1. Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.), 33-1 (2015-16 record)
This year the “VI” of Paul VI also stands for the six Power 5 junior/senior recruits – plus five more Division I-level players just in case. Juniors Honesty Scott-Grayson (a transfer from Riverdale Baptist) and Amira Collins are two of the many elite talents, as is sophomore Ashley Owusu. Last year’s only loss was to Our Lady of Good Counsel, by two, and in the tough Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, there are no gimmes – but the overall schedule isn’t quite as tough as some other teams in the Xcellent 25.
2. Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.), 23-4
Sue Phillips has won six state championships (one with Kerri Walsh at the post) but she says this could be her best team – which is a scary thought. Mitty is tall, talented (four Division I seniors plus an elite underclass group) and will play the toughest schedule in the country. If Phillips and company can run the table against this level of competition, they will have clearly proven themselves the best in the nation.
3. Riverdale (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), 32-4
Those four losses all came early, and once the train started rolling, it didn’t stop until Riverdale won its fifth state title. Senior Anastasia Hayes ( Tennessee), junior Brinae Alexander (5-10 small forward with multiple Power 5 offers) and twin junior wings Alexis and Amanda Whittington (both committed to Middle Tennessee) will lead the way through the usual challenging schedule.
4. St. Francis (Alpharetta, Ga.), 31-2
Yes, St. Francis is just a 1A school in Georgia, but coming off three state titles in the past four years, with four Division I seniors (Kasiyahna Kushkituah, Tennessee; Maya Dodson, Stanford; Taja Cummings, Georgia Tech; and Nichel Tampa, Western Kentucky) and two more Division I prospects (Arynn Eady, junior, and Amirah Abur-Rahim, freshman), in this case, size doesn’t really matter that much.
5. Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Chattanooga, Tenn.), 29-5
Hamilton Heights spent some time in the rankings last year, and with only one senior starter – who’s surrounded by three Power 5 prospects in juniors Jazmine Massengill, Elizabeth Balogun and freshman Treasure Hunt(coach Keisha Hunt’s daughter) – get used to the name. And intriguing 6-6 Brazilian sophomore Kamilla Soarescould make an impact sooner rather than later.