The No. 1 St. Frances girls basketball team achieved one goal after another this season and now the Panthers will put their 30-0 record on the line at the DICK's Sporting Goods High School nationals Friday in New York City.
"We're excited," senior forward Mia Davis said. "It means a lot to be playing in a national tournament because I've never been before, so it should be a great experience. It's one of our rewards."
Coach Jerome Shelton's Panthers won the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship and the Bishop Walsh Girls Invitational Tournament championship. They are ranked No. 10 in USA Today's Super 25.
The four teams in the tournament were selected from the Super 25. St. Frances, which has the best record in program history, is the only undefeated team.
Friday at 11 a.m., the third-seeded Panthers face eighth-ranked Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (28-1) from Chattanooga, Tenn., in the opening round. The game will be broadcast live on ESPNU.
The second game, at 1 p.m., features top-seed and No. 6-ranked Miami Country Day (29-1) from Florida vs. No. 17 Seton Catholic (30-3), from Arizona. Miami Country Day won the championship in 2015 and is the only former champ in the girls event.
The Panthers played in the inaugural nationals in 2009 when it was know as the ESPN Rise tournament. Seton Keough won the championship that year.
St. Frances and Hamilton Heights share a common opponent this winter in National Christian Academy from Fort Washington in Prince George's County. The Panthers defeated the Eagles, 75-74 in overtime on Nia Clouden's buzzer-beating 18-footer to finish the regular season. Hamilton Heights beat the Eagles, 61-50, on March 4 to win the USA National Prep Tournament in South Carolina.
Davis, The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro Player of the Year, didn't grab the headlines against National Christian, but she led the Panthers with 21 points, including seven in the fourth quarter that kept the Eagles from winning in regulation.
With her consistency and power inside, the Temple-bound Davis averaged 14.6 points and 10 rebounds. Clouden, a 5-foot-7 junior point guard, and Angel Reese, a 6-2 freshman forward, were first-team All-Metro selections. Clouden, the Gatorade Maryland Player of the Year, averaged 12.8 points and four assists while Reese added 11.1 points and 11 rebounds.
The Panthers, who rely heavily on their defense to get transition points, have also gotten steady performances from senior guards Jatarrikah Settle and Mikiara Carroll and freshman guard Delicia Pinnick, who can shoot the lights out from 3-point range.
Hamilton Heights is also a balanced team of nearly all guards led by 6-foot junior Jazmine Massengill, who has committed to Tennessee. She averages 10 points, 5.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists.
Amber Hunt, a 5-8 senior guard, adds 10.7 points per game and the Hawks also have a couple of hotshot freshmen in 6-foot guard Treasure Hunt, who adds 13.1 points and 3.9 rebounds and 6-6 center Kamilla Cardosa, with 9.3 points and 6.7 rebounds.
To Davis, there's a simple formula for moving on to the championship game Saturday at 10 a.m., on ESPN2.
"I think the key will be just doing the things we've been doing for 30 games, working together and communicating," she said. "It's been interesting to see how far we can go and what things we can accomplish all season. It's one more goal."