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2021-2022 GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW – 605 League Wide Open as Teams Get Back to Full Season

 

 

November 18, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

 

Since the 605 League was formed at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, there has been a different league champion for girls basketball each season. First it was Oxford Academy, then Cerritos High and last season, Pioneer High took the top spot. Whitney High has finished in second place the last two seasons but could someone else make it four different league champions in as many seasons? Artesia High, John Glenn High and Valley Christian High have new coaches while Gahr High is looking to rebuild.

ARTESIA PIONEERS

3-12 overall last season, 2-8 in the 605 League, fifth place

Head coach: Mollie Williams (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 55-70

Last time made the playoffs: 2020

DIVISION 4AA

STARTERS LOST: None

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Sha’mira Barnes, SR Jordan Manning, SR Sydney McKee, SR Esja Shriver, JR Samerika Young

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Roxy Ligorria, SR Aminah Roberts, JR Alana Pascua, JR Esperanza Vilda, JR Jaden Vo

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: JR Nyairah Gillet

First-year head coach and former Artesia standout Mollie Williams admitted she did not see herself coaching high school varsity basketball. She was either going to continue to play professional basketball or get some type of coaching job. Williams, who was hired by Artesia shortly before school started in August, had been involved in the high school scene for a brief time on the boys side for her brother and was an assistant at St. Joseph High from 2017-2018. But this is unfamiliar territory for the 2008 graduate of Artesia as far as being a varsity head coach. Williams also played at the University of Washington from 2008-2009 to 2011-2012, recording 501 rebounds and 500 points, and overseas for a few years in different countries upon graduation from UW.

“Coming back to your own stomping grounds to give back is a blessing,” Williams said.

Since Williams graduated from Artesia, the program has gone through seven head coaches and has had one winning season. That came two seasons ago when the Pioneers won the CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA championship, and if there was ever a time for Artesia to win the 605 League and/or capture another championship, it would be this season. The Pioneers, who have 11 players on this season’s team, return 10 from the 2019-2020 squad.

“It’s a big relief,” Williams said of the situation she’s walking into. “We have experience and experience in high school basketball is really big because it’s a step up from coming from middle school or even coming from junior varsity. So, they do have that experience and composure which helps not only our younger kids, but our j.v. players as well.”

Williams said senior Sydney McKee is a phenomenal leader who is also very inspirational and energetic and has a very high ceiling that she just has to go after. The same sentiments go for junior Samerika Young, who was the star in that championship game two seasons ago.

The experience theme continues as five others return, including seniors Roxy Ligorria and Aminah Roberts and junior Esperanza Vilda, Williams says they have made tremendous strides from the beginning of workouts to now, gaining more confidence and an understanding of the game.

“I’m just happy with Aminah,” Williams said. “She’s a very heavy player who is building up her confidence and has a pretty good IQ.”

In terms of Williams’ style of coaching, she said she is going to take her time so that the players can get used to her style and that of her assistant coaches and said that she is there for the players outside of basketball.

“As we lay that foundation, in the short time that we have, we’re going to get up the floor quickly,” she added. “That’s what we’ve been working on; getting up the floor quickly and having that confidence that everyone has to be a threat on the floor, not just one person.”

The Pioneers have not won a league title since the 2004-2005 season and has been to the playoffs five times since that season. The top goal for this season, according to Williams, is to go for a league title and she has been talking to her team about that and getting the players disciplined for a potential league title.

“We have the kids here that want to put in the work,” Williams said. “They’re eager to learn and the fact that they’re still here…actually pulling each other along is magnificent for me.”

CERRITOS DONS

8-9 overall last season, 7-3 in the 605 League, third place, lost to Portola High 76-59 in the Division 3AA first round playoffs

Head coach: Marcus Chinen (eighth season, 112-66)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 85-47

Last time missed the playoffs: 2011

DIVISION 3AA

STARTERS LOST: None

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Jennifer Aguirre, SR Michelle Lee, SR Jasmine Uy, JR Emily Hosoda, SO Onyeka Nwanze

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Hayley Carroll, SR Amara Hizon, SR Leilani Morante, SR Madhuri Suresh, JR Francine Carrillo, JR Alexa Mina

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: To be announced

Cerritos did not have any lower level teams last season and because of that, there were 23 players on varsity. It was a challenge for head coach Marcus Chinen to get all of them in every game, which only happened once.

“Just getting the chance to play was great, I think for everybody,” Chinen said. “I think it was great for the student athletes and it was great for coaches to be back there on the court. I’m sure if you ask any coach out there, it was a blessing to have at least some kind of season; getting to see the kids back on the court doing what they do the best as well as in the classroom.”

