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2013-2014 GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW Cerritos again a heavy favorite to win the Suburban League

By Loren Kopff

A year ago at this time, Cerritos was a favorite, along with Mayfair and Norwalk, to win the Suburban League. The Lady Dons ended up in third place but now, thanks to the strongest returning group in the league, are primed to take home the crown all by themselves. Gahr and Whitney also have league championships on their minds while Artesia, John Glenn and Valley Christian are eying better seasons.
ARTESIA PIONEERS
1-21 overall last season, 0-12 in the Suburban League, seventh place.
Co-head coaches: Dan Galvan/Shontya Pouncey (first seasons)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 29-91
Last time made the playoffs: 2012
STARTERS LOST: Angie Avila (8.7 points per game last season), Tangeray Beverly (7.9 ppg.), Bianca Espinosa, Kimberly Tagumasi (4.3 ppg.)
STARTERS RETURNING: JR Onica Yu (3.4 ppg.)
OTHERS RETURNING: SR Daisy Briseno, SR Dijana Hunter, SR Joanne Tuquero, JR Keina Harris, SO Zharia Simmons
Low numbers and a lack of a bench told most of the story last season for Artesia, which had probably the worst season in school history. Shontya Pouncey, who did most of the play calling with former head coach Dayna Feenstra, comes back as a co-head coach along with Dan Galvan. But the Pioneers don’t return much and Pouncey is hoping to build off of the positives from last season.
“We had a sophomore make the all-league team and the girls never really gave up,” Pouncey said. “They always came to practice ready to go, whether it was seven of them or nine of them. We didn’t have very many numbers but this year’s numbers are a little bit better.”
That sophomore he is referring to is Onica Yu, now a junior. She will have to do the majority of the scoring and could come close to double digits. Last season, Yu anchored the team with Angie Avila, the team’s leading scorer. Seniors Daisy Briseno, Dijana Hunter and Joanne Tuquero, junior Keina Harris and sophomore Zharia Simmons, who will be a point guard, are all coming back. Pouncey projects Briseno, Hunter, Simmons, Tuquero and Yu as the starters to begin the season.
“Having people who did play in varsity games will make us a little bit better at the start of [the season], anyway,” Pouncey said.
The top newcomer to the team is sophomore Cheyenne Taesali, who spent a lot of time in Artesia’s summer camp program. The team will field three seniors, six juniors and three sophomores. Pouncey hopes that consistency will help build the program up in the future.
CERRITOS LADY DONS
14-11 overall last season, 8-4 in the Suburban League, third place, lost to North Torrance 64-38 in the III-AAA first round playoffs.
Head coach: Arial Adams (second season, 14-11)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 60-69
Last time missed the playoffs: 2011
STARTERS LOST: Deshields Fajardo (7.0 points per game last season)
STARTERS RETURNING: SR Tori Mura, SR Stacey Suzuki (4.5 ppg.), JR Alyssa Movchan (13.4 ppg.), SO Tatiana Fominyam
OTHERS RETURNING: SR Jessica Ignacio, SR Lauren Rhea, JR Taylor Hirata
Cerritos definitely had the talent to win the Suburban League last season. Unfortunately, so did Mayfair and Norwalk who both swept the Lady Dons. Cerritos graduated four players from a team of 15 and that alone makes Cerritos a heavy favorite to win the league for the first time since the 2007-2008 season.
“I think, as the head coach, I established the culture for our program,” said head coach Arial Adams. “In regards to league, I’m pretty sure I established a stronger presence. We want to make our presence known and be a contender for league every season.”
Adams, who already had a great rapport with the players last season because she was an assistant from the previous season, had even a better offseason, especially with sophomore Tatiana Fominyam, who was a strong contributor inside by the time the league season began. Helping the 5’ 10” Fominyam at the post position will be seniors Tori Mura and Lauren Rhea while juniors Taylor Hirata and Alyssa Movchan will complement each other on the outside.
The heart and soul of the team will be Movchan, who has the ability to come close to scoring 20 points a game. Adams says Movchan is a machine who wants the ball and is as close to a Deshields Fajardo, who graduated last season, as Cerritos is going to get.
