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CIF-SS GIRLS BASKETBALL PLAYOFF PREVIEW – Pair of area teams seeded high while two more are ranked as playoffs begin.

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

Five area girls basketball teams will take center stage on Thursday as the first round of the CIF-Southern Section gets under way with second round games on Saturday. Two teams, who were in the same league last season but different leagues this season, are among the top four seeded teams in their divisions while two others are in the top 16 in their respective divisions.

DIVISION 2A

#16 Whitney High (19-9 overall, 8-2 in the 605 League, second place) @ Calvary Chapel/Santa Ana High (19-9, Orange Coast League champions).

Whitney was hoping to win the program’s first outright league championship since the 2013-2014 season but lost to league champion Cerritos High by four and five points, respectively. The Wildcats had a daunting schedule which should prepare them for the playoffs, losing to Sonora High (Division 1) by three points and defeating Crean Lutheran High (58-56) and Bishop Amat High (68-31) of Division 2AA. Whitney split four games against teams in the same divisions and three other losses came against teams out of state in the NIKE Tournament of Champions.

“Honestly, in this Division, I think we could have placed anywhere,” said Whitney head coach Myron Jacobs. “Looking at our first opponent, I think they’re a good team; well-rounded. Two of their kids play on my club team. So, I kind of know what we’re going through. They don’t have big [players]; they only have one. We have one, so it kind of makes it an even matchup. They’re 19-9, we’re 19-9.

“When I look at the bracket from top to bottom…I would have preferred to be in the middle of the bracket,” he continued. “But in reality, we can’t play in the middle of the bracket right now because we don’t have the height. I think where we’re at, I’m okay with it.”

Senior Kylie Wang and junior Haylie Wang each scored over 400 points in the regular season and are 40 percent of a potent starting lineup that includes freshman sensation Alyssa So, junior Allie Yamaguchi and sophomore Mady Macaraeg. The Wildcats have 11 players and the six on the bench don’t get too much playing time. When they do, juniors Kiera Kato and Rachel Moyher can provide some key points or rebounds along with freshman Cheyanne Cheung.

“I think Kiera plays a big role coming off the bench,” said Jacobs. “She gives us big time minutes and she’s more of a defensive play piece.”

Calvary Chapel/Santa Ana won all 10 Orange Coast League games but also lost to Martin Luther King High by two points and St. Margaret’s High in January. The Eagles went 2-2 in their first two tournaments before falling to Crean Lutheran by a point six days after Whitney defeated the Saints.

The winner will play either Campbell Hall High or top-seeded Louisville High in the second round.

DIVISION 3AA

Yorba Linda High (13-12 overall, third place from the North Hills League) @ #15 Cerritos (19-9, 10-0 in the 605 League, first place)

For the first time since the 605 League was formed, Cerritos went undefeated in league competition. The Dons also closed out the Suburban League with a 12-0 mark in the 2017-2018 season. Cerritos didn’t face anyone in its division. but went 2-0 against teams in Division 3A and of their losses, the Dons fell by nine points to Cypress High (Division 1), five points to Beckman High (Division 2A), a point in overtime to Diamond Bar High (Division 2A) in the championship game of the Corona Del Mar Tournament and to Fallbrook High, which won the Valley League of the CIF-San Diego Section and Torrey Pines High, which finished second in the Coastal League of the San Diego Section in the Southern California Holiday Prep Classic. Two other losses were to North Torrance High (Division 1), and to Gig Harbor out of Washington.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, and it had to do with things that were going on from the beginning of the season,” said Cerritos head coach Marcus Chinen. “As the season progressed, there were times where we had some girls hurt; a couple of injuries here and there.”

Cerritos has one of the deepest benches around and lately, have been plugging its two biggest players, senior Oneyka Nwanze and junior Ambar Multani in the starting lineup. During the first half of the season, one or the other would be a starter. Seniors Mailee Dizon and Mia Rivera and sophomore Cameron Lacorte are the other current starters however, Kishan Saberon has started 17 games. If the Dons need a spark off the bench, Chinen can turn to juniors Miya Scammahorn and Megan Wallace or freshmen Kalana Nguyen and Jordin Pulley.

