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2022-2023 GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW – Pair of area teams to stay at top of 605 League while two more usher in new head coaches

NOVEMBER 17, 2022

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

If last year’s 605 League provided excitement with three teams calling themselves champions, expect more of the same this season as Cerritos High and Whitney High, along with Pioneer High, will battle for the top spot. Gahr High, La Mirada High and Norwalk High are in the new Mid-Cities League while John Glenn High hopes for a better season that includes some victories.

ARTESIA PIONEERS

13-11 overall last season, 2-3 in the 605 League, fourth place, lost to Heritage High 54-52 in the Division 4AA first round playoffs.

Head coach: Mollie Williams (second season, 13-11)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 62-63

Last time missed the playoffs: 2021

Division 4A

STARTERS LOST: Sha’mira Barnes (5.2 points per game last season), Jordan Manning (6.0 ppg.), Sydney McKee (9.7 ppg.), Esja Shriver (4.6 ppg.), SR Samerika Young (9.1 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: None

OTHERS RETURNING: None

TOP NEWCOMERS: SR Nyariah Gillett, JR Arianne Delgado, JR Leyda Lira Sanchez, JR Mya Reamer, SO Ashlee Chung, FR Emely Ixta, FR Zoey Pitts

If it seems like Artesia High is beginning a program for the first time, that may be the case. But don’t tell that to head coach Mollie Williams, who in her first season with her alma mater, had a winning mark and advanced to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs.

“Even though we had our ups and downs, last season was fun,” said Williams. “I continued to learn a lot and I always feel that as you continue to learn as you get older, you’re doing something right. From a personal standpoint, it helped me grow better as a coach than a person. From our program standpoint, things didn’t go as we planned, but I think the girls learned a lot.”

Williams admitted that as a first-year head coach, she learned that there was a lot of behind the scenes work but something she had already known about from being in the game a long time. But this season won’t be the same as initially, the Pioneers were slated to return one starter and two other players from a team of 11. Now, Williams will field a team of just seven players, none of which are returning from last season.

“We’re real new,” said Williams. “It’s decisions that they made that they wanted to not continue on, which I respect. Are they missed? Yes. Is it something we’re going to dwell on? No, because it wouldn’t be fair to the kids that we have now.”

Among the seven players, the lone senior is Nyariah Gillett. With six underclassmen, plus nine players on the junior varsity team, the potential is there to rebuild the program. Despite the lack of varsity inexperience and the small team in terms of numbers, Williams sees it as a learning curve and it’s a growing program that has a lot of kids who are interested in playing and learning the game the right way. And while it may not be easy, even though there are those who want to stay in the program and are eager to learn, Williams said it’s something she’s prepared for.

A league title, or one of the top three spots in the 605 League may not be in the cards for the Pioneers this season. But Williams expects her team to go out and play, give out all their effort, implement what they have been learning and continue to grow.

“There’s going to be some bumps, there’s going to be some hits,” said Williams. “But the determination that these kids have in wanting to grow and learn…the sky’s the limit. So, we might surprise some teams. We might not get all the wins that we wanted to get, but they’re definitely going to know that we’re here.”

CERRITOS DONS

20-9 overall last season, 4-1 in the 605 League, tied for first place, lost to La Salle High 46-33 in the Division 3AA championship game, lost to Carlsbad High 62-48 in the first round of the Division III Southern California Regionals.

Head coach: Marcus Chinen (ninth season, 132-75)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 88-46

Last time missed the playoffs: 2011

Division 2AA

STARTERS LOST: Amara Hizon (6.7 points per game last season), Michelle Lee (4.1 ppg.), Jasmine Uy (10.1 ppg. in 22 games), SR Emily Hosoda (2.5 ppg.)

