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Whitney Girls Basketball Has Double Threat In Wang Sisters as Wildcats Eye Outright League Title

WHITNEY HIGH junior Haylie Wang (left) and senior Kylie Wang are focused this season to help bring the program its first 605 League outright league title in girls basketball. They are currently the top two scorers on the team. Photo by Loren Kopff.

January 4, 2023

By Loren Kopff @LorenKopff on X

For the past three and a half seasons, the Whitney High girls basketball program has been a major force in the 605 League because of sisters Haylie and Kylie Wang. Now, as the 2023-2024 regular season is more than halfway done, the Wildcats are hoping the sisters can guide the team to something that hasn’t happened since the 2013-2014 campaign-an outright league title.

Whitney entered its Jan. 3 605 League opener at Pioneer High sporting a 10-5 record with 13 games remaining in the regular season. The Wildcats, who have won at least ten games for the 14th straight season, are expected to vie for a league crown with Pioneer and Cerritos High, which has been the case for the past four seasons. 

For the Wildcats to reach this goal, Kylie and Haylie Wang will each have to have their best seasons to date. In Kylie Wang’s freshman season, the Wildcats came in second place behind Pioneer and one game ahead of Cerritos. The next season, all three schools were tri-champions, but the league played five games instead of ten games. Last season, Whitney and Pioneer were co-champions with a 9-1 league record, three games ahead of third-place Cerritos.

“I feel like time just flew; these past four years have passed so fast,” said Kylie Wang. “I think it’s partly because I’m amazed by the coaching staff and the team in general. I love the culture at Whitney.”

“They were part of the turnaround to make the program stronger,” said head coach Myron Jacobs, who took over a season before Kylie Wang began her high school career. “Don’t get me wrong, those girls are really good; they’ve improved themselves. These girls have dedicated themselves to the team. Again, it’s just not the Wang sisters. I think all the girls on the team take pride to make improvements. But those two girls stand out because they really dedicate themselves.

“Last year, we got put out in the playoffs and the next day in the morning, they were in the gym working because they were that determined to be better the next year,” he continued. “Kylie came in 100 percent and put herself out there acting like, ‘hey, I’m here to sacrifice my body and my time to be better for this team, this program, this school’. That means a lot to me as a coach.”

But it’s hard to believe that basketball wasn’t even their first option as an extracurricular activity when the sisters were young. Both were put into figure skating, with Kylie Wang beginning when she was in kindergarten and Haylie Wang lacing up the skates at the age of four. The eldest sibling said she did it for about four or five years before taking a liking to basketball. 

“It just didn’t click for me,” she remembered. “I didn’t like performing as only one person. I felt like it was just so much pressure on myself. So, I told my mom I don’t think figure skating was right for me. That’s when we started branching out and basketball was the next sport I tried, and I just stuck with that.”

It took just one basketball season with the City of Cerritos for Kylie Wang to fall in love with the sport. Her first coach was Ryan Lacorte, whose daughter Layla was another former Whitney standout and on the same team as Kylie Wang. After seeing Layla play basketball, said she wanted to be just like her. 

Now, the 5’9” senior, who will be taking her talents to Claremont McKenna College in the fall, has been stronger than ever as a scoring machine for the Wildcats. She leads the team with 257 points, including a career-high 35 points at Laguna Beach High on Dec. 11. She has missed one game and is averaging 18.4 points a game. 

But scoring has never been a problem ever since she began her high school career during the abbreviated Covid 2020-2021 season, which began some five months after its normal November start. She started all 17 games, scored six points in her high school debut at Rancho Alamitos High, had a season-high 16 points against Crossroads High two weeks later and scored in double figures seven times.

“During my freshman season, I came in not knowing a whole lot about the program,” Kylie Wang recalls. “I just came there and didn’t know what my role was, or my position was or what I would be doing to be an asset to the team. But coach Myron quickly showed me what I was needed to do. My freshman year was a year where I had to sort of figure out what my role was for myself. And playing behind the seniors [Kimberly Hosoda, Julianna Lee and Makenna Yokoyama] was also helpful. By the end of the season, I started to know how the program runs, how coach Myron coaches, and what my role was going to be.”

She remembered that Jacobs made her teammates “really inclusive” and that the team was welcoming to her as a freshman starter. She also remembered that Jacobs expected her to be more of a factor on defense.

“I think the first thing that impressed me about Kylie was her defensive effort and her competitive spirit,” said Jacobs. “The first time I saw her walking into practice…here’s this skinny freshman walking through the door, and you hear a lot of great things about her. But to see her on this play guard, a senior [who was] on her way out [of high school], and lock her down was like, this is what we needed. This is the one kid that was going to be the glue kid who I could build off to turn the program around and go into a direction where the future was bright.”

That season, the Wildcats went 10-7 and lost to Ayala High 54-43 in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3A playoffs. The next season would see Kylie’s younger sister, Haylie, enter Whitney to provide even more of a threat to opponents. Kylie Wang had a monster season-opener as a sophomore, scoring 25 points at South El Monte High while Haylie Wang, who is an inch taller, had nine points. The older sister would score at least 21 points in three other games and had 17 double-digit games while the freshman scored a season-high 21 points against Santiago High on Dec. 21 and would have eight other games of scoring in double digits.