But Movchan isn’t alone in the scoring department. Keeping with the Cerritos theme of having at least one freshman on varsity, will be 6’ 1” Eofeoma Okoli, whom Adams says is extremely coachable, agile and athletic. Also new to the varsity will be sophomores Flora Arbas, Allison Edquid, Kayla Katsuda and freshman Cailey Vitug, who will probably be a starter. With such a strong mix of experience and young newcomers, Adams knows the door is open for her team to win a league title.
“Based on who is coming back and based on the chemistry…some of these players have been playing together for four years,” Adams said. “Last year, we had the talent but it was my first year. A lot of people were still unsure. I just think the roller coaster gets to go a little bit faster.”
GAHR GLADIATORS
22-10 overall last season, 8-2 in the San Gabriel Valley League, second place, lost to Agoura 60-39 in the Division III-AAA championship game.
Head coach: David Garcia (first full season, 12th overall, 155-133)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 85-60
Last time missed the playoffs: 2005
STARTERS LOST: Briana Anderson (4.3 points per game last season), Jasmine Gates (10.4 ppg.), Jewelyn Sawyer (18.1 ppg.)
STARTERS RETURNING: SR Chidera Agu, SR Ra’vyn Bowser (12.2 ppg.)
OTHERS RETURNING: SR Kahleia Reece
After spending the past few seasons on the bench as an assistant to former head coach Al Dorogusker, David Garcia now takes over, even though he called most of the plays last season. Garcia was also the head coach for Whitney from 2000-2007 and again for the 2010-2011 season and spent one season at Mayfair. While the Gladiators return only three players from last season’s Division III-AAA runner-up squad, Garcia is confident that the team will still be solid.
“Looking at this year’s team, I have my point guard, [senior] Ra’vyn Bowser back,” Garcia said. “She’ll be a key person for us to do well this year. With my incoming freshmen and the addition of a volleyball player, I thought this would be a rebuilding year. But I think we have enough weapons to make some noise, now that we moved up to Division II-A.”
Gahr’s scoring will be down a bit but the defense will be a whole lot better, according to Garcia. Joining the team will be senior Oluoma Okaro, and freshmen Lauren Magno, Briana Smith and Miranda Ta’amu. Okaro, who hasn’t played basketball in three years, brings some height to Gahr’s lineup that it was missing following the graduation to current Long Beach State University standout Jewelyn Sawyer. Junior Jasmine Murray will also be an impact player coming off the bench.
“I have a deeper bench than we’ve ever had here at Gahr,” Garcia said. “Even though they’re young, they’re smart enough and talented enough where they will help us.”
As it relates to knocking off Lynwood from that San Gabriel Valley League top perch it has owned since the beginning of the century, Garcia says if his team goes into a game thinking it can win, rather than look at the name on the front of an opponent’s jersey, Gahr will have a chance to win any game this season.
JOHN GLENN LADY EAGLES
8-18 overall last season, 2-10 in the Suburban League, sixth place.
Head coach: Linda Parra (12th season, 152-141
Team’s record previous five seasons: 62-73
Last time made the playoffs: 2011
STARTERS LOST: Angie Console (8.5 points per game), Jayme Leal (3.9 ppg.), Ashley Perez, Lizeth Perez (1.9 ppg.)
STARTERS RETURNING: SR Myra Gomez (8.3 ppg.)
OTHERS RETURNING: SR Dominique Gomez (5.1 ppg.), SR Mayra Ramirez
Hard times have hit the John Glenn program since winning the Suburban League in the 2006-2007 season. Head coach Linda Parra has seen her team finish well below .500 in four of the past six seasons and the Lady Eagles have won three league games the past two seasons. Compounding the issue, Glenn returns only one starter from last season.
“We didn’t score very well,” Parra said of last season. “Our shooting percentage was very low and we had many turnovers every game. I would say that’s why we lost so many games. If you look at the stats, it’s pretty depressing.”
So, Parra put a lot of emphasis on nothing but hard working during the offseason, especially with only three returning players who have been in the program a long time.