STARTER RETURNING: JR Oneyka Nwanze (16.7 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Francine Carrillo, SR Alexa Mina, SR Kaitlyn Sugita, JR Mia Rivera

TOP NEWCOMERS: SR Doris Chen, SR Ashmita Singh, SR Katelyn Yamaguchi, JR Mailee Dizon, JR Abby Hizon, SO Ambar Multani, SO Kishan Saberon, SO Sophie Watanabe, FR Cameron Lacorte

Without a doubt, last season was the best in the history of the Cerritos program as head coach Marcus Chinen guided the Dons to the program’s first visit to the CIF-SS divisional finals. But it will be tougher to duplicate that feat as Cerritos was moved two spots up to Division 2AA, and lost four starters, one of which is in concussion protocol.

“Some of the girls that were on that team do bring it up every so often,” said Chinen of last season’s success. “But what happens is they understand that they know it’s going to go on. So, we have to put last year behind us. There were great memories there that they can bring up and examples they can give the young ones on exactly what happened last year.”

The heart and soul of the team comes from junior Oneyka Nwanze, who can score, rebound, pick up a steal here and there and dish out some assists. She has the ability to score 20 points a game, which she did eight times last season. But the scoring is thin after that as the other four returning players combined to score 203 points, and once did any of those four reach double figures.

Chinen says those four are going to be big for the team and all of them can play. Junior Mia Rivera will be asked to fill the void left behind by Amara Hizon while seniors Alexa Mina and Kaitlyn Sugita could fill in the shoes of Jasmine Uy. Then with senior Francine Carrillo, Chinen added that she could take the spot of Michelle Lee, although not asked to score as much as Lee did.

“I think [Oneyka] has improved a lot coming into this season,” said Chinen. “She’s learning a lot of different things. As far as comparing her to some of the post players in the past, like Ifeoma Okoli…when you look at it, she’s a little more physical than Ifeoma.”

New to the team is senior Ashmita Singh, another post player who can spell Carrillo or Nwanze when either one is not on the court. Chinen says that this is a team where everyone from the starters to the last one on the bench will have to pitch in.

While Cerritos has a mixture of experienced players who can score and young players of the future, it won’t be easy to repeat as league champions, even though there were three league champs last season. But the Dons are still in a great place now and for the next several years.

“It’s getting tough, and I think it’s really good for our league,” said Chinen. “It’s good that there are three teams that are battling out for the top three spots. But then you can’t fall asleep on the other three teams because you don’t know too much about them, and they’re the ones that can take a game or two away from you when you’re not expecting it.”

GAHR GLADIATORS

5-23 overall last season, 1-9 in the San Gabriel Valley League, sixth place

Head coach: Al Howard (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 29-90

Last time made the playoffs: 2017

Division 5AA

STARTERS LOST: Cha’nai Richard

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Alyssa Miyake, SR Lauren Teramoto, SO Christine Ho

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Amanda Ulloa, SR Franci Chang, SR Deja Dorsey, SR Kayla Kodua, SR Kameryn Mitchell, JR Munveer Sogi

TOP NEWCOMERS: SO Jody Colbert, SO Simarpreet Sogi

Gahr first-year head coach Al Howard is no stranger to the basketball program, having coached the boys junior varsity team for the last 10 years as well as be an assistant to the boys varsity squad. Howard was hired last spring and replaces Darrell Gillcrese, who is now the head coach at Valley Christian High. Howard takes over a program that has won 18 games in the last four seasons combined and has not had a winning season since the 2016-2017 campaign, which is the only one in the past nine seasons.

“What made me interested in the position was watching the girls program and seeing their personnel,” said Howard. “I actually believe that we can do some of the stuff that we did on the boys side, on the girls side. The girls side was a lot slower prior to me taking over the program and the biggest difference you’ll see is that we play a lot faster than we have in the past.”

He added that just by watching the girls play the past several seasons prior to the boys game, he wasn’t discouraged by the lack of victories, but in fact felt that things needed to be sped up a bit.

The Gladiators struggled in the scoring department last season with 42 points being the highest output and were held under 20 points a dozen times. But the team of 10 last season returns a lot, including eight seniors, some of whom played two seasons ago as sophomores but not last season. Seniors Alyssa Miyake and Lauren Teramoto played last season and Howard believes Teramoto will be up for Mid-Cities League Player of the Year honors. Seniors Kameryn Mitchell and Amanda Ulloa are two that played two seasons ago, but not last season and Ulloa is slated to be the starting center.

