OAKLAND -- Number one in the nation.
When a national high school sports website bestowed that honor on the Bishop O'Dowd High girls basketball team in its preseason rankings, expectations were raised sky-high for the defending California Interscholastic Federation Division III champions.
"It was always coming up," Bishop O'Dowd coach Malik McCord said about the ranking. "I told the girls never to look at rankings ... because it's an opinion."
Yet, the Dragons knew that they entered each game with a target on their backs. Now as they begin the West Alameda County Conference season on Friday with a 6-3 overall record and a slip in the national ranking, the Dragons' end goal may be more vivid than ever.
"Our ultimate goal is to be the first team to win open division at state," McCord said.
The Dragons have a team that could do it.
Their post players as a unit might be without peer in the nation, as they have three seniors who have signed NCAA Division I scholarships, with Oderah Chidom going to Duke, K.C. Waters to Cal and Breanna Brown to Virginia Tech. All three players, who are each 6-foot-2 or taller, have started in the same game at times this season.
Bishop O'Dowd's backcourt is full of talent, too, with senior Ariell Bostick -- who has signed with San Diego State -- and sophomores Asha Thomas and Aisia Robertson.
The Dragons have not hidden from tough competition this season, as they played in both the Nike Tournament of Champions Division E -- the top division -- in Chandler, Ariz. and the Holiday Hardwood Invitational at Oaks Christian-Westlake Village. Bishop O'Dowd's second victory this season was by 11 points over defending CIF Division II state champion Archbishop Mitty-San Jose on Dec. 1.
Bishop O'Dowd won its first three games this season, but fell in the Nike TOC Division E semifinals 57-46 to Riverdale Baptist-Upper Marlboro, Md., on Dec. 21. The Dragons were short of players for more than one reason in that game.
Bostick and reserves Maya Williams and Loren Lassiter missed that game and the following game against St. Mary's-Phoenix on Dec. 22 to attend Bostick's cotillion in Oakland on Dec. 22, McCord confirmed.
"I knew it at the beginning of the school year," said McCord about Bostick missing the games. "It's unfortunate that it was at the time it was, but I've always told the kids that I will support them in their decisions. It's more than basketball."
The Dragons also had to deal with injuries to Alex Kalmbach, Daniela Williams, Robertson and Chidom in the Riverdale game, McCord said. All of the players but Kalmbach were able to play against St. Mary's-Phoenix. Kalmbach is still out with a very bad sprained ankle, McCord said.
Bishop O'Dowd lost to St. Mary's-Phoenix 63-60 and Windward-Los Angeles 58-43 in the championship game of the Oaks Christian Holiday Hardwood Invitational on Dec. 29. McCord compared the Windward game to the Connecticut-Stanford women's game on Dec. 29, with the Dragons in Stanford's role (The Cardinal lost 61-35).
"It looked like a carbon copy," McCord said. "We couldn't buy a basket. ... Our defense was off. Everything was off that night."
McCord is still looking for a "glue" player to help lead the team, but he's not worried about the rest of the upcoming season.
"The seniors are learning how to lead," he said. "We will be fine."
East Bay girls basketball poll
Rec. Pts. LS
1. Bishop O'Dowd (5) 6-3 75 1
2. Carondelet 8-2 70 3
3. St. Mary's 8-1 65 6
4. Miramonte 11-1 60 4
5. Heritage 8-4 52 9
6. Salesian 9-3 51 5
7. Alameda 10-2 43 12
8. Monte Vista 10-2 40 11
9. Deer Valley 6-6 33 7
10. Clayton Valley 8-6 25 NR
11. Berkeley 4-6 24 2
12. Campolindo 11-1 22 NR
13. Dublin 10-3 17 15
14. McClymonds 13-2 12 NR
15. Dougherty Valley 8-4 5 8
Also receiving votes: San Ramon Valley (8-2, 3 votes), Oakland Tech (10-3, 2), Livermore (10-1, 1). The East Bay Girls Basketball Poll is voted on by the prep sports staff of Bay Area News Group-East Bay. Records are through Monday.