Although the Dons finished in third place for the first time since the 2012-2013 season and lost three league games for the second time in the last three seasons, Chinen believes a lot of the league games were close enough that they could have gone either way as opposed to the notion of rest of the league catching up to Cerritos. The team lost a pair of games to Whitney by a combined 10 points, but defeated Oxford Academy by two points on the road and Artesia by six points at home. The Dons also knocked off Pioneer by six points at home after losing to the Titans by 23 points earlier in the season.

“I think it just comes down to all the other teams are starting to get athletes back,” he continued. “They’re starting to get athletes to come to their school. Coaches are starting to spend a lot more time with them and if the chemistry is there, they’re going to be competitive. I just told [my team], let’s just finish in the top three and get to the playoffs.”

There won’t be 23 on the team this season, but of those who re returning, at least six are good enough to find a spot in the starting lineup each night. Senior Amara Hizon was a starter at the beginning of the season before injuring her hand. Senior Jasmine Uy was one of two consistent scorers, reaching double figures seven times and finishing with 132 points. But look for sophomore Onyeka Nwanze to also provide a lot of scoring and rebounding. She led the team with 191 points.

“It’s a good starting five; they’re solid,” Chinen said. “The thing is they need to find that chemistry together, which we didn’t have. In fact, all the other teams didn’t have that. They didn’t have a preseason, they didn’t have a summer and if you want to go further, they didn’t have a spring. I think we had two weeks, I believe, to prep for games.”

Of the returning starters, Chinen said there isn’t one that stands out against the rest; that all five of them are doing a little of everything. So, don’t look for a go-to player. As far as the newcomers to varsity, Chinen did not know as of the second week of November who he was bring up from the junior varsity squad. But he hopes to get his team up to 15 or 16 players.

“I think we’ll be solid; I think we’ll be okay,” Chinen said. “We’ll take some of the hits early in the preseason…and hopefully that will get us ready for the actual 605 League season.”

GAHR GLADIATORS                                                                                               

3-9 overall last season, 2-8 in the San Gabriel Valley League, fifth place

Head coach: Darrell Gillcrese (fourth season, 13-54)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 39-79

Last time made the playoffs: 2017

DIVISION 3A

STARTERS LOST: None

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Cha’nai Richard, JR Brya Arroyo, JR Kameryn Mitchell, JR Alyssa Miyake, JR Lauren Teramoto

OTHERS RETURNING: JR Jasmine Choice, JR Ella Sikma, SO Munveer Sogi

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: SR Mojave-Sole Jordan, JR Franci Chang, JR Deja Dorsey, JR Kim Gutierrez, JR Kaylah Kodua, FR Christine Ho

It was a tough go for Gahr and head coach Darrell Gillcrese, and despite winning three games, the program’s fewest since going 3-21 in the 2002-2003 campaign, he said he just wanted to play and didn’t have expectations on the shorter than usual season. Gillcrese said he went into the season from a teaching standpoint of just teaching kids that if they stay ready, they don’t have to get ready. He added that the goal for the season is to have a growth mindset as there is one senior.

“We’re just trying to see how we can get better,” he continued. “I think it was good for the kid’s morale. Last season, obviously, the pandemic impacted everyone. But we did get a few opportunities and I think it gave kids hope, especially just working through that whole school year and some kids lived to play basketball. So, I thought it was good.”

The Gladiators had 10 on the roster last season and with eight returning players, Gillcrese sees this season as an opportunity to do his best to work everyone in the rotation and give them some experience. Junior Brya Arroyo is the leader of the squad and has the potential to reach 20 points in any game while junior Lauren Teramoto is a good compliment to Arroyo in the scoring department.

“I’m definitely, truly counting on them this season,” Gillcrese said. “I also get back Cha’nai Richard, which she’ll be a three-year starter. She didn’t play during the Covid season, but she’ll come back this year and will give us one senior on the team that will give us some leadership. Alyssa will hopefully be able to stretch the floor a little bit. She’s shown that she’s gotten a lot faster in her decision making, defensively and offensively. She’s going to be the leader; she’s going to be the person who has to make the engine go.”

Senior Mojave-Sole Jordan came to the Gahr program late and didn’t try out for basketball until she was a sophomore. Since then, Gillcrese says he’s been impressed with her ball skills and being able to finish at the basket. Despite some experience, especially from two seasons ago, he added that this season will be a little bit of a challenge, but thinks the team is going to be okay.

As for the season, Gillcrese believes his team is in a place of maturity with Lynwood High and Paramount High leading the San Gabriel Valley League. He’s not sure what Downey High or Warren High looks like, but he knows his team is going to go into each league contest doing its best to improve on the team’s record of the past two seasons and continue to get better.