Haylie Wang says that going into the summer before a freshman begins at Whitney is harder because to get in, someone has to leave Whitney. After she took the test to get into the highly-ranked academic school, it was the waiting game. She didn’t even get the email confirmation that she had been accepted until the beginning of August of 2021.

“We got lucky that Haylie actually passed the test and came [to Whitney],” said Jacobs. “We were lacking a big; we didn’t have a post player. We needed help. The year before, we had eight players and only one senior. We were kind of on the verge of a rebuild, but we needed another big body.”

“I just remembered the day we got the call that [Haylie] got into Whitney, we were all so excited because there was a low chance she would get in,” said Kylie Wang. “Her being here all together was a huge asset for us because we needed another big; we needed another player to help rebound and just score, and I feel like she brought that to our team.”

While she was waiting, Haylie Wang was expecting to attend Cerritos and even practiced that summer with the Cerritos junior varsity team. But the same day she got the call that she had been accepted into Whitney, both sisters were in the gymnasium practicing.

“I thought in case I didn’t get into Whitney I should at least start practicing for Cerritos for their summer program,” said Haylie Wang. “I was actually put on j.v., which was different.”

She remembers playing with current Cerritos varsity players her age, including juniors Kishan Saberon and Sophie Watanabe, among others. 

“We’ve been playing together since a very young age and I know that I can rely on her because we’ve been playing for so long,” said Kylie Wang. “Her getting that call and her being accepted into Whitney was just a huge thing for us because I never thought we would play on the same high school team.”

“This kid came in and never complained about workouts,” said Jacobs. “She never complained about running; she never complained about sand dunes. We knew that she was young, we knew that she really wanted to be on the wing. But this was a kid that was able to do it from every position on the floor. It was like someone threw us a Hail Mary and we got lucky.”

What Haylie Wang remembered from her freshman season was that she was more capable of doing things that she didn’t know she was capable of because Whitney had not had a history of having someone that tall and have the traits that Haylie Wang possesses. 

“I learned so much more about my game and how I can score better in the key,” she said. “It helps me, and it helps the team.”

As she was beginning her sophomore season, Kylie Wang knew the expectations would be greater as Jacobs began to implement more offensive plays for her, knowing that she liked to drive to the basket. But with Hayle now on board, the team was becoming more of a force in the league. The Wildcats went 18-5 but lost to Riverside Poly High 51-41 in the first round of the Division 3AA playoffs. It was the second straight season of losing in the first round after back-to-back quarterfinal appearances. 

Last season, the Wildcats went 17-13 and went to the second round of the Division 3AA playoffs before losing to El Dorado High 53-44. Haylie Wang had 21 games of scoring at least 10 points, including a season-high 22 points against Kennedy High on Dec. 2. Her older sister had 19 double-digit games and scored 31 at Santa Fe High on Nov.15 plus two other games of at least 24 points. 

“I thought as a team we played a very tough schedule and I think some of the teams that we played, we definitely showed out and played well,” said Kylie Wang. “But at the [Timber-Lion, ID] tournament, I know we could have done better. But we couldn’t win a game [there]. By the time we got to league, we knew what our goal was.”

“I thought last year was a lot different than my freshman year because of the travelling and that introduced us to new competition that we wouldn’t get from here,” said Haylie Wang. “From that, we were able to learn more about our team and get better. That helped us understand what we needed to succeed in the league.”

This season, the Wildcats won their first seven games and nine of their first ten games, including a come-from-behind win over Crean Lutheran High on Nov. 30. 

Whitney’s first loss was a six-point setback to Lakewood High in one semifinal game of the Glenn-Norwalk Tournament on Dec. 8. 

But the team has struggled lately, falling in three of four games in the NIKE Tournament of Champions in Mesa, AZ two weeks ago. 

Still, the sisters are one and two in the team’s scoring category with Haylie Wang 10 points behind her sister with 24 points, good for a 16.5 ppg. average. Haylie has scored double figures in all but one game and had a career-high 27 points against Rowland High on Dec. 9 in the third-place game of the Glenn-Norwalk Tournament. 

“I think we prepared a lot in the summer,” said Haylie Wang. “We went to Palm Springs, and we practiced every day in the summer. I felt like that really helped us to get comfortable with each other, especially with our two freshmen, and we were able to learn about them and their game.”

When the two are on the court together, they are prone to getting into foul trouble much earlier than later. Yet, they are mature enough not to pick up their fourth and fifth fouls until late in the fourth quarter, if it ever gets to that. Jacobs has all the trust in the world that neither of them will get careless and foul out. They complement each other so well that they don’t need to speak to each other to call out plays or tell each other where to go. They know what each other is thinking before it needs to be thought out. Because of that, it confuses the opposition even more.

“On the court, I sometimes can get a little mad at her,” said Kylie Wang. “I yell at her because I expect more from her out of everybody else because I know she can do better. But on the court, I tell her just to stick to what she knows and what works for her. I motivate her to not think about anything else; just play your game.”

