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2023-2024 GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW – 605 League to be loaded at the top again while Gahr seeks encore performance in new league

November 21, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Gahr High’s successful 2022-2023 season has earned the Gladiators a promotion to the Gateway League where they face new challenges with a younger team. Whitney High, another team that is building for the future, aims to hold off Cerritos High and Pioneer High for an outright 605 League crown while Norwalk High must find scoring from new players.

ARTESIA PIONEERS

4-21 overall last season, 2-8 in the 605 League, 5th place

Head coach: Mollie Williams (third season, 17-32)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 58-68

Last time made the playoffs: 2022

Division 5AA

STARTERS LOST: SO Kaelah Daniels, SO Kendall Savage

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Arianne Delgado, SR Mya Reamer, JR Ashlee Chung

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Leyda Lira-Sanchez

TOP NEWCOMERS: FR Jasmine Ramirez, JR Ashlee Luna

Since former Artesia High standout Mollie Williams took over as head coach, it’s been a slow, rebuilding process and that is going to be expected again this season. While the Pioneers have improved during the offseason, Williams said rebuilding a team takes time, but ‘these young ladies are buying into our program’. 

“We have been blessed with some new faces,” she added. “With their hunger and the leadership of our vets, it will only continue to help us improve and produce results.”

The Pioneers had eight players on varsity last season and Williams said the numbers will be about the same for this season. She is banking on seniors Arianne Delgado and Mya Reamer and junior Ashlee Chung to carry most of the load, even though scoring was an issue last season. Artesia’s highest scoring output was 43 points, and it was held to under 30 points 19 times. Chung was able to score in double figures in seven games and Delgado had a 16-point game. But no other returning player scored more than nine points.

“We do have some promising junior varsity players who could possibly help us in the future,” said Williams. “We just want to make sure our players get the reps and experience they need.”

Freshman Jasmine Ramirez, who is projected to be a starter, and junior Ashlee Luna are new players to keep an eye on. Willams said Ramirez is an eager player who has a great attitude and can shoot from the outside while Luna will help the Pioneers down low. Also expected to be in the starting lineup are Chung, Delgado, Reamer and senior Leyda Lira-Sanchez.

All the Pioneers can do is continue to learn, grow, give effort and do the things they have trained for, according to Williams. If they do all that, she believes the Pioneers can surprise some people.

CERRITOS DONS

12-16 overall last season, 6-4 in the 605 League, third place, lost to San Clemente High 60-32 in the Division 2AA first round playoffs.

Head coach: Marcus Chinen (10th season, 144-91)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 76-57

Last time missed the playoffs: 2011

Division 3AA

STARTERS LOST: Kaitlyn Sugita (7.3 points per game last season)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Mailee Dizon (6.0 ppg.), SR Mia Rivera (7.7 ppg.), JR Amber Multani (3.9 ppg.), SO Cameron Lacorte (5.4 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Faith Lacorte, SR Denise Hizon, SR Oneykachi Nwanze, JR Kishan Saberon, JR Sophie Watanabe

TOP NEWCOMERS: SR Chloe Bronilla, JR Ava Loo, JR Lauren Sakamoto, JR Miya Scammahorn, JR Megan Wallace, FR Kalana Nguyen, FR Jordin Pulley

Despite having a lot of experience from the previous season that saw Cerritos advance to the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA finals, the Dons took a step back last season with the program’s second losing campaign since the 2011-2012 season. They were also bounced out in the first round for the third time in the last four seasons.

“Last year was very challenging,” said Cerritos head coach Marcus Chinen. “Losing five players to season-ending injuries was very tough. I was proud of last year’s team for never giving up and playing hard in every single game.”

Chinen said the team had a great offseason and the only changes made from last season are simply finding what’s best for the team. With the return of seniors Faith Lacorte and Onyekachi Nwanze from injuries, four starters from last season and three others, the Dons are primed to challenge for a league title. Seniors Mailee Dizon and Mia Rivera, the latter a member of the 605 League first team, figure to provide a lot of points and with the return of Nwanze and her presence on the glass, the sky’s the limit for the Dons this season.

