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Girls basketball preview: Centennial starts season down 3 starters

Updated November 25, 2023 - 2:09 pm

Karen Weitz has practically seen it all in her over 30 years of coaching. But nothing could have prepared the state’s all-time winningest high school coach for the rash of injuries to her Centennial girls basketball team.

The girls high school basketball season gets underway this week in Southern Nevada with a full slate of games for local teams.

Centennial enters as the eight-time defending state champion in the state’s top classification, but the Bulldogs will have to overcome season-ending injuries to three starters to keep their streak alive.

Seniors Kaniya Boyd (a Tennessee commit), CiCi Ajomale (Cal State Fullerton) and junior Ayla Williams suffered torn ACLs during the offseason and will miss the whole year.

Of the 10 players on Centennial’s roster, five are freshmen. Weitz said while she’s never seen anything like this happen, the injuries aren’t “any form of an excuse.”

“We don’t lower our expectations at all,” Weitz said. “It takes time when you have freshmen. They’re being thrown into the fire instantaneously.”

One constant from last year’s team is senior guard Danae Powell, a Fresno State commit and the Class 5A offensive MVP last season. Weitz said Powell has been thrown into a different leadership role with three starters out.

“It’s all been pushed on Danae,” Weitz said. “She’s going to have to get better at it every day because she hasn’t really been in that role, and now she has to be. She’s a good kid, and I think she’ll step up to it.”

Highlighting Centennial’s freshmen class is Nation Williams, the younger sister of Ayla and daughter of Aces general manager Natalie Williams. Nation Williams boasts several high-profile Division I offers, including North Carolina, Florida State, UCLA and Arizona.

Liberty coach Billy Hemberger said he believes this year’s title race is the most open it’s been in a while with “multiple teams being able to actually compete for a state title.”

He also said Centennial is still the team to beat.

“(Centennial) will always be the favorite until someone knocks them off, but I also believe it’s probably the strongest division in my time of being a girl’s head coach,” Hemberger said.

Hemberger said this year’s Liberty team is the most “balanced” team he’s had “in a long time,” led by seniors Payton Gates and Alofa Eteuini.

Bishop Gorman will also be a contender for the title, Hemberger said. The Gaels are bringing back coach Sheryl Krmpotich to lead the program. Krmpotich won 477 games and four state titles in her first stint as the Gorman coach (1998-2016).

The Gaels were the last Southern Nevada team to beat Centennial. They won 65-50 on the road Feb. 13, 2014.

“(Krmpotich) is a proven winner. … It’ll be fun competing against her, and (Gorman) has a good squad as well,” Hemberger said.

One change thanks to the most recent realignment process is boys and girls basketball has only Southern schools in 5A. The top Northern schools elected to drop to 4A.

Northern Nevada teams won state titles in the top classification from 1980-2001 before Centennial began its run of dominance. Since 2002, the North has won just three state titles (2012-2014).

The decision didn’t sit well with Hemberger, who was eliminated by Northern teams in the 2020 and 2022 state tournaments when he was the Spring Valley coach.

“That really frustrates me that it’s a city championship and not a state championship,” Hemberger said. “I really believe the NIAA should have done better from a competitive standpoint for our state when it comes to girls basketball. That’s hard to respect. It’s hard to respect the decision-makers who approved that.”

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on X.

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