Seniors Kassandra Aguilar, Elidee Linarte, junior Crystal Tanedo, Anna Zavala, sophomores Savanna Aguilar, Natalie Contreras, Esmeralda Zumudio and freshman Vanessa Rouse are all newcomers to the team. But Parra points out that half of them, as well as seniors Dominique Gomez (shoulder) and Myra Gomez (muscle below Achilles tendon), have been injured since the summer.
“We have a lot of strengths on our team but it’s a matter of all five on the court at that time understanding what the strengths are and how do you use those strengths,” Parra said. “[Myra] is definitely going to be a go-to player and she’s definitely going to be double teamed in our league. Everyone is going to watch out for her. But they don’t have to watch out for her if we don’t even look at her.”
Parra says she is hoping her team can contend for, and try to get that coveted fourth place and final automatic playoff spot, already knowing that most of the teams in league are also young and rebuilding.
NORWALK LADY LANCERS
20-9 overall last season, 11-1 in the Suburban League, tied for first place, lost to Redondo 56-26 in the Division II-A second round.
Head coach: Emily Osongco (first season)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 80-58
Last time missed the playoffs: 2007
STARTERS LOST: Cristina Batarse (5.2 points per game last season), Jazzlyn Gaxiola (9.4 ppg.), Maiya Griffin-McNair (14.7 ppg.), Brenda Venegas (4.0 ppg.)
STARTERS RETURNING: JR Jackie Aldana
OTHERS RETURNING: JR J’Nae Harrison, JR Arely Lopez, JR Monica Pineda, JR Clarissa Valdez
After coaching six seasons at Norwalk and 19 overall, Richard Drake has retired as head coach and his assistant the past few seasons, Emily Osongco, takes over in her first head coaching stint anywhere. Osongco inherits a team that shared the Suburban League crown with Mayfair but returns only five returners, all of them juniors.
“I’ve been an assistant for quite some time and I’ve had the opportunity to work with [former Norwalk head coach Babita Singh] and coach Drake, some really good coaches to learn off of,” Osongco said. “I’ve changed in my nine years [at Norwalk], starting off teaching. Being an athletic director as well as head coach has definitely prepared me and has helped me grow to be almost ready for this position. I do welcome the challenge.”
One of the biggest challenges for Osongco is trying to find where the offense is going to come from. With the exception of junior J’Nae Harrison, who was highly touted as a sophomore but missed the entire season due to an injury, only junior Jackie Aldana has reached double figures in scoring, and that occurred twice.
Osongco admitted that this season is going to be a growth year for her and the team she is putting together. She added that the returning group had the luxury of learning from a talented group of seniors, which in turn has made them their own identity for this season.
Unlike Maiya Griffin-McNair last season, there isn’t one dominant player that the team will have to rely on. No one knows where the points are going to come from. The top newcomers will be senior Alexis Nix, juniors Tatiana Mendoza and Megan Nolasco and sophomore Mele Valele. With such a young crew that consists of eight juniors and one sophomore, contending for another league title will be a tall order for Osongco. She says she wants to as realistic as possible but at the same time, she wants her team to surprise her.
“I think [last year] created an expectation; a sense of pride and wanting to continue it,” Osongco said. “I know it’s going to be difficult. What was done last year was special. It doesn’t mean that it can’t be, but it will definitely take a lot of work and learning.”
VALLEY CHRISTIAN LADY CRUSADERS
1-25 overall last season, 0-8 in the Olympic League, fifth place.
Head coach: Ally Wade (second season, 1-25)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 69-75
Last time made the playoffs: 2011
STARTERS LOST: Taylor Dantuma (2.3 points per game last season), Emily Dekker
STARTERS RETURNING: SR Amber Binford (6.0 ppg.), JR Hailey Garcia (6.5 ppg.), JR Kate Vande Vegte (4.0 ppg.)
OTHERS RETURNING: SR Amanda Chamberlain (8.2 ppg. in 2011-2012), SR Kenna Mageo (5.3 ppg. in 2011-2012), JR Cherilyn DeJong (1.8 ppg.), JR Alex Fenderson, JR Aminan Wright, JR Nicole Parker, SO Katie Feller, SO Emma Phieffer
It was a very trying 2012-2013 season for Valley Christian head coach Ally Wade, who had to take over a team that did not have one player with varsity experience. But with virtually everyone coming back for this season, plus the return of two varsity players from two seasons ago, Wade is hoping the Lady Crusaders can make more than baby steps.