“All of the returning players have improved during the offseason,” said Chinen. “It’s not about an individual player or players. It’s about the team and how this team can improve together and throughout the season.”

Cerritos will have four juniors, three freshmen and one senior new to the team whom Chinen says will ‘help us out this year’, and as far as a projected starting lineup, that won’t come until January when league action begins.

“We will definitely have to play tough defense and take care of the ball on offense to move closer to the top spots in this league,” said Chinen.

GAHR GLADIATORS

26-8 overall last season, 9-1 in the Mid-Cities League, tied for first place, lost to St. Margaret’s High 44-33 in the Division 5AA championship game, lost to Marina High 49-33 in the quarterfinals of the Southern California Division V Regional playoffs.

Head coach: Alfred Howard (second season, 26-8)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 44-85

Last time missed the playoffs: 2022

Division 4AA

STARTERS LOST: Kameryn Mitchell (10.1 points per game last season), Alyssa Miyake (3.6 ppg.), Lauren Teramoto (7.1 ppg.), Amanda Ulloa

STARTERS RETURNING: JR Christine Ho (7.5 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Munveer Sogi, JR Jody Colbert (5.9 ppg.), JR Simarpreet Sogi (2.8 ppg.)

TOP NEWCOMERS: FR Ella Mims

Not much was expected coming into last season as Gahr had won a combined 18 games the previous four seasons. But the Gladiators silenced the critics and advanced to the Division 5AA championship game with an experienced group had had been through more bad times than good times. At one point, Gahr was 5-5, then ended the regular season winning 16 of its past 17 games.

“Last year was a magical season,” said Gahr head coach Alfred Howard. “I was truly blessed to inherit a team with senior experience and leadership with Lauryn Teramoto, Kameryn Mitchell, Alyssa Miyake and Amanda Ulloa. Teramoto was a one in every four years type of player. To have her finish out her career at Gahr as the assist leader, a league champion and an opportunity to play in a CIF championship game and the state tournament was a rewarding feeling. She will truly be missed, along with the other eight seniors that helped turn last year’s team around.”

Gahr’s offseason has been challenged with ongoing construction to its gymnasium. But that hasn’t stopped the Gladiators in what they needed to do to have another successful season. Howard said the players have gutted through intense workouts in the heat on the track and that the team is better conditioned now than last season’s team. 

Junior Christine Ho is the lone returner but will get a ton of support from senior Munveer Sogi and juniors Jody Colbert and Simarpreet Sogi, the only other returning players. Colbert and Ho were members of the Mid-Cities League first team last season.

“She was told early that she would need to bring another dimension to this year’s team and she has stepped up like the captain she is and has worked harder than anyone on the team,” Howard said of Ho. “Along with Jody and Simar, those three ladies have been named captains and have been out in front in everything we’ve done this offseason. We are expecting good things from Christine and those ladies.”

Howard plans to insert freshmen Rachel Fredenburg and Ella Sims into the starting lineup with Colbert, Ho and Simar Sogi and says Fredenburg wowed the coaches with her strength, toughness, hustle, and attention to detail while Mims is ‘physically what you want to see in a basketball player’ and is developing skills to have some big games this season. Look for sophomore Chloe Beard, a high-level guard who can score from anywhere on the court to also make a big impact this season.

The rise to the top of the Mid-Cities League last season allowed Gahr to move to the more competitive Gateway League this season. Howard has received high praise from Lynwood High head coach Ellis Barfield and Paramount High head coach Leon Polk, both of whom have said Gahr needs to play against the better teams. The Gateway League is stacked with a pair of Division 1 teams and Downey High is a Division 2AA team while the Gladiators moved up to 4AA.

“Our team is young, and we will take our bumps and bruises, learn from them and continue to compete,” said Howard. “This teams’ goals are very different that last years’ goals, bit the goals are definitely attainable.”

