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2018-2019 GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW NEW COACHES, FIRST-YEAR LEAGUE WITH INTRIGUING COMPETITION HEADLINE AREA TEAMS

 

BY LOREN KOPFF

@LORENKOPFF ON TWITTER

Not only will a trio of area teams see the recent champions of the former Academy League the favorites of the new 605 League, but three other area teams welcome new coaches. The 2018-2019 season figures to be one of uncertainties early as most teams will field young squads. 

ARTESIA LADY PIONEERS

8-16 overall last season, 0-12 in the Suburban League, seventh place

Head coach: Shontya Pouncey (fourth full season, fifth overall, 26-101)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 26-101

Last time made the playoffs: 2012

STARTERS LOST: SR Kathy Gonzalez (3.7 points per game last season), SR Odalis Ramirez (3.5 ppg.), Jessica Tibayan (6.5 ppg. in 21 games), Cassidy Valle-Martinas (15.6 ppg. In 18 games)

STARTERS RETURNING: JR Tina Labib

OTHERS RETURNING: JR Siera Roberts, SO Mariah Jarnat (3.9 ppg.)

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: SO Sei Oriana Monis, FR Sydney McKee

Artesia High was on its way to possibly making some noise in the Suburban League last season, bolting out to an 8-4 start. But injuries plagued the team in January and February and just like that, head coach Shontya Pouncey was staring at a winless league campaign. Last season’s record was the best Artesia has had since the 2011-2012 season. The best chance for the Lady Pioneers to advance to the CIF-Southern Section may have come and gone for now, but that is not discouraging Pouncey.

“Just like normal, the preseason went really good,” Pouncey said. “The kids played really, really well and gelled together. We had a key injury to our best player who ended up having an ACL tear in the Norwalk game. We don’t really have two’s ever, and the two’s [last season] did the best they could. They played really well from what we had.”

As for this season’s team, Pouncey said, ‘this is going to be the best team I’ve had in all the years I’ve been here’. Despite losing the bulk of the scoring from 2018 graduates Cassidy Valle-Martinas and Jessica Tibayan, Pouncey added that there will be depth in this season’s team despite only three returning players.

“Having Cassidy was a dream,” Pouncey said. “She was one of the best female players I’ve ever coached. I’ve had some pretty good girls at Cypress, but this girl was by far a pure shooter and that’s the part that bugs me the most. No one really knows how great she can shoot because there was always one or two people right in her face. But her leadership has actually spilled over into this year.

“Normally it would be [a concern], and that’s to anybody,” Pouncey continued as far as the lack of varsity experience. “I’m pretty sure. But this group is pretty young, and they love each other. They don’t even like each other; they love each other and so that makes a big difference. And they hold each other accountable. They make each other work.”

He said he is not really concerned about wins and losses, but that he just wants the team to compete in every game and to get to nine or 10 wins would be a success in his eyes.

“It’s going to be tough for us,” Pouncey said. “We were looking forward to playing in the Suburban League and actually winning games in the Suburban League. We played Bellflower in the summer probably three or four times and beat them every time.”

CERRITOS LADY DONS

24-5 overall last season, 12-0 in the Suburban League, league champions, lost to Flintridge Prep 60-47 in the Division 3A quarterfinals

Head coach: Marcus Chinen (fifth season, 78-34)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 99-40

Last time missed the playoffs: 2011

STARTERS LOST: Allyson Hayakawa, Tracey Nakamura (6.8 points per game last season), Kalea Trias

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Lindsay Fujihiro (7.8 ppg.), JR Minh-Thy Vo (10.2 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Hannah Carroll, SR Cindy Hantragoon, SR Iris Lee, SR Jenna Ono, SR Alyxe Tamaki (4.6 ppg.), JR Sierra Barnett, JR Alyson Chang, JR Kamsi Okere (5.4 ppg.), JR Kari Orr, JR Alyssa Saragumba

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: SR Laine Misaka, JR Megan Ramos, SO Richere Law

Cerritos High closed out its final season in the Suburban League with a championship. But as the Lady Dons move into the 605 League, there will be a new rival that figures to be the favorites this season-Oxford Academy. Still, the Lady Dons return a lot and figure to do no worse than second place. 