Junior Munveer Sogi is currently injured and could return by the time league play starts, but sophomores Jody Colbert and Simarpreet Sogi, figure to be the first two to come off the bench with the latter a threat from three-point territory.

“Once I named the head coach, being a familiar face around campus, the buzz kind of was a good thing for me because I did have tryouts,” said Howard. “Right now, we have 13 junior varsity players and we have 16 varsity players. So, the program has definitely grown, and it’s definitely been a positive for me.”

With the formation for the Mid-Cities League and the Gateway League as part of the new Suburban Valley Conference, the Gladiators will face some new teams in league. The only familiar league opponent will be Dominguez High and Howard believes his team now has a great chance of grabbing one of the top three spots and end a five-year playoff drought.

“I definitely see it being on the upswing,” said Howard. “The favorable conference change is definitely helpful for what we’re trying to do here, not having to play Lynwood twice, not having to play Downey and Paramount twice in one season is definitely a morale boost for myself.

“It definitely won’t be an easy task,” he continued. “What I know is that it’s a more attainable task versus playing Lynwood and those other schools. We tried to get out and play against tougher competition this summer, which I think we fared pretty well.”

JOHN GLENN EAGLES

0-21 overall last season, 0-5 in the 605 League, sixth place

Head coach: Eric Peterson (second season, 0-21)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 32-82

Last time made the playoffs: 2011

Division 5A

STARTERS LOST: Ruby Chavez (66 points scored last season)

STARTERS RETURNING: JR Emily Garcia (17 points), JR Janessa Leal (14 points), SO Maritza Corona (40 points), SO Aaliyah Ramirez (77 points)

OTHERS RETURNING: JR Destiny Aguilar, JR Gianna Morales

TOP NEWCOMERS: SR Dianna Morales, JR Rosemary Felix, JR Alex Rodriguez

For the second straight season, Glenn did not win a game and the program has the longest playoff drought of any area team-11 years. The Eagles had 11 players, but the scoring just wasn’t there as only one of them, sophomore Aaliyah Ramirez, scored in double figures. She did that twice, scoring 10 and 13 points respectively within the last four games of the season, and as a team, Glenn’s highest scoring contest was 21 points, which came against Oxford Academy on the second to last game of the season.

“I have a master’s degree in coaching from Concordia [University], and so I’m big on moral values and principles,” said head coach Eric Peterson. “I’m not just coaching on the court, but I’m coaching young adults to be good citizens as well. I’m big on that. Last year I used the acronym PAPER, which stands for positivity, accountability, pride, ethics and respect, and I put that on the platform. This year, the moral values I gave them were words starting with D’s. I gave them dedication, desire, discipline and decision making.”

Peterson went on to say that he is big on culture and despite not winning a game, he wasn’t disappointed in the effort of the girls. In fact, for a lot of the players, it was their first time playing basketball and he didn’t have a lot of expectations.

This season, the Eagles will field a team of 10 with half a dozen returning and will still be young as there will be one senior, Dianna Morales, who is a varsity rookie. Ramirez is the leading scorer from last season and has the potential to reach double figures in every game. Sophomore Maritza Corona is the second leading scoring coming back and will be a co-captain along with junior Janessa Leal, whom Peterson says gives 110 percent. Junior Destiny Aguilar could find her way into the starting lineup and will get some steals for the Eagles. However, the best of the four newcomers could be a sophomore who is transferring from Southeast Academy across the street from Glenn. She won’t be eligible until league begins in January.

Peterson says the team is better defensively but still needs work on the offensive side. While a trip to the playoffs may be tough this season, the Eagles are expected to be in more games than last season. In fact, he says he is almost positive the team will win some games.

“We’re going to be a lot more competitive when it comes to league,” said Peterson. “No, we’re still not at Norwalk [High’s] standards. Here, most of the best athletes in Norwalk go to Norwalk [High]. I recognize that and I love the challenge; I love building stuff from scratch. I like to see them from the start to the finish. I love the core girls that we have.”