“I think I learned a lot of patience, number one,” Wade said. “I’m a very competitive person and last year, I just had to learn how to measure our success differently. All of the little things meant a lot. Just hard work, good attitude and the girls showing up everyday…even coming back from games that we lost, the girls came into the gym and had smiles on their faces and were ready to go. That just made me feel like, okay, we’re doing something right here.”
Wade added that this season, she hasn’t had to teach attitude or effort and because of that, she can now focus on teaching basketball skills. One of the biggest things this season will be consistency.
This season the bulk of the scoring figures to come from senior Amber Binford and junior Hailey Garcia, both of whom led the team in that department last season. One positive for the Lady Crusaders this season is the number of players coming back who got a lot of playing time. Add to that the return of seniors Amanda Chamberlain and Kenna Mageo from two seasons ago, V.C. is primed to definitely win more games and Wade is hoping it will be at least 10 victories.
“They all got the experience and I’m hoping that it’s not such a scare when they step on the court,” Wade said. “They know the difference between the pace of the junior varsity level and varsity level. And even though we won only one game, we competed in a lot of them, especially when we got to league. I think we’re going to turn some heads this year.”
WHITNEY LADY WILDCATS
21-5 overall last season, 10-0 in the Academy League, first place, lost to St. Bonaventure 64-54 in the Division IV-A quarterfinals.
Head coach: Jeff Day (second season, 21-5)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 85-47
Last time missed the playoffs: 2010
STARTERS LOST: None
STARTERS RETURNING: SR Rachel Nagel (26.2 points per game last season), SR Reyna Ta’amu (19.5 ppg.), SR Allison Tran (4.9 ppg.), SR Alyssa Wakamiya (6.0 ppg.), JR Anshika Bagla (1.3 ppg.)
OTHERS RETURNING: SR Ann Munoz, JR Jihee Lee, SO Annika Brandes
The hottest team in the Academy League over the past three seasons has been Whitney, winning 30 consecutive league games. The forecast is for a 12-0 league mark, with the addition of Downey Calvary Chapel making it a seven-team league. Head coach Jeff Day enjoyed a banner first season coaching girls varsity basketball and it figures to be even better as the Lady Wildcats return all five starters.
“I’ve always coached boys, so coaching girls was a little different,” Day said. “The things I’ve been used to in the past [have been] I’ve always had a deep bench and I’ve always had a lot of players on my team. Last year, each game and each practice was like a work in progress moving girls around. I didn’t have the luxury of a lot of subs.”
Whitney has probably one of the top players in all of the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section in senior Rachel Nagel, who signed a letter of intent to play at the University of California, Davis. Nagel can do it all but most important, she is a leader on the court.
“Rachel is going to have a different role this year,” Day said. “Yeah, she is our go-to girl, she’s our scorer and she’s a point guard. But this year, I’m going to have another real good point guard. So, Rachel is going to be able to do some other things this year where we don’t have to depend on her to be Miss Everything.”
Senior Reyna Ta’amu is the big threat in the middle, pulling down 221 rebounds and blocking 32 shots last season in addition to being the team’s second leading scorer. The Lady Wildcats will have a trio of freshmen on varsity-Casey Chu, Juliette Kim and Nicole Lee-and one is projected to be a starter with the other two still getting a lot of playing time. Junior Tania Ruiz-Velasco, who would have been on varsity last season if it wasn’t for a broken ankle, is also joining the varsity team.
Whitney has made consecutive trips to quarterfinals and with the depth of this season’s team, Day is hoping for another long run in the playoffs.
“It all comes down to the division we’re in and it looks like we are now in Division IV-AA with Windward and Sierra Canyon, who were both state champs last year,” Day said. “Now, CIF does have an open division. So that will probably take one of them. But IV-AA besides I-AA is the toughest girls division. Our division probably has four or five of the top 30 teams in the state.”

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