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By Loren Kopff
The Cerritos High girls basketball team is in a favorable position as it tries to defend its Suburban League championship of last season. While the Lady Dons return eight players, the other area league teams will field squads that lack in varsity experience. Gahr High hopes its returning starters can give Lynwood High a run for its money for the top spot in the San Gabriel Valley League while Valley Christian High and Whitney High hope to rebound from subpar campaigns.
5-21 overall last season, 1-11 in the Suburban League, tied for sixth place
Head coach: Dan Galvan (first full season, 3-23)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 26-98
Last time made the playoffs: 2012
STARTERS LOST: Keina Harris (7.0 points per game), Celeste Martin (1.6 ppg.), Onica Yu (5.6 ppg.)
STARTERS RETURNING: SO Cesilia Cabrera (1.4 ppg.), SR Zharia Simmons (4.7 ppg.)
OTHERS RETURNING: JR Taryn Davis, JR Denise Fuentes, SO Riley Woolf
Two seasons ago, Artesia High was co-coached by Dan Galvan and Shonyta Pouncey. Now, Galvan assumes the title all by himself and tries to turn around a program that has won two Suburban League games in three seasons and has failed to win at least 12 games in six of the past seven seasons.
“We have the nucleus in terms of players coming back,” Galvan said. “They’re not great but they’ve got two years with us. So, they’ve learned and they have a little more experience and they know what to expect.”
Galvan would be talking about his five returning players, led by senior Zharia Simmons, who has the speed, experience and knowledge to be the leader of the Pioneers this season. Galvan says Simmons has come a long way since May and June to now in terms of learning with the kids who are not as talented as her.
Scoring was a major issue as the Pioneers failed to score more than 30 points in any league game. None of the returning players besides Simmons scored more than seven points in any game. Artesia was more of a half-court team last year but will run more this year and add speed to over trap the fast break more often.
Juniors Cynthia Calderas, Samantha Cruz, who transferred in late last year from the Philippines and Marisa Gracian as well as freshmen Julia Calderas and Vanessa Vasquez are new to the varsity team. Galvan thinks they’ll mesh better and they’re not afraid to take on the responsibility on themselves. Because of that, Galvan doesn’t think they’ll look to Simmons as much to do everything.
“Obviously we’re not expecting to go after a league title,” Galvan said. “But we like our chances of competing for that last playoff spot. We think we have enough to get there and it’s going to come down to eligibility and academics and the amount of effort they put in.”
CERRITOS LADY DONS
20-8 overall last season, 11-1 in the Suburban League, league champions, lost to Colony 46-44 in the Division II-A second round playoffs
Head coach: Marcus Chinen (second season, 20-8)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 69-61
Last time missed the playoffs: 2011
STARTERS LOST: Taylor Hirata (10.5 points per game), Alyssa Movchan (13.3 ppg.)
STARTERS RETURNING: SR Tatiana Fominyam (10.3 ppg.), JR Ifeoma Okoli (5.9 ppg.), JR Cailey Vitug (8.5 ppg.)
OTHERS RETURNING: SR Narissa Hantragoon, SR Ala Tui, JR Teresa Torres, SO Tracy Nakamura, SO Kalea Trias
The best team in the area last season is hungry for more and with the talent coming back, the Lady Dons could go back to back in winning a Suburban League title. Head coach Marcus Chinen guided Cerritos High to its first league crown since 2008 when the Lady Dons went 19-8 overall and 11-1 in the circuit. Chinen said the players adjusted well with the new coaches, new voices and new philosophy last season and every girl was very coachable and eager and willing to go out and do anything to get a victory.
“It was a dream season,” Chinen said. “I had a chance to coach a couple of players I had coached their freshmen summer. So, it’s kind of good to close that chapter and finish out the season with them. We were successful and now it’s the rebuilding part.”
He would be talking about Taylor Hirata and Alyssa Movchan, who combined to score close to 24 points a game last season. But, the three returning starters all put in a little over the total that Hirata and Movchan had and with the other five returning players who got some playing time last season, the immediate future still looks very bright for Cerritos.
“That’s a big hit,” Chinen said of his recent graduates. “There’s 23 points combined per game and that’s hard to replace. But hopefully we can get some of the girls to step up and take that shooting spot and whatever they gave us on defense. We’re going to miss those two but we do have to move on. As far as the three returning, I’m going to ask for big minutes from those three. Tati and Ifeoma hopefully understand our philosophy. They’re going to have to go in there and they’re going to have to really rebound and get the points in the paint for us.”
