GROVE CITY, Ohio -- The Proving Grounds tipped off for the fourth week in a row last Sunday and featured 30 of the area's best girls players. It was a battle between Team 1 and Team 4, with Team 4 ultimately pulling away and becoming the only team to win six games on the day.
Team 4 included:
Let's take a look at the top performers
Tamara Ortiz (5’5 G / Westerville South / 2023) - Tamara was a microwave Sunday afternoon. After a slow-ish start, she heated up quickly and rattled off multiple threes in one game to push Team 1 to victory. Ortiz is quick, has a tight handle and finishes strong at the rim through contact. She stood out as a consistent leader for the team and made impact plays at both ends of the floor. She missed last season due to injury but we look for the junior to make a major impact for the Wildcats this season. Ortiz has legitimate game-changing shooting ability, as we saw on Sunday with her dominant three-point display.
Olivia Cooper (6’1 F / Pickerington Central / 2023) - Cooper has really started to polish her game and the more we watch, the more we love it. The lengthy guard/forward prefers the perimeter but can finish at the rim when attacking. She has a smooth shot and is not afraid to let it fly. Her length is a problem for offenses and she is a consistent rebounder. She holds many D1 offers already and we expect more to keep pouring in.
Kamryn Grant (5’11 F / Africentric / 2024) - Two words: rim protector. The sophomore has an unreal wingspan and makes a major impact on defense. She picked up close to 10 blocks and altered shot selection all day. She was very dominant offensively in a couple of the games but could use a little consistency with her shot. She will be the go-to player for the Nubians this season and she is definitely up for the challenge. Grant has huge upside and showed it.
Laila Marshall (5’8 G / Gahanna Lincoln / 2023) - Another outstanding prospect in the junior class, Marshall already holds a handful of D1 offers. Her entire game is consistent. A smooth shot from three. Fantastic finisher through contact at the rim. Finds open teammates. Has a high motor and is very competitive. Marshall has an unreal handle and offers change of pace that is hard to find in the girls game. Gahanna Lincoln will go as far as Bella Ward and Marshall can take them this season. Don’t wait long to offer this one!
Kiley Graham (6’2 F / Bishop Watterson / 2022) - Graham, a Charleston commit, was a force at both ends of the floor Sunday. Her length and athleticism made huge impacts on shot selection and gave her an advantage finishing at the rim. She runs well rim to rim and will make an instant impact at Charleston. We are excited to see her take on a larger role for Watterson this season with the loss of Kilyn and Keiryn McGuff.
Makiya Miller (5’7 PG / Reynoldsburg / 2022) - Wright State is getting an absolute steal with Miller. She is an elite passer and finisher with exceptional vision. Quick first step and nasty crossover make for a tough matchup. Constantly pushed her teammates to be better on Sunday and was very much responsible for the team’s success. It was fun to see her playing with future Raider teammate Lauren Scott.
Carmen Heuker (5’6 G / Botkins / 2022) - Heuker was one of the most intriguing athletes in attendance Sunday, our first time seeing her play. She adjusted to the speed and intensity quickly and started making an impact in games. She has a great handle on the ball, shoots well, can defend consistently and makes great decisions. She could make an impact on a number of D2 programs despite being a little undersized.
Jenna Shackleford (5’11 F / Newark / 2023) - Shackleford did not play in the ‘20-21 season but she is making a roaring comeback. The long forward has a lot of potential particularly on the defensive end. Her offensive game could use a little polishing but that will come with more time on the court. Newark has a huge hole to fill with the graduation of Emma Shumate, Peyton Lundsford and Madyson Stottsberry and Shackleford can definitely fill part of that void. We are very excited to see her back in action this season.
Jenna Kopyar (5’10 G / Dublin Coffman / 2023) - Need a natural born leader and competitor? Jenna is your gal. Heading into her junior year and coming off a breakout sophomore season, Kopyar will be the go to for the Rocks this season. Has a great shot, plays tough defense and has an insane motor. She has no quit and pushes her teammates to be better, even if it’s just a Sunday afternoon in October. Zach Fleer said it best, “There are no 50/50 balls with Jenna… Only 100/0 ones”. She wins every time, no matter what it takes. She is gathering interest from D1 schools and we expect this to increase in the coming months. You need Jenna on your team.
