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605 LEAGUE BASKETBALL: Whitney hoops sweep John Glenn as Lady Wildcats prepare for upcoming playoffs

May 26, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter


The regular season for basketball is over and if the Whitney High girls team makes another deep run like it has recently, the Lady Wildcats will have earned it, especially after the week they have had. Because of Covid postponements throughout the 605 League, Whitney had to spend the week before the playoffs playing five games in five straight nights.

The regular season finale was last Friday at John Glenn High where the Lady Wildcats shook off a rusty first half to outscore the Lady Eagles 29-14 in the second half and run away with a 53-35 victory that left Whitney with a 10-6 overall record and 8-2 in the circuit, good enough for second place.

“We’ve been starting off like that the whole week,” said Whitney head coach Myron Jacobs. “We’re the only team in league that’s played five games in five days. I think that was the big issue when we played yesterday at Pioneer because if you look at the score, we went down by [almost 20] to fight back in the third [quarter], then coming into the fourth being down by three.

Anytime I have my seniors, I’m going to take that five games any day.”

“Since it was our fifth game this week, we were all very tired,” said senior Kimberly Hosoda. “Me, [senior Julianna Lee] and [freshman] Kylie [Wang] have been getting a bunch of minutes this week. So, it was just a long game today. Everyone was sore; we were all just trying to pull through to finally finish this week off strong.”

Glenn, which went through the season losing all 10 games it played, got out to a 7-2 lead and led 9-5 after the opening quarter. It would gain a 15-11 advantage following consecutive baskets from junior Sara Mendoza. After that, Whitney senior Makenna Yokoyama continued her hot shooting of the stanza. Already with a pair of three-pointers in the quarter, Yokoyama drained her third perimeter shot with 5:30 left in the first half, and after Lee’s trifecta tied the game 37 seconds later, the Lady Wildcats would take their biggest lead on Yokoyama’s fourth three-pointer.

Yokoyama would score 14 of her season-high 20 points in the second quarter and added a pair of rebounds. Whitney would take a one-point lead into the halftime break before opening the second half on a 15-2 run to blow the game wide open.

“Makenna has just been struggling,” Jacobs said. “The kid wants to be here; she wants to play. Evidently, her shot hasn’t been dropping the last three games. I think this game, she needed this to show her that she’s able to do that. Especially coming back right before playoffs, it’s going to help us huge.”

“I definitely think Makenna kept us in this game, especially in the second quarter, hitting big shots [and] keeping us right with John Glenn,” Hosoda said. “I know today, everyone was struggling to score. Kylie, who usually puts in double figures, Jules usually puts in double figures…it was just a tough battle today. All props go to Makenna because I don’t think I would be able to score in the third quarter if she didn’t keep us in the game in the second quarter.”

If Yokoyama dominated the second quarter with her scoring, then Hosoda was in charge of the third quarter. Her first three-pointer of the contest put the Lady ‘Cats in front for good at 25-23. She would proceed to score nine of her team’s next 12 points with Yokoyama nailing her sixth and final three-pointer of the game. In addition to Hosoda scoring 12 of her 14 points, she was adding more rebounds to her game total. Hosoda, who had 10 rebounds in the first half, six coming on the defensive end, grabbed six more defensive boards in the third quarter and finished with a game-high 16. She also had three steals in the game.

“Honestly, I think rebounding is just as important as scoring because if I’m not having a good scoring game, I’m going to try to give my teammates another chance at the ball,” Hosoda said. “I’m going to try to get a fast-break layup for Jules who is running hard. If you don’t rebound, you’re not going to win the game.”

“I’m going to miss that kid,” Jacobs said. “When I came in [two years] ago, that was one of the first kids I noticed with a high basketball IQ and she’s just a competitor. She likes to compete; she wants to win games. Unfortunately, it’s sad that I only had her for two years versus having her for four years. There’s always going to be room for improvement. But at the end of the day, I think this kid is going to do great things no matter what she does in life.”

Whitney continued to keep the foot on the gas pedal with a pair of coast-to-coast baskets from Wang and sophomore Rachel Song in a span of 23 seconds midway through the fourth quarter to open its largest advantage at 17 points.

The 35 points allowed was the second time in three nights Whitney has allowed under 40 points in the week. Overall, the Lady ‘Cats have yielded 40 or fewer points in league competition six times.

“We’re not having enough fun,” Jacobs said. “You’ve got to have more fun playing defense. When we have fun playing defense, we control the game, control the plays, the pace of the game. And eventually, the teams are going to get worn down trying to beat us. If you look at the 605 League, we have probably one of the best, if not the best defense.”

Wang added seven points, six rebounds and a pair of steals while Lee, who has scored in double figures in four league games and six times overall, pitched in with half a dozen points and three steals.

