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2014-2015 GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW Trio of area teams usher in new head coaches as many questions arise

 

By Loren Kopff

The 2014-2015 girls basketball season will see a new head coach on the sidelines for Cerritos, John Glenn and Valley Christian, but that alone will not be the only headlines. Can Cerritos build on a banner season that produced 21 victories? Can Norwalk get back to that Suburban League championship form of two seasons ago? Can Whitney win without the graduation of two of the best players ever in school history? Those questions and many more will be answered by the time the middle of February arrives.

ARTESIA PIONEERS

3-23 overall last season, 1-11 in the Suburban League, tied for sixth place.

Co-head coaches: Dan Galvan/Shontya Pouncey (second season, 3-23)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 24-98

Last time made the playoffs: 2012

STARTERS LOST: Daisy Briseno (3.0 points per game last season), Joanne Tuquero (2.2 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Keina Harris (5.2 ppg.), SR Onica Yu (7.2 ppg.), JR Zharia Simmons (5.2 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: None

The Pioneers struggled for the second straight season but did manage to make tiny steps. Scoring was a problem but the biggest issue all of last season were the high number of turnovers in every game. Still, there’s reason to be optimistic about this season despite just three players returning.

“We were happy with the fact that there was indeed an improvement in the record,” said Artesia co-head coach Dan Galvan. “We improved in a lot more things in terms of progress. Some of the positives were that we learned to play a little bit together and despite not having the natural skills, they were quick. They kept looking for positives. We had Norwalk at the half and we beat John Glenn and we had La Mirada on the ropes for a little bit.”

The backbone of Artesia’s offense last season was Onica Yu, who comes back for her final season after leaving the team in the final week of last season for a family emergency. Her game has stepped up, but so has that of fellow senior Keina Harris and junior Zharia Simmons. If all three of them are on their game, they can all average in double figures.

Galvan says the team is deeper than last season because of the experience of the junior varsity players who are now on varsity. The top newcomers will be senior Celeste Martin, juniors Angela Castro, a foreign exchange student from Mexico who will be a backup point guard and Taryn Davis, a transfer who will be starting at the post and sophomores Cynthia Calderas and Nyla Williams, a transfer from Narbonne.

“We are building,” Galvan said. “We have nice group of freshmen, a couple who will probably be on varsity and serve as a nice role coming off the bench as they learn.”

For Artesia to be more successful than last season, it needs to get help from its bench players as the Pioneers got 106 points from seven different non-starters last season. But limiting the foolish turnovers is first and foremost for the Pioneers, who have not had a winning record since the 2006-2007 campaign.

“It will still be a problem but I don’t believe it will be as glaring a problem,” Galvan said of the turnovers. “But we still have the same issues.”

CERRITOS LADY DONS

21-6 overall last season, 10-2 in the Suburban League, second place, lost to El Dorado 78-46 in the Division II-A quarterfinal playoffs.

Head coach: Marcus Chinen (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 68-62

Last time missed the playoffs: 2011

STARTERS LOST: Tori Mura (5.2 points per game last season), Stacey Suzuki (6.2 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Taylor Hirata (6.7 ppg.), SR Alyssa Movchan (11.4 ppg.), SO Ioefoma Okoli

OTHERS RETURNING: JR Tatiana Fominyam, SO Teresa Torres, SO Cailey Vitug

Despite winning at least 20 games for the first time since going 20-10 in the 2004-2005 season, the Lady Dons didn’t win the Suburban League. And this is coming for a team that possessed probably the most talent in the league. A pair of losses to Mayfair by a combined seven points cancelled those dreams. But former Cerritos junior varsity and freshmen/sophomore coach Marcus Chinen replaces Ariel Adams and hopes to take the Lady Dons to the top of the league. Chinen was most recently the junior varsity coach at La Habra and Kennedy High Schools.

“Right now it’s very, very exciting being a new coach here,” Chinen said. “I was in this league two years ago at the lower levels. But coming back here is going to be a big challenge. I know we have a tough season; I like to play a tough preseason which will lead into hopefully a successful league season.”

Chinen is very familiar with seniors Taylor Hirata and Alyssa Movchan, two of the most prolific players in school history who played for Chinen in the summer league prior to their freshmen seasons. Those two are dynamic in various ways and league opponents will have problems covering them. Hirata has the potential to average double digits in scoring while Movchan will be making a serious push to be the league’s most valuable player.

“I look at them for leadership,” Chinen said. “I expect them to be my leaders and help me out a little bit with the players I’m not familiar with. But I’m looking forward to [the season]. It’s going to be a fun season.”