Kiarra McElrath (5’8 G / Bishop Hartley / 2023) - McElrath is one of the most talented guards in the city, if not the state, in the class of 2023. She has become a great decision maker, has unreal shooting depth and is willing to take and make big shots. She sealed the win and day for Team 4 with a deep three and a free throw in a high pressure situation. She is a winner and could make a big impact at the next level. She is a hybrid guard with a scoring package that can blow up your entire game plan - think Damian Lillard, Steph Curry, Trae Young type scoring at the high school level.
Blessing King (5’11 F / Worthington Christian / 2022) - King could fill a plethora of roles on a college team. She has a lightning quick first step, causing matchup nightmares for opposing forwards. She is a great defender and is consistently in passing lanes. She runs the floor with purpose and finishes pretty well at the rim. Her outside shot could use a bit of work but we have seen great improvements in the last year. To top it off, she is a great kid with a positive attitude and a high motor.
Tessa Grady (6’2 F / Dublin Coffman / 2023) - We really liked what we were seeing out of Grady Sunday. She was blocking shots left and right, defending all positions and her motor never quit. She is finding her groove offensively and it’s catching the eye of coaches. Her midrange jumper is beautiful and she shoots well from three. She will be one of the most important pieces to Coffman’s puzzle this season if they want to make a repeat trip to the regional final. Grady’s recruitment is starting to buzz with a handful of mid-major offers coming recently.
Malaya Collins (5’8 G / Westerville North / 2025) - The lone freshman in the event held her own and then some. She impressed us with her defensive effort and ability to shoot from distance. She didn't back down from an intimidating gym and kept up with the pace all day. We are really excited for Collins’ future and the chance to cover her for the next four years. She’ll get great leadership early on in the backcourt from E’Moni Finch and Kayla Curry-Brown.
Emily Bratton (5’8 G / Bloom-Carroll / 2024) - While Bratton may be known for some of the high scoring numbers she put up at Bloom-Carroll as a freshman, the most impressive part of her game - by a wide margin - is her vision, creativity and anticipation as a passer. There aren’t many guards who can throw their teammates open, but Bratton is one of those few players that can do just that. The sophomore is always one step ahead of the action and can create opportunities for teammates in any setting. Her three-point shot is deadly and her handle is tight with enough wiggle and first step quickness to keep defenders off balance. Putting her, Kopyar, Marshall and McElrath in the same backcourt was unfair, as each used their unique, elite skill to help their team roll to six wins before anyone else.
Thea Palmore (6’0 F / Grove City / 2024) - Sunday was our first time watching Palmore play and we came away intrigued with her upside going forward. She has great size at a legit 6’0, has a strong, athletic build and moved very well on the defensive end of the floor. Her father, Todd Palmore, is the owner and operator of TAP Vertical, which has helped dozens of local athletes improve their strength and agility, so we have no doubt that Thea will continue to improve over the next three seasons.
Taylor Covington (5’7 PG / Dublin Coffman / 2022) - Consummate point guard that elevates everyone around her. Covington is an amazing athlete who can really pass, defend and score when called upon. Recently committed to NAIA Indiana Tech where she will play with former Coffman teammate Julianna Burris. Will be the straw that stirs the drink for Coffman this year.
Gwen Jenkins (5’10 G / Hilliard Davidson / 2024) - Blew up on the AAU scene this past summer. Offers great positional size and knockdown shooting ability. Will likely be a specialist at the next level, however, we are intrigued to see how Jenkins will develop over the next three years. Davidson needs her to really produce this winter to elevate the ‘Cats in the OCC.
Imarianah Russell (5’11 G / Reynoldsburg / 2022) - The most physically imposing player in the gym. Russell offers a combo of strength, physicality and toughness that is frankly not matched in the area. Russell made an impact with her defensive toughness, competitiveness and physicality which led to opportunities for her team. The Reynoldsburg senior came real close to leading her team to back-to-back titles in this event after winning it all in 2020. Committed to West Virginia and ranked among the top 80 players in the nation according to ESPN.
Harper Annarino (6’0 F / Granville / 2024) - Another young player with promise. Annarino can stretch the floor with her jumper but at this stage in her game against other elite players, we are most impressed with her ability to control the glass. Annarino dominated the defensive boards and limited opposition to a handful of one and done opportunities. An uptick in production is expected for Annarino on a Granville team with unlimited weapons.