Head coach Marcus Chinen says the team will continue to work hard and be competitive this season and that the goal is to continue the dream from last season.

Junior Minh-Thy Vo surprised many last season, leading the team in scoring despite being a starter for the half the season. But she is expected to miss most, if not, all the season because of an injury. The Lady Dons, though, are stacked with enough talent to push Oxford Academy for a league title. 

“Losing Minh-Thy for the season is a huge loss for this team,” Chinen said. “She did a little of everything for us on both ends of the court and I look forward to having her back on the court next year.

With Vo out of the lineup, look for seniors Hannah Carroll and Lindsay Fujihiro to have banner seasons and expect senior Alyxe Tamaki and junior Kamsi Okere to produce even more in the scoring department.

While Chinen says he will miss the battles with Bellflower High, La Mirada High, Mayfair High and Norwalk High, he is excited and looking forward to the new battles with Oxford Academy, Pioneer High and Whitney High.

GAHR LADY GLADIATORS

11-13 overall last season, 4-6 in the San Gabriel Valley League, fourth place

Head coach: Nelson Herrera (first season) 

Team’s record previous five seasons: 62-68

Last time made the playoffs: 2017

STARTERS LOST: Naomi Ellis (11.8 points per game last season, Angelina Jacobe (2.0 ppg.), Kimya Oliver (6.0 ppg.), Dezirae Smith (11.2 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: JR Clarissa Heredia (9.2 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Claindaire Francisco, JR Jasmine Ford, JR De’Aja Newborn, JR Kayla Miyaki

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: JR Mia Magno, FR Cha’Nai Richard

Nelson Herrera, who previously coached at Savanna High with the boys and also coached at Villa Park High, replaces Rob Godwin as Gahr High’s new head coach and brings with him 20 years of head coaching experience. The Lady Gladiators were a game away from advancing to the playoffs, but despite not moving on, there were still some high points.

“I’m not going to say it was disappointing,” said Gahr assistant coach Darell Gillcrese. “Obviously, we underachieved, but we’ve learned from that. We have a lot of new, young players coming in. So, we’re kind of focused on the next season, which is this season. We gave those girls an opportunity to make a change and make a difference.”

The Lady Gladiators return one starter in junior Clarissa Heredia, and four other players who didn’t get a lot of playing time. So, the success of Gahr’s season will run through Heredia, but not 100 percent. Gahr will field a team of 10 and the possibilities of a long season are out there.

“I think Clarissa is coming into her own,” Gillcrese said. “She has a couple of years of experience playing varsity, picking up the pace. She’s become a really huge leader on our team right now. We have a pretty heavy junior class. This year is our rebuild year.”

Gahr lost seven seniors last season and will have only two seniors this season. Needless to say, Gahr will be battle tested. Juniors De’Aja Newborn and Kayla Miyaki have made the biggest improvements over the offseason and junior Mia Magno is a solid shooter and is ready to play, according to Gillcrese. He added that she has shown consistency as the Lady Gladiators are going to spread the floor a little bit. 

“We have to come out there and play the game,” Gillcrese said. “Obviously the one good thing is we do have some unknown players. But the game is not won in the first quarter; it’s not won in the second quarter. It’s won in the fourth quarter. I feel like those [San Gabriel Valley League] coaches we play against will make some adjustments and that will require us to make some adjustments. But what I can say is you’re not going to see the same style of basketball that you’re used to seeing from Gahr.”