Senior Kayla Katsuda got called up from the junior varsity team towards the end of the regular season and could possibly move into the one spot while junior Cailey Vitug might occupy the two. Look for senior Narissa Hantragoon and junior Teresa Torres as the other possible starters. Seniors Flora Arbas and Allison Edquid, who were on varsity two seasons ago but moved to junior varsity last season by choice, Ivy Jung and Kate Kato are the other newcomers to the squad.
With a big target on its back, Cerritos isn’t taking anything for granted, even though it won its 11 league contest by an average of 28 points and lost to Mayfair by five points.
“I think any time a team wins league or they’re successful with a first-year coach, teams are going to come at you,” Chinen said. “I have to keep reminding these girls that that was last year and this is this year. And this year is a different season with different players out there and they’re going to have to adjust to that really quick.”
12-15 overall last season, 3-7 in the San Gabriel Valley League, tied for fourth place, lost to South Hills 76-41 in the Division III-AA first round playoffs
Head coach: Robert Godwin (first season)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 80-62
Last time missed the playoffs: 2014
STARTERS LOST: Klarice Rios (2.4 points per game), JR Breanna Smith (5.3 ppg.)
STARTERS RETURNING: SR Angelica Soltis (15.4 ppg.), JR Lauren Magno (5.0 ppg.), JR Alana Soltis (10.4 ppg.)
OTHERS RETURNING: SR Sara Awada, SR Jheanine Carlyle, SO Nori Smith
New head coach Robert Godwin said it best when he described his promotion ‘as if nothing ever changed’. Godwin replaces David Garcia and will be coaching varsity girls basketball for the first time. He had been Gahr High’s assistant varsity coach the past two seasons and before that, coached Gahr’s freshmen/sophomore team for three seasons and its junior varsity squad for two seasons. Godwin hopes to get the Gladiators out of that fourth position in the San Gabriel Valley League where they had been the past two seasons.
“I definitely appreciate the opportunity of becoming the new varsity head coach,” Godwin said. “I’ve been around here for nine years now. So, I’ve worked my way up from the lower levels. I’ve put in the hours to get that opportunity.”
The Gladiators will also have a ton of experience in the starting lineup highlighted by sisters Alana and Angelica Soltis, the latter being one of four upperclassmen on the team. Both sisters are true sharp-shooters and as long as they can continue to score, Gahr will be in the win column a lot. According to Godwin, over the last year, Angelica has added to her game by driving to the basket. Alana has expanded her game by shooting more from the outside. He’s also looking for junior Lauren Magno to be the team general on the court.
“Those three coming back, we expect a lot out of them this year,” Godwin said. “They’ve matured over the last few years, so they know exactly what we’re trying to get done as a team this year.”
The other three returning players combined to score 108 points last season and with the additions of sophomore Naomi Ellis and freshman Hannah Kumiyama, who are slated to slide into the starting lineup, this has the makings of another explosive offensive team. Godwin says Ellis and Kumiyama already came in with a high basketball IQ. But he also expects everyone to contribute and needs everyone to step up more because team will play a lot faster
The other new varsity players are senior Stephanie Herrera, juniors Vaesala Lesatele and Marceya Vernardo and sophomores Angelina Jacobe and Dezirae Smith.
“If we don’t get at least the third spot then to me it would be a disappointment to the season,” Godwin said. “To me I believe we can actually be better than last year. I’m trying to do a lot more than we did last year.”
JOHN GLENN LADY EAGLES
6-21 overall last season, 1-11 in the Suburban League, tied for sixth place
Head coach: Christina Hernandez (second season, 6-21)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 45-89
Last time made the playoffs: 2011
STARTERS LOST: Seayanna Crawford (2.5 points per game), Ana Zavala (3.9 ppg.)
STARTERS RETURNING: SR Natalie Cardenas (5.0 ppg.), JR Saurianna Harrison (2.2 ppg.), JR Vanessa Rouse (4.9 ppg.)
OTHERS RETURNING: None
After watching Linda Parra coach the Lady Eagles for 12 seasons, Christina Hernandez took over and endured a very trying season. Although she hopes the team can rebound from a disappointing six-win campaign, the health of a pair of its starters will dictate how John Glenn High will do.
“I think you learn a lot just about how the league is run or the competitors or the more elite teams that we faced,” Hernandez said. “You learn a lot from it and we took a lot as far as our inexperience from our wins and losses. My goal, in our win record, was to improve. The year before, we had four wins. So we improved by two. It’s a slow progress; we knew that we were rebuilding. Overall, it was a great learning experience.”
Glenn returns only three players but senior Natalie Cardenas has been battling ankle injuries and was on crutches at the team’s recent alumni game. She scored at least 10 points five times last season and when healthy, will be a major force. The same goes for junior Vanessa Rouse, who missed the last two games last season because of an injury. Those two are capable of scoring in double digits as is junior Saurianna Harrison.
