger than ever? That’s up for debate.
“There are several great players in our state, but I don’t think necessarily more than in other years,” said Al Aldridge, who guided Prairie High School to 28 state appearances and six state championships from 1980 through 2012. He has been a longtime coordinator of the Washington senior all-star team that competes against Oregon all-stars annually — a series the Washington team has dominated over the past decade.
Lakeside icon Sandy Schneider, who coached the Lions to five state crowns during her long tenure, tends to agree.
“Michelle Perkins, Takiyah Jackson, Tara Davis — those kids would all still be great today,” she said, citing a trio of standouts from the 1990s.
But Schneider agrees there is an ever-increasing amount of girls ahead of the curve, with one primary impetus.
“They’re going to be better because they play year-round, and they’re playing more games,” said Schneider, a WIAA Hall of Fame member.
And many of them play a lot, starting at younger ages.
Select/AAU girls basketball appears to be at an all-time fervor. Mo Hines with Seattle-based Tree of Hope — the Northwest’s only girls program with NIKE Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) teams (U-16 and U-17) — coaches a group of eighth-graders who played almost 90 games last year.
“It’s what they love to do,” said Hines, who was an assistant coach for the Washington State women for seven seasons. “But it’s not for everybody.”
It’s definitely for the 5-foot-9 Van Lith, who is on pace to break Jennifer Stinson’s career scoring record of 2,881 points set in 1995. Basketball is clearly her passion — one she chose over softball after years of playing both at an elite level. She played with Tree of Hope before making the USA Basketball Women’s U17 National Team as a 16-year-old in 2018.
Van Lith thrives on competition, according to her father, Corey, who has been her sole trainer, and is willing to do whatever it takes to attain her lofty goals — which she says include winning multiple NCAA championships, becoming a first-round WNBA pick and winning an Olympic gold medal.
So, if that means extensive travel, time away from family, friends and school (enough so that the 4.0 student opted for online courses this year), no problem.
“You can’t have the best of both worlds,” Hailey said. “Sacrifices have to be made to be great at a sport.”
Michelle Augustavo-Fisher, an assistant coach at the University of Washington who is an integral part of the recruiting process, says willingness to sacrifice is among several keys to what she considers an increase in talent level in the state.
“I think girls are more committed to the sport,” she said, adding most, if not all, top-tier players train with someone outside of their high-school program.
Augustavo-Fisher, who starred at Blanchet in the early 2000s and played at San Diego and UW, also cited the high level of high-school and AAU coaches — many of whom played and even coached at the collegiate level — as a factor, in addition to the abundance of camps available for girls.
“There are more opportunities for girls to play,” she said.
Dan Taylor, girls basketball coach at King’s High School and president of the Washington State Girls Basketball Coaches’ Association, estimates the number of AAU teams and tournaments have quadrupled over the past dozen years.
“We have many opportunities for girls to not only train their individual basketball skills, but to work on their functional movements through speed, strength and explosion training,” he said, “access that many girls in the past didn’t have.”
Not just senior class
NCAA Division I coaches have found a bevy of 2020 talent in Washington, not just those in the top-40 rankings. Jayda Noble from Mount Spokane has signed with Washington. University High of Spokane Valley has a trio of signees in Ellie Boni (Colorado State) and twins Tyler and Jacksen McCliment-Call (both University of Portland). The list goes on.
If not for an injury, Mount Si’s 6-8 Sela Heide likely would have a scholarship (she could be back in January) and should land one this spring.
The class of 2021 is headed by Talia Von Oelhoffen, who transferred from Tri-Cities Prep to Chiawana of Pasco this season and is ranked No. 10 in the HoopGurlz Recruiting Rankings.
“I would say there are at least 20 legitimate Division I players in the state of Washington,” said Steve Klees with the select Northwest Blazers program, noting Von Oelhoffen is the best high-school player he has seen in the Northwest in 40 years of coaching.
There are talented sophomores (Jada Wynn at King’s, daughter of UW coaches Jody and Derek Wynn, made the cut of 68 in the U-16 USA trials) and freshmen as well, and Hines said to keep an eye out for Katie Fiso (Meghan’s sister), getting notice as an eighth-grader.
Dan Olson, who founded the Collegiate Girls Scouting Report in 2007 and compiles the HoopGurlz rankings, calls the girls basketball in Washington much like it is on the national side, feast or famine.
“You’ve got some extremely talented players in that area of the country, and I want to say it’s to the point that it may even get overlooked to a certain extent,” he said, noting they would likely get more notoriety in Texas or California.
Freddie Rehkow, who coached Central Valley of Spokane Valley to a national title in 2018, is taking a wait-and-see attitude. While he agrees there is a lot of talent, he said he wouldn’t necessarily rate these recruits ahead of last year’s, or the 2007 class led by University’s Angie Bjorklund (who played at Tennessee and in the WNBA) and Kentwood’s Courtney Vandersloot (Gonzaga, currently with Chicago Sky).
“These kids will have to perform at the next level before I think we can label them one of the best,” Rehkow said. “Can they be? Absolutely! There is some major talent in Washington and this is definitely a talented class.”