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2023 GLENN-NORWALK GIRLS BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT – Whitney dusts off the early rust against Rowland to take third place in tournament again

The Whitney High girls basketball team, which lost its first game of the season last Friday night, finished in third place of the Glenn-Norwalk varsity basketball tournament.

December 13, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X/Twitter

Last season, the Whitney High girls basketball team breezed through its first two games of the Glenn-Norwalk tournament, then lost to Los Altos High by two points before easing past Whittier High to get third place. It was nearly the same scenario last week as the Wildcats slammed their first two opponents, before falling to champion Lakewood High 62-56 in one semifinal contest last Friday at Glenn High.

In the third place game last Saturday, Whitney trailed Rowland High by seven points early in the second quarter before outscoring the Raiders 39-16 over a 14-minute span to win going away 69-60, claiming third place in the tournament once again. 

“It wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but it was definitely something that we were a little disappointed in,” said Whitney head coach Myron Jacobs. “Lakewood was a very good team, but I thought we were the better team. We just beat ourselves. Going into the fourth quarter, we were exchanging baskets, eventually going down by five, to going down by seven, and then before fight back.”

Whitney had won its first seven games to begin the season, including a come from behind, quality 58-56 win at Crean Lutheran High. With the team practicing against the Whitney boys junior varsity team to prepare themselves against tough opponents like Lakewood and others, it still wasn’t enough towards the end of the tournament to propel the Wildcats into a potential championship game meeting against runner-up Los Altos High.

Whitney trailed Rowland 15-9 at the end of the first quarter as it shot 33 percent from the field. Junior Haylie Wang was doing much of the damage with four points, four rebounds and an assist. She continued to dominate in the second quarter, scoring another eight points with four more rebounds, another assist and a blocked shot. But one of the bright, future stars of the Whitney program began to take over in the final half of the stanza.

Freshman Alyssa So, who scored 58 points in the tournament, made it a one-point game with a three-pointer with 3:50 left in the half, then put her team in front with another downtown basket with 3:16 left, taking a pass from Wang following an offensive rebound. So ended the half with her eighth point and just like that, the ‘Cats had a 28-26 halftime lead. 

“I think the message going into [the Rowland] game was to take care of business,” said Jacobs. “We definitely didn’t have Kylie Wang due to some personal issues. So, we had to go with what we had. Basically, it was let’s take care of business and get out of tournament if anything, losing one game and get ready to focus on the next games coming up.”

Rowland’s Saray Castro began the second half with a pair of free throws before a three-pointer from Wang gave Whitney the lead for good. Then So would take over and was nearly a one-person show. She had three straight baskets, one coming off a steal and another coming from a steal from junior Allie Yamaguchi. An offensive putback from Wang completed an 11-0 run and later in the stanza, another steal from Yamaguchi, who fed the ball to So, began a mini 6-0 run as Whitney was up by 15 points.  So added one more basket in the fourth quarter after another steal and finished with a career-high 20 points. She was named to the All-Tournament team for her performances throughout the four games, and through the first 10 games this season, she has 124 points, goof for third on the team behind the Wang sisters.

“Alyssa is a great player, but she’s still only a freshman,” said Jacobs. “Alyssa, I thought, just needed a little bit of a motivative speech to get her going. Like I told her, don’t force the game, let it come to her and remember what we went over in practice.

“I thought Alyssa played well,” he later added. “I thought she played the way I want her to play every night and every quarter in every game. She realized she didn’t do anything in the first two games of the tournament, and she realized [tonight] was a big game. She had a sluggish start, but she stepped up and she did some things we couldn’t get out of the other girls.”

Wang scored a game-high 27 points and pulled down rebounds while sophomore Mady Macaraeg added 10 points, four steals, three rebounds and two assists. Whitney defeated Laguna Beach High 83-39 this past Monday and hosted Troy High this past Wednesday. The ‘Cats will venture to the Valley of the Sun to play in the 26th annual Nike Tournament of Champions in Mesa, AZ. Whitney will face (Summerlin, NV) Faith Lutheran High on Monday in bracket play with the winner facing either San Diego-based Francis Parker High or Mesa High on Tuesday. The Wildcats will have a game on Wednesday and another one on Thursday before returning home.

“I think it’s really good for kids,” said Jacobs. “You get tired of playing against the schools around you, whether you’re beating them or losing to them. It’s always a good experience to be able to give them a chance to go out and travel together and build more of a chemistry on the road and play against some of these teams that we would never get a chance to play against out here in California.”