JOHN GLENN EAGLES

0-10 overall last season, 0-10 in the 605 League, sixth place

Head coach: Eric Peterson (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 35-83

Last time made the playoffs: 2011

DIVISION 4A

STARTERS LOST: Cynthia Almanzar, Priscilla Cardenas, Karina Flores, Kei’Ana Hood, SR Sara Mendoza

STARTERS RETURNING: None

OTHERS RETURNING: None

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: FR Martiza Corona, FR Aaliyah Ramirez

A season after winning 11 games but failing to get to the playoffs for the ninth straight season, Glenn failed to win a league game for the first time since the 2002-2003 season. The Eagles had just six players on the team in the spring, five of whom were seniors with the other one not returning this season. On top of that, Glenn welcomes in the program’s third head coach in the past eight seasons in Eric Peterson.

Peterson was recently the head coach at Long Beach Jordan High, has coached the boys freshmen team at Covina High 20 years ago and travel teams for about 20 years.

“Coaching at John Glenn is going to be challenging because they are a very young team,” Peterson said. “My best players are freshmen.”

The new head coach will field a team of 10 players with half of them sophomores. He lists freshmen Martiza Corona and Aaliyah Ramirez as his key players while Ruby Chavez is the lone senior.

Don’t look for Glenn to be anywhere near the top of the 605 League this season and in fact, Peterson says the Eagles are not ready to be a playoff team yet.

NORWALK LANCERS

8-3 overall last season, 2-2 in the Suburban League, second place, lost to Agoura High 63-47 in the Division 4AA second round playoffs

Head coach: Ashley Baclaan (6th season, 58-54)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 58-54

Last time missed the playoffs:2017

DIVISION 3AA

STARTERS LOST: Brianna Flores, Ariel Garate, JR Aliyah Young

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Denise Cortez, SR Katrina Slaughter

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Marleen Esquival, JR Amanda Rangel, SO Keilani Ganancial

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: SR Makayla Moore

Since the beginning of the 2000-2001 season, Norwalk High has had four head coaches with two of them reaching the second round of the playoffs. One of them is Ashley Baclaan, who has tied Richard Drake for second place on being the longest tenured coach in school history. Could this be the season she gets to the quarterfinals?

Baclaan said last season was kind of hard to take in at times because with Covid and that everything was happening at a fast pace. Even though it was “hectic”, as she put it, she and her team took it day by day and “whatever happened, happened”, adding that it was crazy but fun despite playing only 11 games.

She said the key to her coaching this long has been learning new personalities each year and every year as long as she has been coaching, one of the big lessons she has learned is to constantly adapt because she never knows who she is going to get to play on the varsity team and she never knows who is going to be that spark.

“I’m pretty anxious for it and excited,” Baclaan said of this season. “It’s been a long time coming. I know we were able to get a short season last year, but the fact that we can get in the full season…I’m excited and I know the girls are excited.”

Of the 13 players Baclaan will carry, the Lancers return a pair of senior starters from last season in leading scorer Denise Cortez and Katrina Slaughter along with three other players.

Sophomore Keilani Ganancial was “pretty much like a starting player as a freshman” according to Baclaan and will also help guide the newcomers to varsity. Senior Makayla Moore, who was with Norwalk as a freshman before transferring to Glenn, is back with the purple and gold.

“I’m definitely trying to look at those two to be the senior leaders,” Baclaan said of Cortez and Slaughter. “We are actually pretty old in age, but hopefully with those two, they can help guide the game a little bit more. We have some solid underclassmen as well.”

While Baclaan does not know what to expect from this season’s group, she says she is taking it day by day. Throughout the summer and out of last season, Norwalk was working with a core that had a couple of other players that Baclaan thought would be able to get back for this season but aren’t back.

“With the girls that we did pick up, the girls that we have brought up [from the lower levels] and have been working with, I’m just looking for good competition, and I think they are eager to bring that,” Baclaan said. “I just want the girls to compete no matter what.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN DEFENDERS

11-10 overall, 4-4 in the Olympic League, tied for third place, lost to Ayala High 62-49 in the Division 3A semifinals

Interim head coach: Dan Leffler

Team’s record previous five seasons: 62-72

Last time missed the playoffs: 2019

DIVISION 2A

STARTERS LOST: Jordan Ebalo, Makani Kane

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Gillian Doplemore, SR Samantha Sims, JR Carissa Kamstra

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Keiara Harvey, SR Mia Kandalaft, SR Karon Warren, JR Meghan Patterson

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: FR Chayse Chambers

In a stunning turn of events, last season’s head coach, Anthony Roldan, officially resigned this past Monday to pursue another opportunity and V.C.’s athletic director Dan Leffler was thrown into the fire for the time being. Roldan was the head coach for only one season but took the Defenders to the Division 3A semifinals.

