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John Glenn varsity basketball programs keeping chins up despite recent issues

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

One school, two varsity basketball programs and many on and off the court issues over the past several seasons. That is what the John Glenn High varsity basketball programs have been facing despite some signs of success, especially with its boys program.

The boys were blasted by Cerritos High 90-14 last Friday night, falling to 10-9 overall at the time and winless in four 605 League games. The Eagles, who are in Division 5AA of the CIF-Southern Section, were 9-5 entering 2024 with their victories coming against teams either in the same division, in Division 5A or against comparable schools from the CIF-Los Angeles City Section, some of which most of us haven’t even heard of. 

But Glenn has found the league a different story and has only mustered 14 points against Artesia High and Whitney High on Jan. 3 and Jan. 5 respectively and 18 points against Oxford Academy on Jan. 9. First-year head coach Chris Palisin, who recently coached Oxford Academy and guided the Patriots to their first ever playoff appearance during the 2019-2020 season, said his Glenn team this season is a junior varsity team, youth-wise, playing on a varsity league schedule. Only senior Justin Rodriguez is the lone established returning player.

“The competition is better; they’re all ranked teams,” said Palisin of league versus non-league. “Four of the five [other] teams in our league are making the playoffs. It’s tougher competition [with] great coaching. Length, programs; three levels of programs. We have one level here [with] a total rebuild here with only 11 guys. So what we’re seeing here is a completely different level.”

This season will mark the third straight in which the Eagles will have won at least 10 games. Before that, Glenn failed to win eight games in 14 straight seasons under five different head coaches, despite advancing to the playoffs in 2014, and went 11-151 in league action during that time.

But when former head coach Sam Abebe took over prior to the 2021-2022 season, the Eagles appeared to be flying in the right direction. With a solid starting lineup of seniors Natanael Jacobo, Richard Ramos and Joan Salgado, junior Michael Salcedo and sophomore Seyharmony Somchan, plus just three other players, Glenn went 14-13 for the program’s first winning season on over 25 years, and advanced to the quarterfinals.

Glenn had 11 players on last season’s team, five of whom were seniors, one of the two sophomores never played a minute, and the other was a late season addition. The troubles began after the fifth game when the first of four player defections left the program. He was a transfer from the previous season and was expected to be the team’s leading scorer. Two more subtractions came after the 18th contest when the team was sitting at 8-10 and the last came two games later. 

The Eagles finished 11-17 overall, 3-7 in league, tied for fourth place and missed the playoffs. Abebe left the program when the season concluded and there were rumors that he was forced out because the parents didn’t approve of his coaching style, which has been a thing with other Glenn athletic teams. But if last season was bad, this season began worse with Rodriguez, four sophomores, three juniors, one freshman and one other senior. 

“That itself is the most major challenge,” said Palisin of his young team buying in. “After that, it doesn’t matter about X’s and O’s. Every coach in this league knows X’s and O’s. There are a lot of coaches [who know] X’s and Y’s and no X’s and O’s. Encouraging them to come out here at John Glenn is a challenge. But we’re in it, encouraging them to stick with it and have fun and have a winning season.

“I’m always pushing buy-in and I’m always trying to engage with my team,” he later added. “I love the relationship building and the mentoring that I’m able to do here at John Glenn. It’s more mentoring and leading than it is coaching right now.”

This season, Glenn fell to Magnolia Science Academy by one point in overtime in its opener, then won eight of its next 10 games. The Eagles were scoring in the 40s and 50s in nine of those games. But since then, they have yet to reach 40 points and have managed to score at least 33 points four times. The other five games, all losses, have been by 50 points or more, causing Palisin to accuse visiting coaches of running up the score.  

“We just have to get better at breaking the press,” said Palisin. “Every team in league is going to press us. We have press breakers in; we just have to keep focusing on fundamentals and breaking the press. It’s really tough with such a young team.”

Glenn would lose to Liberty Christian High 36-33 last Saturday and began the week at 10-10. The Eagles host Pioneer High on Wednesday to complete the first round of league and is scheduled to play two more non-league games before the end of the month. With the leadership of Rodriguez, who has scored in double figures nine times, and the emergence of sophomores Bundana Adams and Jesse Caldwell, Glenn’s dream of the playoffs is still there for the taking as it would need to go at least 4-4 with five of those games on the road.