JOHN GLENN EAGLES

5-18, overall last season, 0-10 in the 605 League, sixth place

Head coach: Eric Peterson (third season, 5-39)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 24-85

Last time made the playoffs: 2011

Division 5A

STARTERS LOST: SR Janessa Leal (29 points scored last season)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Rose Felix (76 points), SR Emily Garcia (29 points), JR Maritza Corona (29 points), JR Aaliyah Ramirez (70 points)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Destiny Aguilar, SR Gianna Morales

TOP NEWCOMERS: N/A

At time of press, John Glenn High head coach Eric Peterson did not provide information on this season’s team. The Eagles ended two straight winless seasons with a five-victory campaign, but the program has gone through 12 straight losing seasons. 

LA MIRADA MATADORES

10-12 overall last season, 4-6 in the Mid-Cities League, fourth place

Head coach: Victoria Luong (fourth season, 12-31)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 30-63

Last time made the playoffs: 2018

Division 5AA

STARTERS LOST: Mira Ghadban

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Jirah Domingo, JR Jael Arreguin, JR Emily Gonzalez, JR Nayeli Tamayo

OTHERS RETURNING: JR Marissa Nhem, JR Francella Ortiz, JR Annabell Pedroza, JR Simran Sahota, JR Aleeya Willie

TOP NEWCOMERS: FR Jordin Shaw

La Mirada is making baby steps in its program, going 3-12 two seasons ago to a 10-win campaign last season. For the Matadores to have better success this season, they will have to bank on their experienced players who have been on varsity for two to three seasons.

“They are making drastic improvements and they have come a long way,” said head coach Victoria Luong. “It isn’t where we wanted to be at the end of [last] season, but it was a drastic improvement in comparison to the previous year.”

Heading into the Mid-Cities League portion of its schedule last season, most of La Mirada’s scoring came from senior Jirah Domingo and junior Jael Arreguin, combining to reach double figures 17 out of a possible 25 times as the Matadores were 6-6. But scoring remained a problem, failing to reach 50 points 15 times in 22 outings. Luong says the team still doesn’t have much height at the post position, but she has high hopes for the players that they will score more points this season. Look for Arreguin and Domingo to shine again this year with juniors Emily Gonzalez, Simran Sahota and Nayeli Tamayo joining them in a projected starting lineup. Freshman Jordin Shaw is one to look for, if not this season, then next season. Luong says she brings some basketball knowledge with her and while not up to par with Arreguin or Domingo, she is still a great addition to the team.

The Matadores couldn’t play in too many summer and fall league games as players had other commitments. But Luong says they put in a lot of effort and have been making changes in the right direction.  

“I am confident that we will finish in the top three in the Mid-Cities League this year,” said Luong. “The girls have put in the time, and they have more experience. Except for Jirah, all the other girls did not have basketball experience prior to joining the LMHS team their freshman year. One played on the city team, but that is not comparable to varsity level. A majority of the girls now have two years of experience under their belt and are coming out on the court with much more confidence. They also know what to expect and have been working on their game throughout the offseason.”

NORWALK LANCERS

16-12 overall last season, 6-4 in the Mid-Cities League, third place, lost to Anaheim High 85-25 in the Division 3A first round playoffs

Head coach: Ashley Baclaan (eighth season, 89-77)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 65-55

Last time missed the playoffs: 2017

Division 4AA

STARTERS LOST: Julieta Castellanos (5.5 points per game last season), Areli Gonzalez (5.4 ppg.), Rizzelle Pasqual (5.1 ppg.), Amanda Rangel (7.8 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Keilani Ganancial (18.2 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Justine Abat, JR Janii McGarrah, JR Celine Zavala

TOP NEWCOMERS: SR Rhean Pascual

For the fifth time in the last eight seasons, Norwalk posted a winning record and for the sixth time during that span, the Lancers reached double digits in victories. However, Norwalk has exited the playoffs in the first round seven times since the 2013-2014 season, leaving head coach Ashley Baclaan wondering what it takes to move farther in the postseason. In fact, going back to the 2007-2008 season, the Lancers program has reached the second round three times.