Kennedy Younkin (6’2 C / Teays Valley / 2024) - The tallest player in the event. Younkin has soft hands around the rim, is a reliable finisher and is not afraid to compete physically. Has a chance to dominate the Mid State League Buckeye Division for years to come. Holds an offer from Montana State.
Trinity Jackson (5’7 G / Pickerington Central / 2023) - Crafty guard who showed flashes on Sunday. With Pickerington Central graduating a lot of production from last year, Jackson will have a chance to earn valuable minutes alongside Madison Greene in the Tiger backcourt.
Lauren Scott (5’7 G / Worthington Kilbourne / 2022) - Fearless competitor and elite communicator. Scott gives 110 percent each time out and can adapt to any role she’s needed in. Whether you need her to score 30 a night, lead you in assists or lock down the opposing team’s best player, Scott can do it. Committed to Wright State.
Megan Weakley (5’10 G / Worthington Christian / 2023) - Weakley has one of the smoothest shooting strokes in the state. Not many players shoot a better ball than Weakley, who offers good positional size in the backcourt at 5-foot-10. Motor is never an issue for Weakley, who can adapt to any role needed to win. With her sister moving on to play at Lipscomb, Weakley is the next woman up for Worthington Christian this year.
Cassidy Lafler (5’11 F / Dublin Coffman / 2022) - The x-factor for Coffman basketball last season, Lafler is a highly productive role player that dominates the offensive glass. You need to get a body on Lafler when the shot goes up or she’ll make you pay, as she is one of the best out-of-area rebounders in the area who has a great nose for the ball. She’ll be a key piece for the Rocks who are looking to advance at least one game further than they did last year, falling two points shy of a regional title.
E’Moni Finch (5’5 G / Westerville North / 2023) - You won’t find many players with more passion than Finch. She gives you 110 percent effort each time out, will absolutely sell out on the defensive end of the floor while offering impressive vision and touch as a passer. She’s capable of scoring at a high level for Westerville North but will likely see the most value in college as a disruptive point of attack defender and distributor.
Leila Jones (5’8 G / Westerville South / 2023) - Recent Akron commit who offers natural scoring ability. Jones knows how to create shots and has never been one to shy away from playing an aggressive brand of basketball. South has plenty of pieces returning and Jones will be relied upon to provide leadership and consistency this season.
Clarke Jackson (5’11 G / Gahanna Lincoln / 2023) - Athletic and rangy wing who still has her best basketball well ahead of her. Jackson is one of the best perimeter defenders in the area, as her quickness, foot speed and wingspan make it tough to score against her. Gahanna may have the most talent in the area returning and Jackson will be a major piece to that puzzle for the Lions.
Berry Wallace (6’1 F / Pickerington Central / 2024) - Sunday may not have been her most productive outing, however, make no mistake - Wallace is one of the state’s elite prospects in 2024. It’s hard to find players that offer Wallace’s blend of size, versatility, skill and IQ, as she can make any play on the floor and can rise to the occasion as a scorer when needed. For Wallace going forward, we’d like to see her impose her will more often and play with more urgency as a scorer - things that will come as she matures.
Alexis Cashwell (5’9 G / Bishop Hartley / 2022) - Cashwell has great positional size and length on the perimeter for the Division II level. Effort and intelligence will not be a problem for the senior, as she offers a 4.0 GPA and interest in Biology/Medicine in college. She quickly adapted to Sunday’s pace and made an impact on both ends for her team. Hartley will need her to step up with the loss of Kami Kortokrax.
Kya Jordan (5’8 G / Gahanna Lincoln / 2024) - One of few young guards in the event, Jordan helped her team win a title on Sunday by adapting to a role and being an incredible teammate. Her attitude and effort were never in question, as Jordan made the most of her scoring opportunities but was most impactful as a passer, facilitator and team defender. The experience of going up against Bella Ward, Laila Marshall and Clarke Jackson at Gahanna in practice will prepare her greatly for when her number is called to lead the Lions program in a few years.
Madison Greene (5’8 G / Pickerington Central / 2023) - Greene is one of the legitimate high major prospects in the area as she had a tremendous summer and picked up a handful of big offers. Greene has always been one of the toughest pound for pound players in Columbus, as fear is something that is not in her vocabulary. She provides a major impact on the defensive perimeter and can take a game over with her scoring when needed. There’s not many guards who can compete with Greene physically. Pickerington Central has a chance to make it back to a regional title level this season and it will start and end with what Greene can provide in the backcourt.