But if opponents think they can slow down Hirata and Movchan, then they’ll have to deal with junior Tatiana Fominyam and sophomore Ioefoma Okoli, two inside forces, as well as up and coming star Cailey Vitug, who scored at least eight points in seven games last season as a freshman and also has the potential to reach double digits. Chinen said that Fominyam and Vitug, who have started to take the ball to the basket more, could be the other two starters. The top newcomers to varsity will be junior Ala Tui, sophomore Bethany Huang and freshmen Tracey Nakamura and Kalea Trias.

With the exception of 2010-2011, when Cerritos finished in last place, the Lady Dons have fallen either one or two spots short of a league title five times since last winning it all. And before that, Cerritos finished in second or third place seven straight times since claiming the 1999-2000 league title. It’s obvious Cerritos is a major force in the league, but so has Mayfair and Norwalk recently.

“I’m sure any [of the top three] teams in the Suburban League have the capability of taking the league title,” Chinen said. “I keep telling these girls that we have to take it a game at a time. We have to limit our turnovers, we have to play smart and if we do that, I’m sure we’ll have a successful season.”

GAHR GLADIATORS

12-14 overall last season, 4-6 in the San Gabriel Valley League, fourth place.

Head coach: David Garcia (second season at Gahr, 12-14, 11th overall, 128-116)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 83-60

Last time made the playoffs: 2013

STARTERS LOST: Cynthia Agu (10.2 points per game last season), Ra’vyn Bowser (17.5 ppg.), SR Jazlinay Murray (3.9 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: SO Miranda Ta’amu (7.3 ppg.), SO Breanna Smith (5.6 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Klarese Rios, SO Lauren Magano

After winning a combined 42 games the previous two seasons, Gahr stumbled a bit last season with a squad of four seniors, three juniors, one sophomore and four freshmen. The team tried to gel and get that chemistry going but it didn’t happen until the second half of San Gabriel Valley League action. But what hurt the most, according to head coach David Garcia, was the fact that the Gladiators were not selected as an at-large playoff team after advancing to the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III-AAA finals the year prior.

“Yes, I was disappointed that we did not make the playoffs at 12-14,” Garcia said. “With all of the young girls that I had last year, it was kind of hard for them to adjust with the seniors. It wasn’t until the second half of league that they really started to have the chemistry as a team.”

But now, Gahr can build for the future with three talented sophomores in Lauren Magano, Breanna Smith and Miranda Ta’amu, who will definitely be the top offensive and defensive threats this season. Smith and Ta’amu have the ability to score over 10 points a game while Magano, who had to step up as a point guard last season, shined at the end of the season, starting in four games and scoring 28 points in eight of the last nine games of the season.

“She was the biggest girl we had, so she had to start,” Garcia said of Ta’amu. “Still, on this year’s team, she has figured out that she’s the captain. So now with one year under her belt, she’s being looked at by the other nine girls as the leader. This year I expect big things from her.”

Garcia said that by the time league play begins in January, Ta’amu has to understand that she will be a dominant force and must average 10-15 points a game. Rios and Smith will be solid on defense but the biggest surprise could come from junior Angelica Soltis and her sister, sophomore Alana Soltis, both of whom transferred from Cerritos.

Last season ended a streak of eight straight playoff appearances. That will change this season as the Gladiators aim for second place with first place going to Lynwood, as has been the case every season this century.

“That’s our goal this year, to be real respectful in our league, because I know last year, teams beat us and I’m okay with that.” Garcia said. “We’ve gotten that out of our system. So now, we don’t have the same team that we had last year. We’re a totally different team.”

JOHN GLENN LADY EAGLES

4-22 overall last season, 1-11 in the Suburban League, tied for sixth place.

Head coach: Christiana Hernandez (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 56-78

Last time made the playoffs: 2011

STARTERS LOST: Kassandra Aguilar, JR Savanna Aguilar (7.7 points per game last season), Myra Gomez (13.3 ppg.), Mayra Ramirez (5.9 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Ana Zavala (2.2 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Julia Bautista, JR Natalie Cardenas, SO Vanessa Rouse

The Linda Parra era at John Glenn is over and for the first time since 2002, the Lady Eagles will have a new head coach. Former Glenn standout Christina Hernandez, who played from 2004-2007, takes over a program that has had three straight losing campaigns, winning 20 games in that time. But Hernandez is excited about the challenge of coaching a varsity team for the first time, and doing it in a setting that is true to her heart.

“I think ultimately, my first goal when I started coaching, was just to give back to the program,” Hernandez said. “The program gave me a lot when I was here in my development as a young woman and the biggest thing with me was giving back to the community and giving back to where I came from because it had given me so much.”