“Julianna by far, right now, is on a whole another level than anybody on Whitney,” Jacobs said. “She has improved [since] her freshman year not being a scorer [but] known for defense. Second year, she didn’t really play that much and she wasn’t known as a scorer. I got her [last year] and she averaged seven points and she has legitimately averaged around 11 points this season. The kid had 20 points yesterday. The improvement is there.”

Senior Cynthia Almanzar paced the Lady Eagles with 16 points and 15 rebounds while senior Kei’Ana Hood added eight points and seven rebounds. Glenn played the entire season with five seniors and one junior with Almanzar scoring in double figures in six of the 10 games.

But the story on this night was all Whitney, which hosted Ayala High on May 27 in a CIF-Southern Section Division 3A first round game. Ayala (9-4 overall) finished in third place in the Palomares League but is ranked 11th in the division. The Lady Wildcats have advanced to the quarterfinals the past two seasons, six times since 2012 and seven times since 2008.

“I would say this, I’ll always take my team over any other we play,” Jacobs said. “We don’t look at size. Every team we’ve played this year…Crossroads [High], to beat them to playing against a good Pioneer team which was big…Any team that had a big [player] was a problem. But the one thing about my team is they compete.

“I don’t know if anybody paid attention to us, but when we come out in the third quarter, we manage to put up 20 points to come back against any team,” he continued. “Going into the playoffs, I’m happy to go in with this group. It’s just we have to stay locked in and get this nice week of practice ready before Thursday.”

“I think today was a good show of what we can do,” Hosoda said. “We can hit shots outside. We know Kylie can drive. We know Jules can get a couple of threes and a couple of floaters. If we just continue doing what we’re doing right now and keep going from this momentum, I think we can go pretty deep in CIF.”

Following the girls game, the Whitney boys put an end to a frustrating season for second-year head coach Lance Convento, who had high hopes of taking the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2015 when current Glenn head coach Ruben Guerrero was coaching the Wildcats.

Whitney went on a 16-0 run from the final seconds of the opening quarter to the 5:53 mark of the second quarter and held on for a 56-50 victory. The Wildcats end the season at 5-10 overall, 4-6 in league while the Eagles went winless in their 10 games played, all in league.

“A win is a win, so I’ll take it,” said Whitney head coach Lance Convento. “I’m proud of my guys. It’s definitely a strange season with Covid, having to adjust to all the Covid protocols and everything and having some guys out for sometimes. It was tough, but it was a fun, crazy season and I’m proud of the way we ended the season.”

Glenn raced to an 11-5 lead nearly five minutes into the game before consecutive three-pointers from juniors Joshua Limjundo and Jae Sung Park began the run. Glenn would get to within eight points at 23-15 before the Wildcats closed out the half on a 9-2 run. The Eagles doubled up Whitney in third quarter points to trail 39-32 entering the final stanza. However, Whitney held the hosts at bay and when the score dipped to 43-38 with 4:12 remaining in the game, the fourth place representatives from the league iced the game with another 9-2 run.

At one point in the season, Whitney was 2-2 in league and Convento thought the team was making strides to remain in the upper half of the league. But Covid hit the program and the team wasn’t the same since. The game against the Eagles was a makeup from the originally scheduled May 7 contest.

“I was pretty confident,” Convento said. “Like I said, some stuff happened during Covid in which some players were out. So, it kind of hurt us big time. One of our seniors was out and another senior was hurt with his ankle. It just happens; you can’t control that. But I was definitely confident after beating Oxford [Academy] and I thought we could definitely have a run for the playoffs. But all in all, I thought it was a great season. I can’t complain.”

Glenn senior Chanmaraforine Som led everyone with 18 points and 10 rebounds while junior Natanael Jacobo added 17 points. Whitney was led by sophomore Ethan Wong (12 points, four rebounds) while Dhilan Amin and Jeffrey Fernandez, two of the three seniors, combined for 16 points and seven rebounds. The third senior, Kofi Addo, added five points and three boards.

“Man, I’m going to miss them, I’m going to miss them a lot,” Convento said of his seniors. “I think they were three of our key players this year. Kofi is a quiet guy, but he leads by example. Dhilan is a vocal leader and Jeff is a lead by example, a little bit of both. So, we’re definitely going to miss their leadership.

“Jeff Fernandez is a physical guy; plays [defense] he continued. “Dhilan is a shooter; one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen, and Kofi plays with his heart out there. He’s a humble guy and just a team player.”

Last season, Whitney went 9-17 and the last time it had a winning record, you have to go back to the 2011-2012 campaign when that team went 15-9. But the possibilities of having a strong 2021-2022 season are there as three Whitney teams since that 2011-2012 have posted at least 10 victories.

“We’re going to have the other guys step up,” Convento said. “We’re definitely going to have to hit the weight room because our juniors right now don’t look like seniors. So, we’re going to have to get some muscle on them. We definitely have to work on our athleticism and get stronger and faster. To me, defense and rebounding are the keys to winning games. So, those are the main things I want to focus on, and then just getting the other guys confidence up on offense and playing team basketball is how we’re going to get there.”