“It’s always a tough one to exit out of the playoffs,” said Baclaan, who needs four more victories to pass Richard Drake (2007-2013) in that category. “I think the girls tried their best, but unfortunately, we got rattled and couldn’t execute as we wanted. Anaheim was a great team and played awesome.”

While the Lancers graduated four starters last season, the one who is back was their leading scorer. Senior Keilani Ganancial was a Mid-Cities League first team member and has the potential to be the league’s most valuable player this season if she puts up the same, or better numbers. She may have to because Norwalk doesn’t return much after her.

The offseason was rough for Norwalk because of the graduation of eight players off a team of 14 and its gymnasium was torn down with a new one already under construction. Baclaan said the offseason training was minimal to none.

“Keilani will bring her game as it comes,” said Baclaan. “She’s a constant presence for us and I just look forward to seeing her excel in her final season. I know she’ll bring a leadership that will have all the new and young players coming up ready to compete to their best abilities.”

Justine Abat, who scored 15 players, and varsity rookie Rhean Pascual are the only other seniors while juniors Janii McGarrah and Celine Zavala join Abat as the only returning players. The Lancers will field two new juniors and five new sophomores as Norwalk will field one of its youngest teams in recent years and because of that, Baclaan says, ‘everyone is just working and building together’.

Norwalk will have a full schedule of 14 non-league games, its annual Glenn/Norwalk Tournament and 10 Mid-Cities League contests, all of which will be on the road with some of its league games being played at Glenn. 

“We’re approaching the season as it is,” said Baclaan. “With months of working around no true home facility, I think the girls have adjusted well and are just moving forward day by day. Plus, they usually like the early bus rides to get out of class and be together.”

Baclaan concluded by saying that the expectations are always for growth and that every year will have their road blocks and surprises. 

“We just try and have the girls play within the moments and keep moving forward with any outcome and lessons,” she added.

VALLEY CHRISTIAN DEFENDERS

6-19 overall last season, 1-7 in the Olympic League, fifth place

Head coach: Dan Leffler (second season, second stint, 8-19)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 45-83

Last time made the playoffs: 2022

Division 4A

STARTERS LOST: Molly Fortney (5.0 points per game last season), Carissa Kamstra (8.1 ppg.), Meghan Patterson (2.9 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: JR Chayse Chambers (2.4 ppg.), SO Jocelyn Tani (8.8 ppg. in 18 games)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Jada Thompson, SO Liana Lopez, SO Jiselle Park, SO Aniyah Peoples, SO Grace Verhoff

TOP NEWCOMERS: FR Hannah Burgoyne, FR Jenna Vankampen

For the seventh straight season, V.C. will have a new head coach and for the second time in three seasons, Dan Leffler assumes that role with last season’s head coach, Ariel Sanchez, remaining as an assistant. When Leffler took over two seasons ago, it was because the head coach at that time had left a week before the season started. Leffler was also the athletic director and admitted he had no intentions of coaching. But he says this time is much different.

“I stepped down from the AD position in June,” he said. “My youngest daughter graduated from Valley in May and plays college soccer in Boston. My wife and I have been travelling to the East Coast this fall to watch her play. The girls basketball program at Valley Christian has a rich tradition and I plan to devote the time and dedication needed to make our program relevant again.”

V.C., which lost 14 of its last 15 games last season, has one returning senior, and its Jada Thompson. Leffler says she brings leadership to the team, is the team captain and will start in the post. Sophomore Jocelyn Tani, who is the leading scorer of the returning players, is also projected to be in the starting lineup joined by sophomores Aniyah Peoples and Gracie Verhoef and freshman Hannah Burgoyne.

The Defenders will be young with six sophomores, three freshmen and two juniors, along with Thompson but Peoples, Tani and Verhoef played a lot of minutes as freshmen last season while Burgoyne and freshmen Jenna Vankampen are two potential stars for the future. 

