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CIF-SS DIV. 5 AA GIRLS BASKETBALL FINALS : Artesia holds off San Jacinto Valley Academy to win program’s first championship in 17 years

The Artesia High girls basketball team defeated San Jacinto Valley Academy 46-39 last Saturday morning to capture the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 AA championship. It’s the program’s fourth divisional title, but first since 2003. Freshman Samerika Young led all players with 22 rebounds and 21 points while sophomore Sydney McKee added 13 points. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.


By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

SANTA ANA-What started out as a sloppy CIF-Southern Section Division 5 AA championship game between Artesia High and San Jacinto Valley Academy turned into a rebounding battle by both teams. In the end, the Lady Pioneers led the entire second half and pulled out a 46-39 victory last Saturday morning at Godinez High to claim the program’s first divisional title since 2003.

Artesia, which won its fourth girl’s basketball divisional championship in school history, improved to 26-7. The Lady Pioneers, who never led in the opening quarter, trailed by no more than four points, but took the lead for good with 1:56 left in the first half on a three-pointer from sophomore Sydney McKee.

However, it was the rebounding that stole the spotlight with third-seeded Artesia grabbing 67 of them, 38 coming on the offensive end. Freshman sensation Samerika Young led everyone with 22 rebounds with 17 of them coming under the Artesia basket. During the postgame press conference, Artesia head coach Shonyta Pouncey slammed his hand on the table in shock when asked if he had ever been part of a game in which there were 67 rebounds.

“No sir,” he said. “It’s easy to say ‘they’re young’ all the time. They’re young, they’re young, they’re young, when you do things and see things. But it’s true that they’re young. The thing about it is some of them have really, really good basketball IQ. I think in the years to come, they’re going to have great basketball IQ.”

“It was a team effort,” Young said. “Without the team, we wouldn’t have gotten to where we are. It was just the energy around that was pumping us up.”

Young set the tone early as she scored 10 of Artesia’s 11 points in the opening quarter on five of seven shooting. She also had nine rebounds in that time. Meanwhile, all five starters for San Jacinto Valley Academy, which was making its first trip to the championship game in school history, scored at least one basket and the Wolves would grab 18 rebounds. Both teams would combine to go 11 of 41 from the field and turn the ball over 15 times. 

“That was tough for us,” said SJVA head coach Shanequa McCauley on defending Young. “My girls really had to get adjusted to helping on her. She’s a good basketball player; really good in the post. We really don’t have experience in guarding a post player like her. So, we had to get adjusted to guarding someone like her.”

But in the second quarter, and with Young in foul trouble, it was McKee’s turn to take over as she scored nine of her team’s 12 points. Down by three points, McKee hit a field goal with 3:04 left in the half before hitting the only three-pointer her team would collect as Artesia took its first lead at 22-20.

“I felt like I had to start making my shots and make smarter plays,” McKee said. “I had to work with [senior] Seira [Roberts] because she has a great basketball IQ as well.”

Artesia High sophomore Sydney McKee drives past Veronica Arroyo of San Jacinto Valley Academy in last Saturday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 5 AA championship game. Artesia won 46-39 as McKee scored 13 points, had six rebounds and three steals. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.

The Lady Pioneers began the second half with six straight points and after Rayann Dudley ended her team’s scoring drought with a free throw, Artesia went on another 6-0 run to lead 35-21 with 3:42 left in the game. Top-seeded SJVA went through a stretch of 8:43 without a field goal, missing 12 shots in that time. McCauley cited fatigue was setting in and that was the reason for the scoring drought. She also said her team had problems boxing out, doubling up on Young and applying pressure to McKee.

“My girls needed to box out,” McCauley said. “We talked about this all week long. We’re a small team, of course. I stressed to them we needed to box people out.”

“They are the best box out team that we saw all year,” Pouncey said. “When we actually saw them on film, we all, as a staff, kind of panicked. We are not the best box out team. We had a big game against Elsinore where we boxed out, and they were ranked sixth at the time in Division 4.”

Even with a 14-point lead, nothing was safe as the Wolves, who had never reached the second round of the playoffs before this season, scored the last eight points of the third quarter and got to within four points 62 seconds into the fourth quarter after back to back buckets from Princess McCauley, who led her team with 17 points.

But Artesia kept doing what it had been doing throughout the game, which was going to McKee and Young and rebounding. In the fourth quarter alone, the Lady Pioneers had 17 rebounds from six different players. The Wolves would also have a great rebounding game, collecting 45 of them with Kaila Anady (13) and Jheisymae Artagame (10) leading the way.

A three-pointer from Artagame with 34.1 seconds remaining brought the Wolves back to within four points before free throws from Roberts and sophomore Sha’Mira Barnes ended the game. 

“My girls fought real hard,” Shanequa McCauley said. “This is a tough team [and we were] just battling. Just them never being in this position before was tough on them to adjust to this type of situation.”

“The kids believe in it,” Pouncey said. “They believe in it; we trap hard, we have multiple defenses. We run almost every look you could think of and then today, for one on one’s that I really like that [assistant] coach [Matt] Soriano doesn’t like…they bought in.”

Young led everyone with 21 points before fouling out with 2:05 left in the game while McKee added 13 points and had three steals. Roberts also had 13 rebounds, seven points and two assists. McKee commented on how special this championship was to her as she was supposed to go to the state of Washington in the eighth grade. But after meeting with Pouncey and a couple of former Artesia players at a middle school game, she was encouraged to go to Artesia.

“It’s the best experience,” McKee said of becoming a CIF divisional champion. “I wasn’t initially going to go to Artesia. I was supposed to move. But God took me to Artesia because he knew he had a plan and I have the best teammates. It’s just amazing.”

Despite winning a CIF-Southern Section divisional title, the team received some less than encouraging news this past Sunday evening when the state playoff brackets were released. Artesia was bumped up to Division IV, seeded 16thand had to travel to top-seeded Lancaster High in the first round of the Southern California Regionals. Lancaster fell in the semifinals of the 3 AA playoffs.