LA MIRADA MATADORES

2-13 overall last season, 0-6 in the Suburban League, fourth place

Head coach: Victoria Luong (third season, (2-19)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 29-66

Last time made the playoffs: 2018

Division 5A

STARTERS LOST: Breanna Ibarra

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Mira Ghadban, JR Jirah Domingo, SO Jael Arreguin, SO Nayeli Tamayo

OTHERS RETURNING: SO Emily Gonzalez, SO Aleeya Willie

TOP NEWCOMERS: SO Isabella Duran, SO Marissa Nhem, SO Francella Ortiz, SO Annabell Pedroza

In a way, last season’s team was like Glenn’s team, especially in the scoring department. The Matadores, who had eight players, scored more than 40 points twice and had three players reach double figures. But in the six league contests, La Mirada scored a total of 67 points. Despite the 2-13 campaign, head coach Victoria Luong said it wasn’t a disappointing season as the program is in a rebuilding stage and it was nice to start new. Of the positives that came out of last season, Luong added that the students fought hard and learned the meaning of fighting hard for their goals and that all of them improved a great deal over the season.

“It was definitely quite the experience with a majority of players on the varsity team that were not up to par, but it was a great learning experience,” she said.

La Mirada will have 10 players on this season’s team with seven of them coming back. Luong says all have improved their skills and are ready for this season. She tried to schedule games that were more on par to their level and were also in their rebuilding stages with young players. Senior Mira Ghadban and junior Jirah Domingo figure to the be the scoring leaders while the other eight players are sophomores.

With La Mirada jumping into the new Mid-Cities League, along with area teams Gahr and Norwalk, Luong hopes it will be more to its level.

“In the Suburban League, we played teams that we had no chance of winning because they have a very strong program, and team as it is,” said Luong. “We hare hoping that this is more fair play and that would be competitive and give our girls a chance to learn by playing teams that are at the same level.”

NORWALK LANCERS

15-11 overall last season, 4-2 in the Suburban League, second place, lost to Hart High 79-24 in the Division 3AA first round playoffs.

Head coach: Ashley Baclaan (seventh season, 73-65)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 62-52

Last time missed the playoffs: 2017

Division 3A

STARTERS LOST: Denise Cortez (12.2 points per game last season in 22 games), Makayla Moore (5.5 ppg.), Katrina Slaughter (11.3 ppg. in 23 games)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Areli Gonzalez (3.3 ppg.), JR Keilani Ganancial (13.8 ppg, in 20 games)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Julieta Castellanos, SR Leilani Juan, SR Amanda Rangel

TOP NEWCOMERS: SR Genessis Amador, SR Logan Atkins, SR Rizzelle Pascual, SO Janii McGarrah

Just like their district rivals to the east, Norwalk will see two significant changes this season as it is now in the first year of the Mid-Cities League of the Suburban Valley Conference. Head coach Ashley Baclaan is hoping that the new scenery will bode well for her program this season as the Lancers are seeking their sixth straight trip to the playoffs and 14th in the last 16 seasons.

“What I hope for every year is just to come out as successful as possible,” said Baclaan. “Getting second place [in league] and then playoffs is always a good thing. In terms of overall as a team, I think there was a lot of good growth. Every year, there’s always a lot of re-learning; trying to put together a new squad. But I think [last season] was pretty solid.”

The Lancers graduated three solid starters and of the two coming back this season, junior Keilani Ganancial is one of the best in the area as well as the new league. Norwalk also returns three other seniors to make it five returning players.

“I think those two are solid players; solid teammates,” said Baclaan of her returning starters. “I think they definitely learned and grew, and I think they’re excited now to be the ones to lean on as leaders.”

Norwalk will welcome nine new players to the varsity squad, including senior Logan Atkins, who will be stepping in as a post player and one whom Baclaan says will be a good substitution for senior Julieta Castellanos. Baclaan also is hoping that senior Genessis Amador and sophomore Janii McGarrah bring something out on the court and create some type of an offensive or defensive push. Early on, Baclaan is projecting her starting lineup to be Castellanos, Ganancial, and seniors Areli Gonzalez, Amanda Rangel and Rizzelle Pascual.

