Realignment figures to have a major impact in three state girls basketball championship races this season.
That belief was certainly reflected in the Top 10 polls released today at the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association preseason banquet staged at the Frank Maguire Club Room in the Colonial Life Arena.
Lower Richland, winner of the last three Class 4A titles, moves down to 3A for the first time and is the heavy favorite to extended its championship streak in the new setting. Five-year standout Morgan Stroman and point guard Dayshun Richbow were both named to the 3A preseason all-state team. The Diamonds, who went 26-0 a year ago en route to their fifth state championship under coach Debbie Stroman, are riding a 44-game winning streak, as well. LR has not lost to a South Carolina team since January of 2006.
The move down by the Diamonds opens things up for a season-long debate in 4A, and radically changes the landscape in 3A. Dorman, which fell 47-45 to Lower Richland in last season’s big-school title bout, is ranked No. 1 in 4A.
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Three-time defending 3A champion J.L. Mann is ranked No. 4 with A.C. Flora at No. 2 and Myrtle Beach at No. 3. Flora, however, is a team with major concerns, even though four starters return from a team that advanced to the third round of the state playoffs before losing to Mann. The reason is the off-season knee injury suffered by pre-season all-state guard Tierra Knotts, who could be on the shelf until January or might miss the season altogether. Without Knotts, the Falcons may find it difficult to live up to the early billing. Myrtle Beach is the defending Lower State champion.
The other realignment story is in 2A where Eau Claire is ranked No. 1after a solid showing in its final season in 3A with a young team. Blythewood knocked the Shamrocks out of the playoffs in the second round last year. EC, which is looking to secure its first state championship since 1993, returns a veteran, talented team featuring 6-foot-2 junior Janae Stevenson and sophomore guard Amelia Carrie.
Blythewood, which advanced to the Upper State championship game last season, is moving up to 4A. The Bengals are not on the Top 10 list.
Spring Valley is another Midlands team that received considerable attention, thanks to the arrival of sophomore Asia Dozier. As a freshman Dozier helped Heathwood Hall claime SCISA runner-up honors behind Hilton Head Prep. The Vikings are ranked No. 3 in the 4A preseason rankings.
Hunter-Kinard-Tyler, which was back-to-back 1A championships in 2005 and 2006 and lost to C.E. Murray in last season’s finale, is at the top of the small-school list.