“Obviously it was a whirlwind for us,” Leffler said. “I was a little shocked, to be honest. Anthony spent a lot of time and effort into our program, especially after the season we had last year. Anthony’s work was a lot behind the scenes. He would teach [at V.C.], he was our strength and conditioning coach; he wore a lot of hats. So, it was a pretty huge blow, but he had an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up and I understand that.”

Leffler says he’s known a lot of the players since they were in middle school, so the transition shouldn’t be too difficult. While the Defenders graduated their top two scoring leaders in seniors Jordan Ebalo and Makani Kane, they return three solid starters and four other returning players.

Seniors Gillian Doplemore and Samantha Sims and junior Carissa Kamstra all combined to score 174 points and will have to be the ones to pace V.C. this season. Seniors Keiara Harvey and Karon Warren could also find themselves in the starting lineup most nights to give the team that senior leadership.

“Our work is cut out for us,” Leffler said. “I think we’re fine. We have good athletes, but we have a lot of skill work to do just to make sure that we can actually take care of the ball. That’s where Jordan, and for sure, Makani are deeply missed because we weren’t turning the ball over much when they were here and now, we’re on our heels all the time.

Obviously, [Gillian] has a pretty good motor, so she could run,” he continued. “We’re going to lean on her a little bit. She has great leadership qualities, not just in basketball. She’s a born leader and we’re going to lean on her.”

The future of V.C. girls basketball could begin with freshman Chayse Chambers, the lone ninth grader on the team. While the Defenders may not make another deep run in the playoffs like last season, Leffler believes his team has enough to finish in the top three of the Olympic League. V.C. swept Maranatha High last season, was swept by Heritage Christian High and split with Village Christian High and Whittier Christian High, going 3-1 at home in league play and 8-4 overall at home.

“No, we don’t,” he said of another trip to the semifinals. “I’ve seen the teams, I know the rankings, I know what teams have coming back. I don’t think we’ll make that kind of run because I don’t think we have that kind of leadership.”

WHITNEY WILDCATS

10-7 overall last season, 8-2 in the 605 League, second place, lost to Ayala 54-43 in the Division 3A first round playoffs

Head coach: Myron Jacobs (third season, 24-21)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 76-54

Last time missed the playoffs: 2010

DIVISION 3AA

STARTERS LOST: Kimberly Hosoda, Julianna Lee, Makenna Yokoyama

STARTERS RETURNING: JR Layla Lacorte, SO Kylie Wang

OTHERS RETURNING: JR Kayla Hamakawa, JR Anika Kasula, JR Rachel Song, SO Alyssa Truong

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: SR Haley Lavador, FR Haylie Wang

The short spring season didn’t seem to bother Whitney or head coach Myron Jacobs as the Wildcats had a strong performance in the 605 League. Jacobs went as far to say he thought the Wildcats had their best senior corps last year, which included the graduating trio of Kimberly Hosoda, Julianna Lee and Makenna Yokoyama, along with the return of junior Layla Lacorte and an up and coming player in sophomore Kylie Wang. He added that he thought he had some good girls who came back for the Covid season that already knew what the coaching staff wanted to do.

“I think it was just a matter of getting into the gym,” Jacobs said of having a spring season. “That’s all it was. Basketball is like muscle memory. You might not be in shape, but once you get a couple of weeks in the gym, it kind of all comes back to you. I was very thankful that we were able to have a season mainly because I wanted my seniors to end on a good note.”

If the Wildcats are to win the 605 League, they will have earned it with only eight players this season, five of them having varsity experience and with varsity rookie Haley Lavador as the lone senior. But even with the five returning players, Jacobs is quick to say that this is a rebuilding year because a lot of the players are still learning.

“We have eight girls that play hard and will give me everything they have out on the court,” Jacobs said. “We will try and do our best. I teach my girls every year that we can do whatever we want if we put that work in. Hard work beats talent any day, but we have to work hard, push each other and I believe we will be somewhere around the top three. Our team motto is one team, one dream.”

Sophomore Kylie Wang is the team’s leading returning player and scored 146 points in 17 games last season. Junior Layla Lacorte is the only other returner that scored in double figures. Look for freshman Haylie Wang to be the school’s next up and coming star.

“Layla’s game has really grown; she has come a long way from her freshman year,” Jacobs said. “Her confidence has grown this summer. Kylie Wang is a talent that’s just getting started. Kylie is a versatile kid that can score anywhere on the floor. She can guard any position on the floor and has improved her shot. But she has been working on many other things. I will go into battle any day, any time with these two girls.”

Jacobs said that his expectations this season are to get better as the season goes on and to try and get back to the playoffs, As for a league title, he knows that Cerritos and Pioneer High will be tough but the team to watch out for is Artesia.

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