Posted: 5:54 pm Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

Girls Hoops: What did we learn in Lakeland? 

By Anthony Chiang

The girls basketball state tournament taught us some things.

Grandview Prep was the only team from Palm Beach County to win a game in Lakeland. Park Vista and Palm Beach Lakes were eliminated in the state semifinals.

Palm Beach Lakes will return Kayla Thigpen for her senior season next year. (Photo by Bruce R. Bennett)

Still, each of the three teams should be congratulated for a wonderful season.

Here are some things we learned in Lakeland this week:

1. Palm Beach Lakes will be back: The Rams were one of the best teams in the county this season, but they still have a lot to improve on. That’s kind of scary.

Cassandra Rahming’s team will bring back this year’s core, which is pretty darn good. The Rams return stars Kayla Thigpen and Jackie Johnson for their senior seasons after turning in very good junior seasons. Thigpen led the team in scoring with over 20 points per game and Johnson averaged a double-double with 16 points and 12.5 rebounds.

Along with the return of that duo, Lakes will have one more year of experience under its belt. The Rams struggled when the game’s pace wasn’t to their liking, as it pressed teams to speed things up. But when the game slowed down, Lakes’ offense wasn’t the same.

This can be fixed, as another year of chemistry should help the Rams build a better half-court offense. With most of the team returning, a return trip to Lakeland could be on the horizon.

2. Palm Beach County’s Best: We all thought Grandview Prep was the county’s best girls basketball team this season, but we didn’t know it to be a fact.

With the state tournament in the books, we can say it with a little more certainty.

The trio of senior Emily Lochten, junior Jasmyne Martin and sophomore Kiara Meeks helped lead Park Vista's girls basketball team to a historic season. (Photo by Damon Higgins)

Grandview was the only area team to win a state title, which was the county’s first since Lake Worth Christian won in 2009. The Pride beat Palm Beach Lakes and Treasure Coast in the regular season, which also played in Lakeland.

The duo of center Vionise Pierre-Louis and guard Neydja Petithomme was one of the best in the state. Grandview will lose both next season, but sophomore Nadiah Isaac will be looked upon to continue the tradition the tandem built.

3. Park Vista not ready yet: The Cobras looked overmatched in their state semifinals game against Treasure Coast.

Park Vista’s run at history ended in a blowout loss to the Titans on Friday. The Cobras shot just 24 percent from the field and junior Jasmyne Martin was the only Park Vista player to finish with double-digit points.

The team’s youth was evident.

But the Cobras won’t be going anywhere. Park Vista will lose just one senior, Emily Lochten, from this year’s team. Martin and sophomore Kiara Meeks will return, which will give the Cobras one of the best backcourts entering next season.

Palm Beach Post’s All-Tournament Team (Only including players from Palm Beach County)

C: Vionise Pierre-Louis, Senior, Grandview Prep: The Oklahoma signee scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Tallahassee-FAMU in the state semifinals. She also played great defense on FAMU star center La’Karis Salter, who missed 15 of 19 shots against Pierre-Louis’ defense. Before injuring her right knee in the state championship game, the 6-foot-4 inside presence recorded four points, five rebounds and three blocks in one quarter of play. Pierre-Louis was the best player on the Pride’s roster this season, and that’s saying a lot.

F: Jackie Johnson, Junior, Palm Beach Lakes: Despite falling in the state semifinals, Johnson was one of the bright spots for the Rams. She entered the state tournament averaging a double-double, and she added another one to the list in Lakeland. Johnson finished with 16 points and a team-high 12 rebounds in Lakes’ lost to Apopka-Wekiva.

F: Xana Dove, Junior, Palm Beach Lakes: In an efficient performance, Dove finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in the Rams’ state semifinals loss. The most impressive part was that she made 47.4 percent of her shots from the field in the contest despite Lakes shooting 36.8 percent from the field in the game. Dove will be a critical part of the Rams’ team next season.

G: Kayla Thigpen, Junior, Palm Beach Lakes: It wasn’t Thigpen’s best performance of the season, but her talent was evident in Lakeland. The scorer was sensational with 18 first-half points, but she was held to just three points in the second half. Thigpen finished with 21 points, five assists and four steals, but her struggles in the second half hurt the Rams.

G: Neydja Petithomme, Senior, Grandview Prep: The Auburn commit was probably Palm Beach County’s MVP for this year’s state tournament. Petithomme averaged 15 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and six steals over the Pride’s two games in Lakeland that ended with the program’s first girls basketball state title. Her best performance came in the state championship game, when she turned in a stat line of 20 points, eight rebounds and five steals to make up for the loss of Pierre-Louis.

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