“We’re a winning team, and I like that we have a chance to be .500 and qualify for the CIF Division 5AA playoffs,” said Palisin following the loss to Cerritos. “And you can qualify by being .500, and we have a winning team, especially for being so young and getting the job right before the season started. So, I’m proud of their attitude and effort because it’s a whole new culture. 

“I’m holding them accountable every day and there’s going to be some pushback because they’re not used to that,” he continued. “But we have not given up, we’re facing tough teams and we’re still going to work and going to practice.”

It’s a slightly different story for the Glenn girls program, which has been riddled with injuries and low numbers the past two seasons. After losing all 21 games in the 2021-2022 season, head coach Eric Peterson’s first with the program, he went 5-18 last season with a squad of six juniors and three sophomores. But at times, several were injured or sick, and it got bad on Jan. 27 when the Eagles had to forfeit a league game against Cerritos because there weren’t enough players available.

This season, Peterson thought it would get a little better with seven returning players. However, the only game in which he has been able to field a starting lineup of seniors Destiny Aguilar, Rose Feliz, Emily Garcia and Gianna Morales and junior Maritza Corona was the opening game. Since then, each game has been a patchwork because of who has been injured and who has been healthy.

“It’s been a little rough,” said Glenn assistant coach Sharae Moten, a 2011 graduate of the school. “We just have to work on that. Our goal was to have a better recovery [coming] back, but the [weather has been] cold and the kids are sick and having injuries. So, it’s been a little hard for us because we had the high goals of all our seniors that we have this year.

“We mix it up around to give everyone opportunities,” she later added. “We don’t have a set starting lineup or anything like that. We just base it on availability and who works hard [in practice] and give them the opportunity. We just utilize what we have when we have [it] because we don’t always have everybody.”

The last time the Eagles had a winning record was Moten’s senior season when Glenn went 19-9 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. That was followed by six straight seasons of single-digit victories before Glenn went 13-15 but finished in fifth place in the old Suburban League. The program won 11 games four seasons ago before the recent troubles began.

Scoring has been one of those troubles as Glenn’s season-high a year ago was 38 points, which was its season-opener at Mountain View High. Glenn was held to under 25 points 16 times last season, including the last 10 games and only twice was there a double-digit scorer.

This season, it’s more of the same as Glenn’s season-high has been 42 points, which came on Dec. 15 at La Puente High (42-11). Two other wins were 41-15 and 41-18 scores at Magnolia Science Academy and against Blair High, respectively. The last win by the Eagles came on Dec. 21 at Baldwin Park High, a 27-17 decision.

No one has scored more than 14 points and that occurred three times. In the season opener, Felix scored 14 points while Garcia added 12 more. Two days later, Garcia scored 14 points against South El Monte High and against Blair, Aguilar scored 14 points while Morales added 10 points. After that, only one player has reached double figures in scoring, and that was Aguilar at Collins Family on Dec. 13. Had they not been injured Corona and Felix would have helped the Eagles capture a few more wins. Corona has scored just two points so far and Felix, who missed eight straight games and still wears a brace on her knee, has scored 40 points with six games remaining after scoring 76 points last season.

“Rose has been a great leader; she’s one of the captains that we selected this year because she’s stepped up in the offseason,” said Moten. “She’s just a hooper; she understands the game and she just plays hard all the time and is just as easy on the court as she is off the court.”

This season, Glenn has been defeated in league by Artesia High 53-32, Whitney 81-25, Oxford Academy 64-7 and Cerritos 64-12. For the Eagles to get to the playoffs, they would need to win at least five of their last six contests and maybe get help from other teams along the way. Still, Moten and the team are keeping it positive with the main goal for the rest of the season simply being just to have fun.

“We can, for sure, be more competitive because we have a lot of talent that we can use and stagger,” said Moten. “We know what’s our advantages and disadvantages are. We just [want them to] have fun and just keep learning and growing as a team, and as individuals.”

Glenn will visit Artesia on Friday and Whitney on Wednesday.