“Natalie’s and Vanessa’s seasons are going to be determined on how healthy they can stay,” Hernandez said. “A lot of that is the pre and postgame activities to the stretching and following up. [Natalie] had an ankle injury earlier in the week and then she injured the other ankle. They need to recover when they need to recover and they need to do all of the follow-up that goes with it in order to stay healthy for the season.”
Seniors Kirsten Mendoza, Maggie Najera and Leslie Rodriguez, junior Gloria Hernandez and sophomores Karina Gomez, Savannah Madrid, a post player who is the same height as Cardenas, Dalilah Mendoza and Kaylin Meno are added to the varsity roster. Don’t expect the Lady Eagles to make a lot of noise this season. But at the same time, opponents shouldn’t sleep on what might be a playoff contender by next season.
“We had about seven seniors last year, so we knew regardless this year, we were going to be rebuilding no matter what the experience was,” Christina Hernandez said. “The way we run our program, we are always an underdog. But it doesn’t mean that we are necessarily out of that playoff image because a lot times in the years past, people have looked at our team and said, ‘well, you don’t have this, this and this’. We can surprise a lot of people. I think this team is capable of surprising people, even more so than last year’s team.”
NORWALK LADY LANCERS
15-12 overall last season, 8-4 in the Suburban League, third place, lost to La Sierra 52-29 in the Division III-AA first round playoffs
Head coach: Emily Osongco (third season, 25-26)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 79-56
Last time missed the playoffs: 2007
STARTERS LOST: Jackie Aldana (6.3 points per game), J’Nae Harrison (11.8 ppg.), Arely Lopez, Megan Nolasco (4.0 ppg.), Monica Pineda (3.8 ppg.)
STARTERS RETURNING: None
OTHERS PRETURNING: SR Danielle Tate (5.8 ppg.), SR Mele Valele, JR Melanie Arias, JR Destiny Hurtado
After graduating nine players last season, head coach Emily Osongco admitted this will have to be her most patient year. She said Norwalk High had been spoiled to have those seniors for so long but now the Lady Lancers will see what they have with no starters coming back and only four players from last season.
“It was a good year but having that amount of seniors, expectations were high,” Osongco said. “But overall, the girls enjoyed the season. We went to the playoffs. Is it somewhere where we want to go again” Yes, of course. But we’re definitely in a growing stage.”
Without a doubt, seniors Danielle Tate and Mele Valele will be the leaders. Tate started at least five games last season and scored in all but two games. Valele stood at 5’ 9’ last season and will be a solid rebounding presence.
“Those two are put in a different situation because they’ve learned with the [previous] seniors and didn’t have to take that [leadership] role,” Osongco said. “That too is a learning adjustment just from not being starters. There’s a lot of growth that needs to happen there as well.”
The Lady Lancers are already a bit behind most of the other teams as Osongco had to take on the newcomers late and didn’t have them all summer. New to varsity will be seniors Johanna Barraza and Beverly Lopez, juniors Chardonee Keith and Crystal Lambey, sophomores Angie Aldana, Alyssandra Lopez, Lizbeth Ruiz and Bjanka Torres and freshman Annie Valele.
In the past five seasons, Norwalk has finished anywhere from first to fourth in league and the program has won at least 10 games in eight straight seasons. This team has the potential of challenging Cerritos and Mayfair High for the top spots in the Suburban League. But the newcomers will have to gel with the four returning players.
“Obviously those two programs are very strong programs and they’ve always been in the past,” Osongco said. “Again, each program presents something a little different as far as Cerritos with the quickness and the shooting. And then you have Mayfair with the height and the athleticism. They always offer something.”
VALLEY CHRISTIAN LADY CRUSADERS
12-14 overall last season, 2-6 in the Olympic League, tied for fourth place
Head coach: Dominic Freeman (second season, 12-14)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 50-85
Last time made the playoffs: 2014
STARTERS LOST: Alex Fenderson (4.7 points per game), Hailey Garcia (3.5 ppg.), Kate Vande Vegte (7.0 ppg.)
STARTERS RETURNING: SR Katy Feller (7.7 ppg.), JR Cheyenne McKinnie (11.0 ppg. in 12 games)
OTHERS RETURNING: SR Elexis Carr, JR Sahana Oglesby, JR Jai’Lynn Parham
For the third time in the last four seasons, the Lady Crusaders failed to make the playoffs. All three times were with a different head coach, including Dominic Freeman, who saw his first Valley Christian High team stumble despite having a well-balanced team of seniors, juniors and sophomores.