Elsewhere in the tournament, Norwalk High found out the hard way that it is not about senior Keilani Ganancial, who entered the week-long event scoring at least 20 points in seven of the team’s first nine games. Ganancial scored 11 points, but the rest of the team was missing in action as the Lancers fell to Huntington Beach High 64-18. Norwalk went 1-3 in the tournament with its lone win coming against Workman High, 46-20, on Dec. 4.

Against Huntington Beach, the Lancers were outscored 17-2 in the first quarter without scoring from the field, and 18-1 in the third quarter. They missed all nine of their first quarter shots from the field and got their first true basket 50 seconds into the second quarter. In fact, Ganancial scored Norwalk’s first two baskets and three of the four the team collected in the second quarter.

“Definitely low energy,” said Norwalk head coach Ashley Baclaan. “We’ve kind of been on that same type of roller coaster since the start of our season. We’re still trying to find our balance.”

The Oilers, who led 33-11 at the half, scored the first 18 points of the third quarter before Ganancial made one of two free throws with 32 seconds left in the stanza. She and junior Anahi Rodriguez would each sink a three-pointer in the fourth quarter to account for the rest of the scoring.

“I could hear a little bit of the communication of what we’re asking for,” said Baclaan. “We do get into the lane, but we just can’t drop an easy bucket. We’re missing some opportunities that we should be capitalizing on. That third quarter slump seems like a norm right now.”

Ganancial missed the first two games of the tournament and came off the bench in a 62-32 loss to Fountain Valley High last Friday but scored 15 points. Only two other players have reached double figures in scoring this season. Senior Rhean Pasqual scored 10 points against Workman and junior Janii Magarrah scored 14 at Santa Fe High on Nov. 30 and 13 at Montebello High on Dec. 1.

“One thing with our squad this year, it’s very young, in my opinion,” said Baclaan. “Out of our returners, Keilani is the only one that is returning with the experience and the minutes. Even the other returners…they played minimal last year. We’re still trying to figure out how to get them into the level of intensity that we need.”

This was Norwalk’s only tournament of the season, and all 28 games are on the road as the school’s soon to be new gymnasium is under construction. The Lancers (4-10) were defeated by Valley Christian High 54-40 this past Tuesday and went to Savanna High the next day. Norwalk will face Legacy College Prep on Friday and Bolsa Grande High on Thursday.

“We just have to refresh ourselves,” said Baclaan. “I told them to clear the mind and we have to attack next week as a brand new week and hopefully chip away at it as we start our practice first and prep for our next few games. But I hope that with the experience that we got [in this tournament] with those fast and pressed-type teams, we’re going to channel that.”

Another area team finding this season to be even rougher than Norwalk is its city rival and co-host of the tournament. John Glenn High, which has been injury plagued from the first game of the season and wasn’t one of the 12 teams in the tournament, filled in last Saturday when Workman couldn’t show up. The Eagles faced California Academy of Math and Sciences and were on the losing end of a 54-20 decision, dropping the team to 2-7.

“It was a good effort,” said Glenn head coach Eric Peterson. “I give them an A for effort. But we just didn’t have the talent to kick butt, having to [bring up] three junior varsity girls just to make [a team for today] put us at a disadvantage from the beginning. All my starters are mainly hurt, so, it’s just rough. We’re just not that deep.”

Senior Rose Felix scored 14 points in the first game of the season, a 41-15 win over Magnolia Science Academy. She hasn’t played since then because of an injury and senior Gianna Morales was another starter who missed the CAMS game because of an injury. Still the Eagles kept the game close early on as they trailed 12-10 after the first quarter. Glenn even went on a 6-0 run to take a 10-7 lead with 2:40 left in the quarter. But the Rebels went on a 13-0 scoring spree and the hosts would not get closer than six points the rest of the game.

Even down 26-15 at the break with the team shooting seven of 18 from the field and getting 13 rebounds, and turning the ball over 14 times, Peterson’s halftime speech was simple and to the point, considering he had to call up a pair of junior varsity players and had seven for the game against CAMS.

“Just to keep moving forward,” he said. “Just to build on something positive; not so much the wins and losses, but just being able to execute, let’s just make good plays and let’s just try to keep building and keep going forward.”

One of the two junior varsity call-ups was sophomore Michelle Marin, who scored eight points. Senior Alex Rodriguez added four points and had half a dozen rebounds while three players combined for the other eight points.

“Michelle is excellent; I love her hustle and energy,” said Peterson. “She’s a very positive person, so I’m looking forward to her being on varsity next year.”

While the Eagles scored 41 points in each of their two wins, they have managed only 109 points in their five losses. Glenn visited Collins Family High this past Wednesday and will host Rancho Alamitos High on Monday before going to Baldwin Park High on Thursday.