Hernandez will have only four returning players and not much scoring came out of any of those four. Seniors Julia Bautista and Ana Zavala, junior Natalie Cardenas and sophomore Vanessa Rouse combined to score 91 points last season. However, Bautista tore an ACL in the late spring/early summer and may not play this season. She will be working with the post players, though.

Hernandez said the players are still striving to meet their leadership roles and because of that, there are no big shoes to fill of the players who left the team last season. Instead, everyone is contributing and everyone has their own individual strengths. That’s what Hernandez is working into the game plan. She added that the girls wanted to start right away in the spring once last season ended and she knew what the team was going to look like as soon as last season ended. The newcomers will be seniors Seayanna Crawford, Mary Diaz, Carolina Hernandez, Heven Hinojosa, Amanda Lopez, and Jazmin Torres and sophomore Saurianna Harrison.

“The fact that they are seniors has pushed them and motivated them because they only have one more year together,” Hernandez said. “The short time that they’re going to have with each other…they really don’t look at it as a negative and neither do I. They look at it more as they don’t have a lot of time to waste.”

The last time the Lady Eagles won the Suburban League was the first-year coach’s senior season. While a league title may be a reach this season, the team is gunning for a playoff spot.

“I take my coaching very seriously but being it my alma mater, I’m more motivated to succeed or want to succeed with these individuals knowing what they’re going through, knowing what the community environment is that they’re growing up in,” she said.

NORWALK LADY LANCERS

10-14 overall last season, 5-7 in the Suburban League, tied for fourth place, lost to North Torrance 75-34 in the Division II-A first round playoffs.

Head coach: Emily Osongco (second season, 10-14)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 76-59

Last time missed the playoffs: 2007

STARTERS LOST: None

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Jackie Aldana (5.0 points per game last season), SR J’Nae Harrison (8.0 ppg.), SR Arely Lopez (3.7 ppg.), SR Tatiana Mendoza (5.5 ppg.), SR Monica Pineda (4.0 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR India Conner, SR Megan Nolasco, SR Clarissa Valdez, JR Mele Valele

Last season was a learning experience for then-rookie head coach Emily Osongco and a team that had just graduated a lot of players from a Suburban League championship squad. But now, Osongco and her Lady Lancers feel they have enough to challenge Cerritos and Mayfair for the top spot. Osongco, who admitted she hopes to always learn as a head coach, credits former mentor and dean of Suburban League girls basketball, Richard Drake, for giving her the freedom to be a coach alongside of him for many years.

“Considering the year before we lost some really strong seniors, we had a lot of sophomores becoming juniors having to step up and take that leadership role,” Osongco said. “We had seniors on last year’s squad. Unfortunately it was their first year on varsity. It was a different year, but for what it was worth, we still were able to make the playoffs. I don’t think it was a bad year.”

Make no mistake, this is a team not to sleep on as it returns five senior starters plus three other seniors. While Osongco hasn’t tabbed a set starting lineup, Jackie Aldana and J’Nae Harrison are probably the two most solid players. Aldana has been a starter since she was a sophomore and Harrison, who is crafty inside the key, can easily score 10-15 points a game. Osongco said they are trying to develop their leadership roles and she is looking for surprises out of her returning players. Arely Lopez is coming back from an ankle injury from the fall league.

“I’m very blessed in that sense, however, again just like our days have been with each other through spring of last year into summer to fall, my expectation as a coach has also grown,” Osongco said of the experience of her team. “I do expect more out of them. I think we’re in the process of them trying to meet [those expectations]. They understand; it’s now them doing it and taking ownership of this team.”

Senior Nayelit Juarez, junior Danielle Tate and sophomores Melanie Arias and Destiny Hurtado are the new players to the team.

Norwalk’s 5-7 league mark of last season is a bit misleading as the team fell to Mayfair twice by a combined seven points and La Mirada by two points. Winning the league title is definitely in Norwalk’s reach.

“I think we have the potential,” Osongco said. “I think we should be up in the upper half of league. Do I know Cerritos is going to be a battle and Mayfar [too]? Yeah. It’s really on these girls and they know it. I do believe that we have a great chance if we do everything right.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN LADY CRUSADERS

11-16 overall last season, 4-4 in the Olympic League, tied for second place in the Olympic League, lost to University Prep 51-43 in the Division IV-A first round playoffs.

