For the past several years now, girls basketball in the Public High League conference in St. Louis city has consisted of the Big Two- Metro and Miller Career Academy- and a host of hopefuls and outmanned pretenders.
Beaumont, which is now merged with Northwest, has challenged for league supremacy a couple of times only to fall short in key showdowns. Meanwhile Career Academy and Metro have continued mowing down most of the PHL foes.
This season both clubs have been absolutely dominant in conference play. Their final linescores read like misprints. Metro has rolled over Vashon (76-7), Roosevelt (77-31), Cleveland ROTC (86-29) and Sumner (85-3), while Career Academy has cruised by Vashon (63-3), Gateway Tech (65-6), Soldan (60-15) and Roosevelt (90-19.)
But something's got to give when the two teams clash in a 6 p.m. contest on Friday night (Jan.18) at Career Academy.
The host Lady Phoenix, who placed third in state last season in Missouri Class 4, have had the upper hand in the series in recent years, including a surprisingly easy 70-23 romp last year, which Metro coach Gary Glasscock believes put some distance between the two programs. However, Career Academy graduated its top player last, 6-foot- forward Shanity James, who scored points in that Metro blowout.
At the same time, Metro's top player from last year's squad, Tayler Miller, a 5-10 junior point guard, is back and better than ever after being snubbed in the voting for first-team, all-conference last season.
"Getting slighted like that for all-conference has just motivated her more this season," said Metro assistant coach Terence Miller, who's also the star player's father. "She has really stepped her game up."
Indeed, Miller is averaging 21.4 points and 12.8 rebounds to go along with 84 steals, all of which lead the PHL by a wide margin. In the Lady Panthers final tuneup before their game at Career Academy tomorrow night, Miller scored 22 points in the 85-3 blowout of Sumner. Three other players finished in double figures: Jordyn Norde (16), Hunter Regular (16) and Cotina May (12), while Kayla Turner (7), Kendal Cross (6) and Angel Mitchell (6) also got into the balanced scoring act.
Of course dominating your league foes in such prolific fashion your league foes in such prohibitive fashion is not without its drawbacks. To that end, Sumner coach Sylvester Dixson contended that Metro could haveeased up on their defense once the score got out of hand...
"I don't have a problem in a lopsided score because I know we're young and we're bagned up with injuries," explained Dixson. "But I do have a problem if an opposing coach presses on defense when they know we're already short on players. We've played a game every day this week. One of my players hurt her ankle. Another one has a hand injury. Plus we're very young and short on players. My varsity girls are banged up."
But Metro head coach Gary Glasscock and Miller, the assistant begged to differ with Dixson's charges.Metro led 30-2 after the first quarter and shut out Sumner 24-0 for the second quarter and 21-0 for the third quarter,possibly giving Dixson reason to believe they were still employing a pressure defense.
"After the first couple of minutes of the first quarter, we went to a zone defense," said Glasscock.
"After we went up 10-0 in the first couple of minutes of the game we went to a zone defense the rest of the way," added Miller "I don't understand how someone could say we were pressing on defense once we went in a zone. Now we can't just quit playing. We have to keep playing."
Suffice to say, Metro won't have to worry about pulling back against Miller Career Academy. Quite the contrary. Glasscock just hopes that his club is ready for the Lady Phoenix, who don't have a dominant player like Miller, but havea depth of quality players: junior Braennan Farrar is averaging 14.1 points per game and has 44 steals, Zhanesha Dickerson is averaging 13.8 points per game and Abrelyn Rackley is averaging 10.6 points and 4.0 rebounds.
"They're very good," said Glasscock of the Lady Phoenix. "To me we're average. We have to play a perfect game, more than a perfect game to beat them. They'll also have to be 'off' a bit."
With the Sumner game last week providing the last official tuneup for Career Academy on Friday, Metro had to rely on fine-tuning their practices to get ready for the Lady Phoenix.
"What we do in practice to prepare for Career Academy will determine how well we do in the game," said Tayler Miller. "If we don't play the game at their fast pace, we'll be okay."
Glasscock reiterated that point.
"We'll have to slow the game down and limit their possessions," said Glasscock. "We can't get into a running game with them."
Career Academy and Metro just haven't been powers in the PHL, though. Career Academy aslo placed third at state in Class 4 in 2009, the same year Metro could have conceivably won the Class 3 state title. After all, that 2009 season the Lady Panthers lost the district championship 27-26 to Cardinal Ritter, which went on to win their subsequent postseason games more decisively on the way to capturing the state crown.
Metro did win the Class 2 state title in 2006, and after moving up in enrollment, promptly won the Class 3 title in 2007.
Last season Career Academy won the conference title with a 9-0 mark and 23-6 overall, while Metro went 8-1 in league play and 20-10 overall.
"Right now they're the kingpins and we're just trying to catch up," said Glasscock.