“Jenna brings a ton of athleticism to our squad,” said Leffler. “Hannah is a sharp-shooting guard that has played a lot of basketball. Hannah is a fierce competitor, has an incredible work ethic and loves to be in the gym working on her game.” 

In eight Olympic League games last season, V.C. reached 40 points once, and that was a 41-40 win at Maranatha High. Leffler says the expectations for this season are to crack the top three in league and make the playoffs. He’s also hoping to finish at least 13-13, which would be the most victories for the program since going 22-10 during the 2016-2017 season.

WHITNEY WILDCATS

17-13 overall last season, 9-1 in the 605 League, tied for first place, lost to El Dorado High 53-44 in the Division 3AA second round playoffs.

Head coach: Myron Jacobs (fifth season, 59-39)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 79-49

Last time missed the playoffs: 2010

Division 2A

STARTERS LOST: Layla Lacorte (9.3 points per game last season in 19 games), Rachel Song (2.3 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Kylie Wang (12.4 ppg.), JR Haylie Wang (11.5 ppg.), SO Maddie Macaraeg (12.6 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Alyssa Troung, JR Rachel Moyher, JR Allie Yamaguchi

TOP NEWCOMERS: FR Cheyanne Cheung, FR Alyssa So

Since the 2010-2011 season, Whitney has produced one star player after another, or one solid team after another. The result has been 11 winning seasons out of the past 13, and one that wasn’t ended up a 14-14 campaign. Over the past 13 seasons, the Wildcats have finished in the top three in either the Academy League or the 605 League and the prospects of the program’s third straight league crown and seventh in the past 14 seasons are there.

“The offseason was a lot of work,” said head coach Myron Jacobs. “I choose to focus more on the younger girls and the girls who return from last season who didn’t play much. I thought me and my coaching staff did a great job in the offseason setting expectations and making my girls a little bit tougher and physical.”

This is a fun team to watch and be around with, and it starts with the big three-senior Kylie Wang, junior Haylie Wang and sophomore Mady Macaraeg. Kylie Wang was the 605 League’s Most Valuable Player and was the HMG-Community News All-Area Player of the Year while Haylie Wang and Macaraeg were first team All-League members. If their statistics were solid last season, expect those numbers to grow this season. The sisters didn’t play with the team that much over the summer because Jacobs wanted them to play 17-Under AAU basketball. That move paid off as Jacobs said it was like looking at two different players, improving their game ‘big time’. 

“The two girls will be ready to put on a show when it’s time to come,” said Jacobs. “Mady has gotten better [also], improving on her jump shot and on the defense. Mady is a kid that can give you a double-double every night as a guard and make it look easy.”

He is quick to say that the Wildcats have more weapons than the sisters and Macaraeg. Senior Alyssa Troung and juniors Rachel Moyher and Allie Yamaguchi are the other returning players with Troung and Yamaguchi expected to be in the starting lineup with the big three. Jacobs says the non-big three have improved on both sides of the ball and will be ready before the season opener.

Freshmen Cheyanne Cheung and Alyssa So are the next wave of potential Whitney greats. Jacobs says So is a ‘walking bucket’ who can hurt opponents from the three-point arc and attack the rim with confidence. Cheung is a ‘very athletic forward’ who can rebound, block shots and play really good defense.

Unlike last season, Jacobs didn’t go too crazy when putting his schedule together. But the Wildcats will be ready for the league competition they will get from Cerritos and Pioneer High by playing Crean Lutheran High, Orangewood High, Sonora High and Troy High. The ‘Cats will also participate in the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix just before Christmas.

“I think we are coming off a good fall league winning 13 games and only losing three, and the games we lost were good opponents,” said Jacobs. “Fairmont Prep, who we lost to by 14, and Brentwood, who we lost to by 10, are Division 1 schools who have really good athletes and talent. We are right there; we just need to get over the hump.”

Jacobs says his expectations are the same every year-to develop players win the 605 League and go deep in the playoffs. he knows he has a new team, but it’s a better team than last year and with a lot of athletic players with will produce more defense and rebounders.