JOHN GLENN LADY EAGLES

13-15 overall last season, 4-8 in the Suburban League, fifth place

Head coach: Ruben Guerrero (second season, 13-15)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 30-102

Last time made the playoffs: 2011

STARTERS LOST: Karina Gomez (6.4 points per game last season), Dalilah Mendoza (9.6 ppg.), Kaylin Meno (3.6 ppg.), SR Paola Ramirez (4.1 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Denise Cardenas

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Berenice Santana, JR Dominique Harrison

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: JR Hannah Cantu, JR Ashley Sanchez, JR Perla Santana, SO Cynthia Almanzar, SO Karina Flores, SO Kei’ana Hood, SO Priscila Cardenas

Another team that might struggle this season is John Glenn High which, like Artesia, had a solid beginning to its season but tailed off during Suburban League play. Head coach Ruben Guerrero, who doubles as the boys head coach, says the girls program was in dire need of something good.

“I believe the December that we had kind of had the girls buy into it a little bit more than what they were used to,” Guerrero said. “With them, having only two wins the year prior and finally them doubling or tripling their wins just in the month of December, the girls’ attitudes and everything was changing. You could see them feeling better about themselves.”

The Lady Eagles return only three players, and one of them is a starter. Scoring has been a problem for the program in recent years and for Glenn to have a better season, more will be expected out of seniors Denise Cardenas and Berenice Santana and junior Dominique Harrison. Guerrero says that Santana has become more of a vocal leader this year.

“With them, they stuck with us through spring and summer,” Guerrero said of his returning players. “Berenice has really come long on the offensive side. She’s starting to develop a little mid-range shot; getting more aggressive to the basket. She’s come a long way since last year.”

Senior Jessica Valdez, who would have been another returner, tore her ACL and will be lost for the season. According to Guerrero, junior guard Perla Santana will be very tenacious on the defensive side of the ball and sophomore guard Cynthia Almanzar is very aggressive to the basket and has a very high basketball IQ.

“I’ve been coaching a number of years and I’ve had a lot of setbacks and letdowns,” Guerrero said. “I really don’t try to put all my eggs in one basket. So, I just coach whoever is in front of me and I just leave it at that. Paola would have been a great help, but at the same time, she didn’t do spring basketball, she didn’t do summer basketball and she didn’t do fall basketball.”

Guerrero says he hopes this season’s team can have another strong start that will lead to a better league season. But with Cerritos, Oxford Academy and Whitney the favorites to finish in the top three, the Lady Eagles will need even a better performance in January than the one they hope to get in December.

“I hope so; that’s the plan,” Guerrero said. “But anything can happen from here to the end of the season. Right now we’re just focusing on winning our practices and trying to win the next game.”

NORWALK LADY LANCERS

13-12 overall last season, 7-5 in the Suburban League, third place, lost to Arroyo High 44-35 in the Division 4A first round playoffs

Head coach: Ashley Baclaan (third season, 24-25)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 57-70

Last time missed the playoffs: 2017

STARTERS LOST: Angie Aldana (10.0 points per game last season), Bjanka Torres (9.0 ppg.), 

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Destiny Goodloe (7.1 ppg.), SR Alexis Molina, SR Annie Valele (4.0 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Idaly Gonzalez, SR Priscilla Martinez, SR Citlalli Mendez, SO Brianna Flores (3.8 ppg.), SO Ariel Garate

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: JR Melanie Camarena, JR Joana Galan, JR Nya Johnson, JR Leilany Mosqueda, JR Katelyn Napier, JR Clarissa Perez

Norwalk High returned to the playoffs after a two-season absence and head coach Ashley Baclaan hopes to have the same, or even better success for this season, despite the Suburban League being cut from seven to four teams.

“Actually, I was pretty proud of last season,” Baclaan said. “I think we improved a bit more than [last year]. We finished third, which is an improvement and the girls got to [play] in a playoff game. I was pleased with last year’s improvement.”

This will be one of more experienced teams Norwalk has had in recent years. Senior Destiny Goodloe has the ability to score in double figures while senior Annie Valele is a force on the glass. Baclaan said she was very pleased with how sophomores Brianna Flores and Ariel Garate played last season as varsity rookies. She said that any of the five other returning players could make their way into the starting lineup with Goodloe, Valele and senior Alexis Molina.