“Mostly, it’s her telling me to wake up and do better,” said Haylie Wang. “But I feel like I let her figure it out because I don’t want to get her mad.

“I can tell when she’s about to make a drive, or I can tell when she wants to give me the ball,” she later added. “So, if I know she wants to give me the ball, I obviously stay in the key, get into my position and trust that she’s going to make a good pass.”

Long before the Wang sisters ever put on a Whitney uniform, one of the greatest basketball stars to come through the school’s ranks was Rachel Nagel, a current assistant coach at the University of San Diego who played collegiately at the University of California, Davis. 

In Nagel’s senior season at Whitney, which was the 2013-2014 campaign, she averaged 21.8 points a game, had 241 rebounds, 117 steals, 95 assists and 38 blocks. 

Either sister can put up those numbers throughout any season. But for Kylie Wang to end the season with at least a 20-point average, she would need to score at least 24 points in the remaining 13 regular season games.

“When I first came in as a freshman, I didn’t know who Rachel Nagel was,” said Kylie Wang. “But I’ve heard people talking about her and people telling me who she was and how good she was. I just knew she was always a great player.”

Whitney is ranked fourth in Division 2A and if the Wildcats are to have dreams of getting past the quarterfinals for the first time in school history, this might be as good of a chance, with the sisters, the emergence of sophomore Mady Macaraeg, freshman sensation Alyssa So, key returning juniors Rachel Moyher and Allie Yamaguchi and the five other players on the team.

“For me at least, I have a chip on my shoulder,” said Haylie Wang. “I want to get into the higher rounds, and I believe that we can this year, especially since we only lost to Lakewood by [six] points, and they’re [ranked] first in [Division 2A]. I definitely think we have a chance, and for me, as a senior, I want more from my team, and I think we do have a common goal of winning the league outright and getting [farther] in the [playoffs].”

In four and a half seasons as Whitney’s head coach, Jacobs is 69-44, which ranks him third in terms of victories behind David Garcia, who coached from 2000-2008 and Jeff Day, who was the head coach from 2012-2018. Both sisters credit Jacobs for making them the players they are today.

“He’s a coach that, coming into my freshman year, I didn’t have that much confidence in myself,” said Kylie Wang. “I remember I was going through a slump, and I was just not confident in myself. Coach Myron made sure that I was okay, and he built my confidence up. I owe all that to him. I just feel like he’s such a great coach; he knows what I like and what I don’t like. He knows how to coach me right. He knows me as a person, and I think that’s what sets him apart from some of my other coaches. I don’t think I would be here or get as many opportunities as I have today without him.”

“I think he has a coaching style that is customized for each player,” said Haylie Wang. “He knows how to get a response from me and how I respond to what he says. Based on that, I feel like he really motivates me for when I’m not starting off well in a game.”

As for the future of Whitney girls basketball, it seems to be in great shape if Jacobs, or future coaches continue to develop freshmen into star athletes. Beginning with the 2015-2016 season with Christine Hamakawa, there has been at least one freshman that has been a varsity starter and one of the team leaders in almost every season. Hamakawa was followed by Hosoda and Lee (2017-2018), Lacorte (2019-2020), Kylie Wang (2020-2021), Haylie Wang (2021-2022), Macaraeg (2022-2023) and So (2023-2024). 

Both sisters agree that So is off to a better start this season as a freshman than either one of them was when they were a ninth grader. In fact, Kylie Wang admitted that Whitney’s newest star has a lot more confidence than she did when she was a freshman. Part of that is because Jacobs has run his program year-round and So has gotten a jump start on knowing the team better than when Kylie Wang did prior to the start of her freshman season.

“Kylie has given everything that she has while at Whitney,” said Jacobs. “She has never held back. She has given 100 percent everything she has when she’s on that floor to us. As a coach and for Whitney and any other assistant coach will tell you, we are so appreciative of the kid. I wish high school was five years because I would love to coach her one more year. But as they say, all good things don’t last forever.”

“I think Whitney has something very special about freshmen; this one freshman coming in every single year who is so incredibly good,” said Kylie Wang. “This year it was Alyssa So and people stepping up like Allie and Mady has also helped. They have improved so much since from their freshman year to now.”

Jacobs wanted to stress that because Whitney doesn’t have a freshmen team like most schools, it has to develop its players even more, and if you’re a freshman that doesn’t get to be on varsity, you have to figure it out on the junior varsity team. 

“That’s tough for a team,” he added. “These two girls that came into this program is one of the biggest reasons why Whitney is where it’s at today. Yeah, we’re not Division 1 and we might not have won a CIF [championship]. But it goes beyond that. These two girls showed that hey, we can help build a program. They helped build it along with Layla Lacorte, Rachel Song, Kayla [Hamakawa], and now Mady Macaraeg and Alyssa So. These are girls that helped build Whitney. There’s no Whitney without those girls.”

Jacobs wanted to thank Whitney’s parents because, without them, the team’s success wouldn’t have happened. He said he doesn’t care how good a player is or how good a coach is. If a program doesn’t have parents on board who are willing to dedicate as much as the coaches and players do, then Whitney is not the same team or program as it is today.