7A GIRLS PREVIEW Fayetteville faces tougher competition in title defense

Posted: November 5, 2017 at 1 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Sasha Goforth (left), shown driving to the basket ahead of Rogers High's Madison Loyd, makes Fayetteville a legitmate threat to repeat as Class 7A state champions this year. The sophomore guard already has offers from a number of Division I schools.
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NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Sasha Goforth (left), shown driving to the basket ahead of Rogers High's Madison Loyd, makes Fayetteville a legitmate threat to repeat as Class 7A state champions this year. The sophomore guard already has offers from a number of Division I schools.

Girls basketball coaches in the 7A-West Conference sound like an episode of The Brady Bunch -- with a twist -- when talking about the league's strengths this season.

"Sasha, Sasha, Sasha."

7A Girls High 5

Sasha Goforth^Fayetteville^6-1^So.

All-NWADG Newcomer of the Year averaged team-high 13.1 points, 4.0 steals, 2.1 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.

Yo’Myrie Morris^North Little Rock^6-3^Sr.

Had team-high 18 points and game-high 13 rebounds in state championship game last season.

Jasmine Franklin^Fayetteville^6-2^Sr.

All-NWADG Player of the Year averaged a double-double last season with 11.5 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Marquesha Davis^Springdale High^6-0^Jr.

Averaged 15 points and 8.7 rebounds per game in leading her team to a state quarterfinals appearance.

Jamilyn Kinney^Van Buren^5-7^Sr.

Led Lady Pointers to state semifinals with 15.2 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds per game.

Who can blame them. Defending state champ Fayetteville is again loaded with talent led by Sasha Goforth, a sophomore guard with size, agility and shooting ability. The 6-foot-1 guard is arguably the second-best player in the state behind Central Arkansas Christian's Christyn Williams, the nation's No. 1 prospect in the senior class.

Goforth reports 25 scholarship offers from a who's who of Division-I college programs. As a freshman, Goforth was named All-NWADG Newcomer of the Year and state finals Most Valuable Player after scoring a game-high 19 points on 8 of 14 shooting (3 of 5 from 3-point range) to go along with 5 steals, 4 assists and no turnovers in a 59-49 win over North Little Rock.

Also back for the Lady Purple'Dogs, who finished with 22 straight wins and a 30-2 record, is 6-2 senior forward Jasmine Franklin, a Missouri State pledge who averaged a double-double last season and shot an incredible 85 percent from the floor in the fourth quarter to help Fayetteville put opponents away. Sophomore guard Coriah Beck has yet to play a varsity game, but many coaches in the league say the daughter of former Razorbacks guard Corey Beck already is among the league's elite players.

Led by the inside-outside punch of Kennedy Tucker and Yo'Myrie Morris, North Little Rock will stand in Fayetteville's way of repeating as state champions. Conway, Fort Smith Northside and Little Rock Central are expected to be strong from the 7A-Central, too. However, to repeat as 7A-West champions, Fayetteville should again be challenged by Van Buren, which returns one of the top guards in the league in Jamilyn Kinney.

Kinney, a Belmont University pledge, helped the Lady Pointers reach the state semifinals and finish runnerup in the 7A-West with 15.2 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds per game. Van Buren coach Chris Bryant has to replace four starters, but said he "likes the kids we're playing," such as Ira Sandoval, Kayleigh Evans, Rylee Ryan and Jentry Meyers, who gained valuable experience filling in for an injured starter during the postseason.

"Anytime you have the defending state champs in your conference, you're going to have to go through them," Bryant said. "But there are going to be several really good teams in our league. We're going to have to stay healthy, have good fortune and get a break or two here and there, and be playing out best basketball going into February to have a chance to do something."

Both Springdale teams should be competitive. Springdale Har-Ber lost to Conway in the first round of the playoffs and has a seasoned, guard-heavy group back led by seniors Maci Mains and Krislyn Smith. Springdale High lost to North Little Rock in the quarterfinals, but returns 10 of its top 11 players from a year ago, including all-conference performer Ashlyn Minchew and All-NWADG first-teamer Marquesha Davis. Davis, a 6-0 junior, averaged 15 points and nearly nine rebounds per game.

Lady Red'Dogs coach Heather Hunsucker said other teams to watch in the conference are Bentonville High, Bentonville West and Rogers High, which lost several key starters but has a strong group coming up from junior high.

"I think there is not as much disparity as there was last year when you had really strong 1-2 (in Fayetteville and Van Buren) and the rest of us were battling for those 3-6 spots," Hunsucker said. "Fayetteville has three D-1s and is really good again, but I don't think the rest of us are that far off.

"It's really wide open and I think it's going to be a fun year for fans to watch because no one likes blowouts. You're going to see really good competiton, night in and night out."

Sports on 11/05/2017