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Artesia girls basketball changing the culture with turnaround season

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Towards the end of the 1990s, the Artesia High girls basketball program was taking baby steps to eventually becoming a Southern California power and even being nationally ranked. By the time the 2002-2003 season had concluded, the Lady Pioneers, who were nicknamed the Fast Ladies at the time, had wrapped up their third straight CIF-Southern Section divisional title.

But after the 2005-2006 season in which Artesia had to forfeit 19 victories, the program has seen one winning season, four double-digit victory campaigns and seven head coaches. The last of those coaches is Shonyta Pouncey, now in his sixth full season and what he has done since the beginning of last season has opened a lot of eyes.

Following a 46-23 victory over Samueli Academy this past Monday, the Lady Pioneers improved to 15-2 and became playoff eligible for the first time since 2012. Artesia finished that season at 12-17 and advanced to the second round under then-head coach Lonnie Hinchen.

“I’m a blessed human,” Pouncey said. “I come from a good bloodline of people who work hard, and my family name means something to me, as I get emotional. My grandparents were excellent people; they had a good hand in rearing me. My high school football head coach here, Norm Flowers, was a huge influence as a male role model in my life besides my grandfather, C.P. Pouncey. There’s a lot of heritage that comes out of this school and I’m glad to get back to kind of how it usually is. For us to be 15-2 means that the kids obviously put in a lot of work and a lot of time and all the things that we’ve revamped and have redone has been our benefit.”

Artesia began the season winning its first 13 games before falling to Cerritos High in the 605 League opener. Just those 13 games alone were the most victories since the 2007-2008 season when that team concluded at 13-14. 

When one looks at Artesia’s non-league schedule, you’ll see that it is mainly filled with relatively easy teams. But a closer look will show that Pouncey scheduled four teams who are in Division 5AA, the same as Artesia, four against teams who are in Division 5A, four against teams who are in Division 4A and five Los Angeles City Section teams who are situated in Division 5. If you’re wondering if the team has been blowing out all its foes, eight wins have come by more than 20 points.

In addition, two of Artesia’s opponents won more than 10 games last season, but entering the Samueli Academy game, half a dozen had at least a .500 record thus far. And, Artesia still has three more non-league games left on the docket.

“I wanted to give our kids an opportunity,” Pouncey said. “I just wanted to give them a chance. We tried to play, in those early years, hard, hard, hard, knowing that our league was going to be hard. Our league is going to be hard, regardless. Right now, I’m just thinking in my head, and I’ve heard from a couple of other coaches that we played against already that they are going to try to adapt the same thing next year. We want to play teams who are in our division just because it gives us ample chance to see what we’re going be like there, and how we can compete in that realm.”

Because of Artesia’s fast start to the season, the team is currently ranked first in the division, which is a huge accomplishment considering it wasn’t even on the preseason watch list but moved to the top spot when the first polls came out on Dec. 9. By then, the Lady Pioneers were 6-0 and about to face La Puente High, the second team from Division 5AA they had faced.

“Honestly, it’s nice,” Pouncey said of being ranked first in the division. “It’s nice to see…it’s nice to be here and be the head coach. It’s flattering to the team, but I also explained to the team as well as you got there, you can not be there tomorrow. Honestly, I know in the end we may not be the number one team going in [to the playoffs]. We can be the 32ndteam, as long as we get in.”

Artesia may not have any household names right now, but it is having immediate success with a very young team. Seira Roberts is the lone senior and Mariah Jarnet and Priscilla Robles are the only juniors on a team of a dozen. Jarnet and Roberts have each been on varsity for three seasons. But the “franchise” player is sophomore Sydney McKee, who was the team’s leading scorer last season at just under 10 points a game, and is leading the team this season, averaging 9.9 points a game. She is one of six sophomores to go along with three freshmen, highlighted by Samerika Young, who is scoring just over seven points a game.

“I think it helped that a lot of our old kids have come back and spoken to these kids,” Pouncey said. “I think all the college kids that we had in the recent two to three years…when Jessica [Tibayan] comes back from San Jose State; she stops in at practice and she’ll work out in the weight room with us, and she’ll play against us. Cassidy [Valle-Martinas] will come in and give pointers and show up-same thing, either workout or shoot against them. Kimberly Servin, Jada Moura…all those kids have come back here, as I get chills just talking about it. If it wasn’t for those kids, we would not be 15-2.”

If this season seems somewhat familiar, it might be. Last season, Artesia bolted out to a 12-3 start, then lost three games in the West Coast Jamboree in the Bay Area, followed by all 10 league contests. Pouncey is hoping not to repeat last season’s collapse. He said he and the team talked about it last spring and how much hard work it would take this season.

“I haven’t talked about since spring because I said since we are redoing everything, we’re leaving the past in the past and we’re moving on as a new unit,” Pouncey said.

There is, however, one area that the program hopes to put an end to sooner than later, and it has to do with the league. Entering this week, Artesia has lost 53 consecutive league games. The last league win came on Jan. 30, 2015, a 26-22 overtime win at John Glenn High when both schools were part of the Suburban League. Since the 2012-2013 season, Artesia has gone 2-82 in league action entering this week. The season before that skid began, the Lady Pioneers went 6-6 in league action, and that was the last time Artesia had experienced life in the postseason.

Pouncey would love nothing more than to have every player get a ring, which means Artesia would call itself Division 5AA champions, and a banner would be the newest addition to the gymnasium. Pouncey has helped do that before, and he said it would be very ideal to him as a coach and it would mean a lot to the players.