Sports Women's Sports

Nationally ranked Sierra Canyon and Sidwell Friends light up Hoophall Classic despite frustrations

By Carley Crain

One of the most anticipated games of the 2023 Spalding Hoophall Classic pitted Sierra Canyon (CA) and Juju Watkins, espnW’s No. 1 prospect, against Sidwell Friends (D.C.) and No. 3-ranked recruit Jadyn Donovan. In fact, the matchup featured six players who are ranked in the top 100 by ESPN, including Watkins, Donovan, Kendall Dudley (13), Mackenly Randolph (19), Leah Harmon (20) and Khia Miller (94).

SportsCenter Next classified it as a top-3 matchup because it featured two stars in the USC-bound Juju Watkins and Duke-commit Donovan. 

These players attract large crowds of fans across the country who swarm them for autographs and selfies. As high school athletes, each has already built a brand for herself, while also building up the sport of women’s basketball. But this exciting matchup tipped off at 1:30 p.m. – or 10:30 a.m. back in California – instead of being aired as a primetime game, which frustrated teams who traveled thousands of miles to compete at the Birthplace and their families. 

Sari Watkins, Juju Watkins’s mother, was one of them.

“I look at my daughter as one of the fronts in the whole growth of women’s basketball at a high school level,” Sari Watkins said. “I think it is her goal, and she has her family’s support, to change the inequality agenda that is so present. The difference is so glaring when it comes to how much support the men get and how much the women get.”

“Our goal as women is to break barriers,” Juju Watkins said. “That is what we came out to do today, even though we had a 1:30 game, which is kind of ridiculous. We just come out here and play basketball. It got exposure because these are top players, so I am just glad I was able to share that spotlight with my team.”

Some players, like Donovan, have seen Hoophall promoted primarily to boys in the past – but acknowledge the progress at the 2023 tournament. At this year’s showcase, nine girls’ teams are competing, up from four in 2022. “We were talking about it, and we were like, ‘Oh yeah Hoophall is only for boys,’” Donovan said. “But we got to go this time and be with the fans, and see the Hall of Fame.”

Despite their frustrations, Sierra Canyon showed up big time at the Spalding Hoophall Classic and proved what kind of team the Trailblazers are. Both teams thrilled the sold-out, roaring crowd with a physical, high-energy matchup between the best high school programs in the country.  

From the start of the game, every shot was contested and each rebound was hard-fought. IThe Trailblazers took advantage of its fast-paced offense against a strong defensive front that kept pushing Sierra Canyon to the edge. Heading into the half, Sidwell was up by one point, 25-24. 

The Trailblazers knew they had to come out of halftime with the same energy they started with in order to snag the victory – which is exactly what the team did. In spite of an ankle injury, which forced her to the bench on two separate occasions, Watkins persevered and was named the Most Valuable Player of the game. She had 29 points, 14 rebounds and five assists on the day, alongside her teammate and best friend Mackely Randolph, who had 22 points. Watkins led the Trailblazers in 3-pointers as well, with 2. For the Quakers, Dudley and Jordan Jackson each scored 15 points.

Watkins even got to rock a fuzzy robe postgame alongside her teammates in the middle of Blake Arena. 

Sierra Canyon and Sidwell Friends are two teams that are working on rewriting the narrative of girls’ high school basketball, showing that women deserve a seat at the table. 

Photo: Daniel Curren/The Student 


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