The annual Jack Blair Memorial girls basketball game always features the top talent in the Inland Northwest.
The 18th edition presents a first. Five players are headed to the West Coast Conference.
Hayley Hendricksen of Lewis and Clark and Carli Rosenthal of Coeur d’Alene will be teammates at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., and Shelby Cheslek of Pullman and Shaniqua Nilles of West Valley are staying much closer to home at Gonzaga University. Cassie Thompson of Timberlake in Spirit Lake, Idaho, is going to Portland.
Rosenthal, Nilles, Cheslek and Thompson will play together on the Region team while Hendricksen will be part of the Metro team, a collection of the top players from the Greater Spokane League. The teams face off tonight at Lake City High School in Coeur d’Alene with tip off at 7:30.
The five future WCC players are looking forward to playing together one last time. Four of them have played on AAU teams together in recent years.
“This is a really strong recruiting class in this game,” the 6-foot-5 Cheslek said of the WCC players. “Even though we’re not playing in the Pac-10, we’ll bring a lot to our future schools.”
Said the 6-3 Thompson: “We’re going to be seeing a lot of each other the next four years so it’s cool to be able to play together once.”
Nilles believes this is just the beginning for the WCC recruits.
“We all have the potential to not only be stars on our teams but in our conference,” Nilles said. “We’re all very dedicated to the sport and have a strong work ethic. We’ve got to continue to drive to get better and stick with it. I see us emerging and doing something big for our teams. We just need to perfect our roles for the betterment of our teams.”
The 6-3 Rosenthal believes each can leave an imprint in the WCC.
“It’s really cool that we’re all the same age, we’re going to play in the same conference and be able to follow each other,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal will fly to Moraga, Calif., on Friday so she can begin summer school on Monday. She’ll fly back to graduate from CdA the following weekend before returning to St. Mary’s for the balance of the summer.
Hendricksen is looking forward to playing with Rosenthal in college.
“I really enjoy playing with Carli,” the 6-1 Hendricksen said. “Her post presence inside draws a lot of attention and opens up a lot of other areas on the court. And she’s a great passer from the post which is rare to find.”
Hendricksen figures to play at power forward in college.
“She’s really good in the midrange,” Rosenthal said. “Nobody can really stop her.
Her ballhandling really improved a lot this year.”
Nilles and Cheslek were both four-year starters in high school where they waged a competitive but friendly rivalry in the Great Northern League. They look forward to building an even tighter bond at GU.
“Her aggressiveness will help at Gonzaga,” Cheslek said of the 6-0 Nilles, who will play either on the wing or at power forward. “She’s a really good shooter and she’s aggressive under the basket.”
Nilles knows Cheslek will make an impact at GU.
“She’s a great player, but more importantly she’s a great person with a great personality,” Nilles said of Cheslek. “She’s a very quick learner and willing to work hard. She has a good midrange jumper and good moves around the basket. She’s going to be doing big things in the WCC.”
The players agreed that the all-star game could be one of the more tightly contested games in series history. Both teams are full of talented players who won’t back down.
“Both sides want to win,” Nilles said. “It goes back to the competitive thing. None of us is used to losing a lot of games.”
“We’re all going for it and we’re all in it to win it,” she said. “Nobody will back down.”