Head coach: Dominic Freeman (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 62-79

Last time missed the playoffs: 2013

STARTERS LOST: Amber Binford (4.8 points per game last season), Amanda Chamberlain (10.7 ppg.), Kenna Mageo (4.6 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Hailey Garcia (4.8 ppg.), SR Kate Vande Vegte (2.4 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Cherilyn DeJong, SR Alex Fenderson, SR Nicole Parker, SR Aminah Wright, JR Katy Feller, JR Emma Phieffer

After Valley Christian had a breakout season, winning 10 more games and losing nine fewer contests from the previous season, the Lady Crusaders welcome their third coach in the past four seasons. Dominic Freeman takes over but is no stranger to the area, having been the head coach at Lakewood the past three seasons. Freeman said he was attracted to the new job by V.C.’s culture, morals and values.

“It’s definitely different from where I’m coming from; from the Moore League and obvious Lakewood where we had some success there,” Freeman said. “Coming into a school like Valley Christian, I knew I was getting myself into a position of rebuilding like I did at Lakewood. That’s another attraction that drew me over here.”

The Lady Crusaders lost the bulk of their scoring to graduation but return two solid starters plus half a dozen core players that should give the team its first winning season since 2010-2011. Senior Hailey Garcia could very well double her scoring average while senior Kate Vande Vegte scored a season-high nine points in the first and last games of last season.

“Both of those young ladies bring a lot of leadership qualities that we desperately need,” Freeman said. “And they bring a lot of intensity every day. That’s something that we need, quite frankly.”

Look for senior Alex Fenderson and junior Katy feller to also be big scorers while senior Nicole Parker brings a lot of tenacity on defense. Sophomore Cheyenne McKinnie, a transfer from Long Beach Jordan, and freshman Jai’lynn Parham are the two lone varsity rookies.

V.C. tied for second place in the Olympic League last season, a monster improvement from finishing fifth and fourth the previous two seasons. Winning league, or at least finishing high again, is definitely not out of the realm with six seniors.

“Me being new to the Olympic League, and all of my life I’ve been in the Moore League, I’ve definitely been doing my research and I still haven’t seen all of these teams and [who is] returning,” Freeman said. “We had a second place tie last year and I definitely want to build upon that and shoot for first place. That always should be the goal.”.

WHITNEY LADY WILDCATS

25-4 overall last season, 12-0 in the Academy League, first place, lost to Rosary 49-48 in the Division IV-AA quarterfinals.

Head coach: Jeff Day (third season, 46-9)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 99-37

Last time missed the playoffs: 2010

STARTERS LOST: SO Casey Chu (1.9 points per game last season), Rachel Nagal (21.8 ppg.), Reyna Ta’amu (16.3 ppg.), Allison Tran (3.0)

STARTERS RETURNING: SO Nicole Lee (3.9 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Jihee Lee, JR Annika Brandes, JR Heather Cook

The honeymoon is definitely over for Whitney and head coach Jeff Day as the program moves on without Rachel Nagel and Reyna Ta’amu, arguably two of the best players in school history. The Lady Wildcats were one play away from potentially earning a spot in the state tournament and the fact that the graduating group of last season lost in the quarterfinals three seasons in a row is what stings Day the most. But he is quick to say that the theme of this season is ‘don’t talk about the past’. That also includes the 10 players he thought he would have on varsity this season but are not playing basketball for various reasons.

“We were in one of the tougher divisions,” Day said. “Honestly, I thought we went where I expected us to be. I hoped to go farther. But when you get that far, you’re going to come across some good teams. Rosary was the last place team in their league, but [the Trinity League] is probably the best girls league around.”

Whitney returns just four players but the leader of the team is clearly sophomore Nicole Lee, who was groomed into the starting role for this reason as Day knew he would be graduating Nagel. In fact, Day calls Lee, the team captain, a “mini Rachel” and she will be asked to carry a big load with the lack of depth on the team.

Senior Jihee Lee and junior Annika Brandes combined to score 35 points last season. But the three senior newcomers to varsity-Tushara Govind, Tania Ruiz and Shiraya Thompson- have not lost an Academy League contest as junior varsity members the past three seasons, something Day hopes to continue. Junior Chloe Olvera and freshman LiMei Vera, whom Day says is fundamentally sound, are two other new players.

“With the exception of really Nicole, we have four spots up for grabs,” Day said. “Tania is probably locked into a spot because she’s a center. We don’t have a lot of depth at the post. I have about nine or 10 girls and eight of them are competing against themselves for playing time and their playing against themselves to get better.”

Whitney has not lost a league game since 2010 but going wire to wire again this season will be easier said than done. St. Margaret’s, which was Whitney’s lone league threat last season, lost seven or eight of the nine players on its tea, but Crean Lutheran and Downey Calvary Chapel figure to be much better.

“My goal as a team is to win league,” Day said. “Anything else we do in the preseason is all about trying to get better. We’ll take our whacks playing some bigger schools.”