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Clarkston has returning all-stater Erika Davenport (front) in the middle, but Stoney Creek has depth in nine experienced returners, including (from left) Emma Sobczynski (44) Lauren Voss (25) and Karlee Campbell. (The Oakland Press file photo/KEN SWART)

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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Oakland Activities Association Red Division preview

Amber Stephens (4) and the high-flying Farmington Hills Harrison Hawks bumped up to the Oakland Activities Association Red Division after winning the White last year. They know there's going to be a distinct difference in the level they'll need to play to compete in the Red. (The Oakland Press file photo)

North Farmington doesn't have a ton of size, but with multiple ballhandlers — like junior Megan Carter, pictured here — the Raiders should be able to push the tempo a bit. (The Oakland Press file photo)

Sabrina Douglas (left) is in her fourth year on varsity for Auburn Hills Avondale, giving the Yellow Jackets a dependable force in the backcourt. (The Oakland Press file photo)

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The favorite: Clarkston. When you have the best player in the division (and arguably the top one in the county) on your squad, it seems hard to pick against your chances to three-peat. The Wolves went unbeaten in league play a year ago, thanks in large part to the first-team all-state efforts of now-junior forward Erika Davenport. Given the graduation of both starting guards from last year’s 22-2 district-winning team, the Wolves will need every bit of what Davenport delivered last year — when she had 18 double-doubles in the 20-game regular season — plus a less-experienced cast around her to step up. Seniors Kacy Robinson and Carly Giroux both have starting experience — and leadership qualities — that will steady a rotation with six sophomores and juniors in it.

Who’s next: Stoney Creek. The Cougars return nine experienced players, including five that started last season — and three who played big roles in the program’s first-ever district title two seasons ago — giving coach Brad Crighton perhaps the most experienced team he’s had in the program’s short history. As long as they don’t have an injury — like the one that limited 6-foot-1 Natalie Voss to just nine games last season — they should have the horses, led by Lauren Voss and Maria Zandi, to keep pace with Clarkston.

The dark horse: It would be logical to go with Farmington Hills Harrison here, but don’t overlook the Red Division’s other perennial powerhouse, Southfield-Lathrup. The Chargers, who chased Clarkston to the finish last season, lost their usual crop of college-bound seniors, but have reloaded again. In addition to the core formed by a four-year starter in sniper Erica Longmire, the ultra-athletic Asia King and 6-foot-2 sophomore phenom Taiye Bello (and her twin sister Kehinde), Lathrup added freshman Deja Church and transfers Antoinette Miller (Ferndale) and Courtney Lucas (West Bloomfield).

The rest: While FARMINGTON HILLS HARRISON ran away with the White Division last season, riding its core of then-freshmen Kristen Nelson and Amber Stephens, as well as 6-footer Kyla Roland, to the program’s first-ever district title, the Hawks know life is going to be tougher in the Red Division. Harrison returns nine of 11 players from last year’s team, and may end up being a better team just through more experience, even if a brutally tough schedule keeps them from matching last year’s gaudy 23-2 record.

At NORTH FARMINGTON, there’s a good foundation to build around, a solid nucleus from last year’s team that went 8-6 in the league, including leading scorer Bri’Jannae Durrough and veteran point guard Megan Carter. There’s just not a ton of size, which means the Raiders will have to depend on depth to offset that shortcoming.

While AUBURN HILLS AVONDALE more or less broke even last year (11-12, 7-7), that may be a hard trick to repeat this season, with a younger squad. Led by four-year varsity player, two-year starter Sabrina Douglas, the Yellow Jackets will be a team that sets its offense up with its defense. Hannah Susick, who plays any of the five positions, and Candace Johnson both started at times last year, while Addie Saltarelli is a sophomore new to varsity who could add some scoring punch.

Another team that’s a bit undersized, WEST BLOOMFIELD has a good point guard in Dazia Dinkins, but not enough outlets for her passes just yet, which will mean she’ll have to pick up most of the scoring load, at least until someone like sophomore Taylor Pierce figures everything out.

With just one player back to after playing limited minutes last year, the PONTIAC Phoenix will be a work in progress all season, in the hopes that they can play spoiler at the end of the season.

Predicted order of finish: 1. Clarkston, 2. Stoney Creek, 3. Southfield-Lathrup, 4. Farmington Hills Harrison, 5. North Farmington, 6. Auburn Hills Avondale, 7. West Bloomfield, 8. Pontiac

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Last Updated: 12/2/2013 2:56:20 AM EST

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