The other change will be the absence of the traditional girls-boys doubleheader in league action. In fact, both Norwalk teams face only Bellflower High on the same day twice, but at different locations. It also means the girls will be playing six league games at 7:00 p.m. and one at 7:30 when the program had been used to playing its league contests at 5:00 or 5:30. Norwalk’s new league opponents will be Dominguez, Firebaugh High and Gahr and its four league wins last season were against Bellflower and La Mirada. In the past 25 seasons, the program has won a league title once, and that came in 2013 when it was co-champions with Mayfair High.

“I like it only because we get more league games,” said Baclaan of the new look. “The past few years when it was four of us, we only had six league games when we were used to having 12 [in the old Suburban League]. I guess it’s kind of exciting because it’s a new thing and you don’t know what’s going to happen or what to expect.”

On a side note, Baclaan is tied with Babita Singh for being the most tenured Norwalk girls basketball head coach in the past 25 seasons. Singh coached the Lancers from the 2000-2001 season to 2006-2007.

“I don’t usually think about it like I’ll be in for one more year but don’t know about next year,” said Baclaan. “I enjoy the game enough and I enjoy being with the girls and teaching them and us learning and growing together. For me right now, I expect myself to be there just as much as I ask the girls to be there.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN DEFENDERS

8-19 overall last season, 3-5 in the Olympic League, tied for third place, lost to Mary Star of the Sea High 63-32 in the Division 2A first round playoffs.

Head coach: Darrell Gillcrese (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 48-81

Last time missed the playoffs: 2019

Division 4AA

STARTERS LOST: Gillian Doplemore (9.3 points per game last season in 24 games), Keiara Harvey (4.3 ppg.), Samantha Sims (3.8 ppg.), Karon Warren (2.5 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Carissa Kamstra (3.8 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Molly Fortney, SR Meghan Patterson, SR Katherine Theberg-Torres, SO Chayse Chambers, SO Sariah Harvey, SO Jessika Sims

TOP NEWCOMERS: JR Nicole Chang, FR Jocelyn Tani, FR Grace Verhoef

For the sixth straight season, the V.C. program will have a new head coach as Darrell Gillcrese moves half a mile down Artesia Blvd. from Gahr. Gillcrese spent the last four seasons with the Gladiators, compiling an 18-77 mark. But as he comes to V.C., he knows there’s a lot of history and tradition inside the gymnasium.

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Gillcrese. “Obviously, [there’s] a long tradition of winning and it’s an excellent opportunity for me to kind of take it to the next level. I’ve been coaching a long time and waiting for an opportunity to coach a prestigious school like this.”

Gillcrese, who was hired over the summer, says that when he looks at coaching opportunities, he likes to go somewhere where they are committed to the program, committed to the kids and he has seen V.C. turn out good athletes as well as academic high-achieving people, as he puts it. In fact, he calls is books and buckets and in the short time he has been at V.C., the girls have bought in to just being great.

“Everything matters and whatever happened to you last season is last season,” he added. “We have a new season, a new opportunity to hang a banner. That’s the goal that I teach all kids. Banners live forever. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get one, but if you at least put in the work, you have an opportunity to do so.”

Senior Carissa Kamstra, fresh off the volleyball team, is the lone starter coming back and Gillcrese calls her a solid player who can do it all with her great attitude. Her versatility will allow her to be involved in different sets, according to the new coach.

V.C. will have an experienced bench from last season with seniors Molly Fortney, Meghan Patterson, Katherine Theberg-Torres along with sophomore Chayse Chambers and some of them may be starters. In fact, the team will have four seniors and two juniors, meaning Gillcrese is building for the future.

“Molly is relentless on the defensive end and Meghan is definitely making you think of the unexpected,” said Gillcrese. “She’s good with the basketball; she can shoot a little bit and is an exceptional passer in the paint once she gets in the paint. Chayse has the potential to take anyone off the dribble when she wants to. She can shoot a little bit and runs the floor really well.”