“It was disappointing, mainly for the girls,” Freeman said. “We had a lot of girls who made a big time commitment when I first stepped on campus and they really worked hard. It was mainly seeing the disappointment on the girls’ faces just knowing that we weren’t able to finish what we wanted to finish here. But it has definitely given us a lot of motivation to come back and do a better job this time around.”
Now, the Lady Crusaders are faced with the reality of fielding a team of nine players with five of them returning. Two key components will be senior Katy Feller, a threat from the outside, and junior Cheyenne McKinnie, who sat out the first month of last season due to the transfer rule. But when she was eligible to play, she made an immediate impact and scored 13 points in her V.C. debut against Whittier Christian High.
“They are definitely two of our leaders and we definitely expect them to come back,” Freeman said. “They’re definitely motivated from last year and they have come back with a vengeance with a great summer and a great fall. They’ve really stepped up with their practice habits and are more vocal. We’re hoping they can build on what they did last year.”
Senior Elexis Carr and junior Sahana Oglesby did score for more than half of last season and are expected to complement Feller and McKinnie. Freeman says Carr will play big minutes and will have to showcase her scoring leadership and has the ability to shoot from outside. The team will be extremely young with three freshmen-Calla Anderson, Larren Crawford and Ariel Gordon. Junior Katelyn Seymour is a transfer from Warren High whom Freeman is trying to transition from post to guard.
V.C. went from last place in the Olympic League to second and then fourth last season. The potential is there to clinch one of the three automatic playoff berths instead of hoping for an at-large berth which barely eluded the team last season.
“We’re taking it as we’re still going forward,” Freeman said. “Every girl who steps on that court is fully capable of going out there and getting the job done. Those are our expectations. We tell the girls we have high expectations here and we’re not going to lower them.”
WHITNEY LADY WILDCATS
11-13 overall last season, 6-6 in the Academy League, tied for third place, lost to St. Paul 56-24 in the Division IV-A second round playoffs
Head coach: Jeff Day (fourth season, 57-22)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 102-33
Last time missed the playoffs: 2010
STARTERS LOST: Jihee Lee (3.0 points per game), Shiraya Thompson (4.7 ppg.)
STARTERS RETURNING:SR Annika Brandes (3.0 ppg.), JR Nicole Lee (10.2 ppg.), SO LiMei Vera
OTHERS RETURNING: SR Heather Cook
After going undefeated in the Academy League for four straight seasons, head coach Jeff Day saw the Lady Wildcats finish at .500 in the circuit. According to Day, the girls were amazingly more satisfied with the fact that they were the only league team to win a playoff game than winning league. But Day thought Whitney High would win a few more league games despite having a team of 10 players, one of whom started on the junior varsity squad.
“I wasn’t pleased with our record because we should have won at least three more league games than we did,” Day said. “We lost to Sage Hill [High] twice and we lost to Crean Lutheran [High] at the end; we missed a shot at the buzzer to beat them. And we lost one at St. Margaret’s. With the exception of Calvary [Chapel Downey High], which beat us bad in the last game, and Crean the first time, I thought we should have been 10-2 in league.”
Whitney will return four players but none is more important than junior Nicole Lee, who filled in the shoes of the graduated Rachel Nagel. Lee was the only consistent scorer and reached at least 20 points three times. She scored in double figures 12 times while the rest of the team combined to do that six other times. She is the face of the team right now and as she goes, so does the team.
“Nicole is our leader and she’s been our leader,” Day said. “It’s been rubbing off from Rachel very quickly. Plus, Nicole was around Rachel in the seventh and eighth grade because Rachel helped with the middle school stuff we have here. Whatever you ask of her, she’s around. She’s positive, she’s matured a lot in the past three years.”
The other pleasant surprise came from sophomore LiMei Vera, who was brought up at the tail end of last December and played quite well in league play. Her breakout game was a 22-point performance at Crean Lutheran High on Feb. 7.
Day will have nine players on the team with sophomore Caitlin Cheung, who will be the starting center, and freshmen Christine Hamakawa, another possible starter, slated to play a lot/ Freshmen Kiana Sanchez, who will play the three or be a swing player, Valaree Villegas, who according to Day is the best ninth grade athlete at the school and Justine Wu, who will start at the two or three, are the other varsity rookies.
Day added that the league is not very big and a lot of teams lost a lot of players. Four of the seven schools only have a varsity squad with only Calvary Chapel Downey, Oxford Academy and Whitney fielding junior varsity teams. Day sees Whitney finishing anywhere from first to fifth.
“The freshmen all play basketball,” Day said. “Have they played high school varsity basketball? No. But three of the four freshmen for sure have played basketball for a long time in very competitive leagues. They can play at our level in our league. They can play and the way I look at it is, I get them for four years, not two years or three years. So it’s a huge positive.”
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