“I think they have all improved well in their own roles,” Baclaan said. “Not only the returning three, but all the other girls have improved well enough to where they could possibly pick up the slack if they just play their game right.

“If anything, I hope we can start off at least defensively,” she later said. “With the scoring of Angie and Bjanka last year, and I know that’s going to be big to fill…everybody just needs to contribute in order to fill [the void].”

Norwalk now has a chance to finish as high as second place as Mayfair High figures to be the favorites. But with four teams in the league, there is no margin for error as the top two teams get automatic berths to the playoffs.

“It’s weird because I even played in the Suburban League [and] I’m very traditional,” Baclaan said. “So, going from seven [teams] to four is awkward. 

WHITNEY LADY WILDCATS

17-11 overall last season, 8-4 in the Academy League, third place, lost to Don Lugo High 54-37 in the Division 4AA first round playoffs

Head coach: Rachel Nagel (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 80-51

STARTERS LOST: Deja Forest

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Christine Hamakawa (10.8 points per game last season), SR Justine Wu (10.4 ppg.), JR Janelle Ho (5.5 ppg.), SO Julianna Lee (6.2 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Kiana Sanchez, SR Valaree Villegas, SO Kim Hosada (4.0 ppg.)

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: SR Sravya Sankar, SO Makenna Yokoyama, FR Eliana Amanuel

One of the most prolific players ever to put on a Whitney High uniform is now the new head coach as Rachel Nagel replaces Jeff Day at the helm. Nagel, a 2014 graduate, was an Academy League most valuable player all four seasons before taking her talents to University of California, Davis, where she scored 1,077 points, grabbed 417 rebounds, dished out 186 assists, hit 172 three-pointers and had 108 steals in college. Nagel became the head coach in June and said she originally knew she was moving back to Southern California after graduating from UC Davis. Through talks with Day, he informed her that he was stepping down due to several responsibilities. Nagel told him she wanted to help but as the talks continued, she agreed to be the head coach.

“I think it’s incredibly special to get to come back to my alma mater,” Nagel said. “So, it definitely brings back a lot of memories and I just want to be able to share any knowledge that I’ve gathered from playing at this school, and then playing in college to the players.”

Nagel said she learned Day’s poise while playing at Whitney and will use that as a head coach and will learn not to get flustered but instead let the game come to her and the players. Nagel will inherit a team that returns four starters, highlighted by senior Christine Hamakawa who is better than her 10.8 points per game average. Hamakawa is a shorter version of Nagel when she was playing but feels Hamakawa is faster than she was when she was playing and reads the court better. Nagel also thinks she’s a better point guard that she was and has a great ability to shoot the ball and score even though she’s not the tallest player on the court. 

As far as the rest of the team, the new head coach said every day, a different player has impressed her either in summer games or in practice and that the starting lineup will change throughout the season depending on the opponent.

Senior Justine Wu is a great compliment for Hamakawa while junior Janelle Ho and sophomores Kim Hosada and Julianna Lee have been stellar in their earlier years as varsity members. Nagel says senior Sravya Sankar will be a post presence for Whitney.

“All of the girls are really close, which I think creates a family environment,” Nagel said. “I just wanted to give credit, especially to the seniors because I actually coached them when they were in middle school, too. I knew from that day that they were a special group. I think it will be a great season for them having all five seniors playing together and bringing all the pieces together.”

While at Whitney and under three different head coaches Nagel helped her teams compile a 91-20 record, including 40-0 in the now-defunct Academy League and advance to the quarterfinals three straight seasons. While Nagel remembers what life was in the Academy League, she’s pleased to be in the 605 League, which is better for many reasons.

“That’s a major factor for us,” Nagel said. “I remember playing and having to drive two to two and a half hours to go to Sage Hill or San Juan Capistrano. It’s tolling on a player to have to travel that far and then sit and watch the [lower level] games and then get yourself hyped up.”

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