Of the 13 players on the team, half a dozen are freshmen and one other is a sophomore. Junior Nicole Chang will give the Defenders some size and some speed on the wing. V.C. has finished in a tie for third place in the Olympic League three straight seasons and has not won a league title since 2011. With that said, the only expectation Gillcrese has is simply to come out and compete.

“At the end of the day, we’re defenders,” he said. “We’re the Valley Christian Defenders and we’re going to defend first and foremost. Then we’re going to try to figure out how we can cause havoc, get turnovers and get baskets in transition. But first thing first; just defend and everything else will take care of itself.”

WHITNEY WILDCATS

18-5 overall last season, 4-1 in the 605 League, tied for first place, lost to Riverside Poly High 51-41 in the Division 3AA first round playoffs.

Head coach: Myron Jacobs (fourth season, 42-26)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 79-47

Last time missed the playoffs: 2010

Division 3AA

STARTERS LOST: None

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Kayla Hamakawa (3.6 points per game last season), SR Layla Lacorte (16.7 ppg.), SR Rachel Song (5.3 ppg.), JR Kylie Wang (14.3 ppg. in 20 games), SO Haylie Wang (10.2 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Anika Kasula, JR Alyssa Truong, SO Allie Yamaguchi

TOP NEWCOMERS: SO Rachel Moyher, FR Mady Macaraeg

Heading into last season, the Whitney program had as many league titles since 1998 as trips to the quarterfinals-seven, although not all of them would be together. Last season, head coach Myron Jacobs picked up a share of his first league crown since taking over the program, but the Wildcats were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round for the second straight season. This season, the team is striving for a better season and a deeper postseason run with basically the same players as last season and a tougher schedule.

“I think last year we just were short of players,” said Jacobs. “I didn’t really expect much last year. I expected we were going to do well in league because the last three years I’ve been here, we managed to kind of fight and stay around the top or the number two spot. But when you have eight players and one gets hurt and you go down to seven…it’s not going to be a really good thing.”

The Wildcats will be stacked this season, not just with the returning players, but the newcomers who figure to keep the program going for quite some time. The starting five is one of the best around with seniors Layla Lacorte and Rachel Song, junior Kylie Wang and sophomore Haylie Wang. Those four combined to score close to 40 points a game while the remaining four returning players combined for 114 points. Lacorte and Kylie Wang have the potential to get close to 20 points a game while Haylie Wang did not disappoint as a freshman and is on pace to be one of the best ever to come through the program.

“I think all of them have improved dramatically,” said Jacobs. “I think Rachel has the biggest improvement of all, but all of them have dramatically improved. That just came from playing year-round basketball, most importantly this summer playing against the Rosary’s, playing against the Brea [Olinda’s], playing against the Righetti and Martin Luther King High School. Just playing better talent, and then some of these girls going into AAU tournaments in different states.

“This year is a whole different look for our team,” he later added. “There’s going to be a whole different style of play. We have 10 girls on this team of which every girl can pretty much start.”

Senior Kayla Hamakawa, who started some games last season, moves to the bench but will be the first one called upon. Joining the starting lineup will be freshman Mady Macaraeg, whom Jacobs says plays high level basketball and ranks up there with the other varsity freshmen Jacobs has coached at Whitney. He continued to say he’s expecting Hamakawa to pick up where she left off last season but in a more aggressive way in terms of getting to the rim more and wanting to shoot more.

Jacobs has beefed up his non-league schedule which includes going out of state to play in the Timberline Tournament in Boise, ID.

“Our non-league schedule, I think, is kind of fitting,” said Jacobs. “We have been playing the Alemany’s, the Long Beach Poly’s, the Rosary’s, the Brea’s. We have been playing up all throughout the summer…the Esperanza’s and when you beat an Esperanza or you lose to Alemany by two or you only lose to Brea by nine, you want to play a hard, competitive schedule in preseason to set you up to get better for league and hopefully peak at the right time at the end of league for playoffs.”

Whitney was supposed to go to Idaho two seasons ago, but the pandemic altered that trip. Look for the program to make another out of state trip or two next season as the Wildcats continue to stay in the upper half of the 605 League and one of the better programs in Southern California.

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