“We had to really work on that,” said Chinen of his starting lineup. “In the very beginning, it was kind of hard because we had brought some girls up. But once they got everything going, we were able to turn it around and at any time, we can say, ‘hey, this girl can go in or that girl can go in’ and we would feel comfortable with that.”

Yorba Linda was third in a four-team North Hills League where everyone won anywhere from 12 to 17 games. The Mustangs won three straight and five of their first six to begin the season before losing four straight contests. One of those victories was against Laguna Beach High, 50-25, a common opponent of Cerritos which defeated the Breakers 49-34. Cerritos and Yorba Linda also defeated Peninsula High early in the season and both were victors against Foothill High while the two lost to Esperanza High and Los Alamitos High. Yorba Linda also defeated Cypress 67-63 in overtime and 53-52.

“It’s going to be a good matchup,” said Chinen. “Yorba Linda was ranked for awhile before us and we just snuck in at the last couple of weeks. They had some key wins off some pretty tough teams that I’ve seen. It’s not going to be one of those games where you’re just going to go in and win. It’s going to be a game where we’re going to have to battle.”

The winner will play either second-ranked Dos Pueblos High or Walnut High in the second round.

DIVISION 4AA

#4 Gahr High (18-8 overall, 2-6 in the Gateway League, fourth place) @ Santa Paula High (19-8, Citrus Coast League champions)

Gahr’s first season in the Gateway League was as expected as four of its league losses were to Division 1 teams and the other two came to Downey High (Division 2AA). Before that, the Gladiators began the season with eight straight wins, 10 of their first 11 games and 16 of their first 18 contests. They went 3-0 against teams in their division, including their only two league victories, and defeated a pair of Division 4A teams-Orange High and Valley Christian High. Gahr also went 2-2 against teams from Division 3A and up prior to league competition.

“It all comes down to scheduling,” said Gahr head coach Alfred Howard. “I knew moving up from the Mid-Cities League, with the team that we had returning…entering the gauntlet I knew we were going to have trials and tribulations. So, I wanted to have a favorable schedule and have a chance to make [the playoffs].”

Howard was referring to the Gateway League and going up against Downey, Lynwood High, Paramount High who all defeated Gahr by an average of 29.8 points per game. Gahr is young this season and if can’t make a deep run like last season, the Gladiators will be set for the next few seasons. Gahr faced three former Mid-Cities League teams and beat them by 42, 17 and 19 points, respectively.

Gahr’s most consistent starting five has been juniors Jody Colbert, Christine Ho and Simarpreet Sogi, and freshmen Rachel Fredenburg and Ella Mims. Sophomore Chloe Beard, a transfer from Mayfair High is a key bench player.

After splitting its first six games of the season, Santa Paula won seven of its next 12 games heading into Citrus Coast League action where the Cardinals won the remaining nine of their 12 league contests. In fact, Santa Paula dominated the league, outscoring the other six teams by 454 points. No other league team finished more than four games over .500 and Gahr and Santa Paula did not face a common opponent.

“We saw what they like to do,” said Howard on Santa Paula. “They have a talented freshman [Aryanna Lopez] who is averaging 18 [points per game] and a couple of seniors who are averaging 10 points apiece. They’re goal is to beat us; they’re going to be at home. Our job is to go out there and take care of business. Our players are salivating at the opportunity to go and upset that team and move on to the next round.”

The winner will play either #13 San Marino High or Valley Christian/Santa Maria High in the second round.

DIVISION 4AA

Norwalk High (13-15 overall, 7-3 in the Mid-Cities League, third place) @ # 16 Marina High (20-8, Wave League champions)

Norwalk played all its games off campus as its new gymnasium is under construction and despite beginning the season with five straight losses, the Lancers bounced back to claim a spot in the playoffs. The last 16 opponents were not above Division 3A and the Lancers faced just one team above Division 3AA. That was against Whitney, an 80-19 loss on Dec. 5. The Lancers went 2-1 against teams in their division and 2-2 against teams from Division 4A.

The key starter is senior Keilani Ganancial, who missed the ninth and 10th games of the season. She has scored at least 20 points in 10 games played and was the high scorer in 23 games. Complementing her in the starting lineup is senior Rhean Pasqual, juniors Janii McGarrah and Anahi Rodriguez and sophomore Monica Ruiz.

The Lancers have a tough task against Marina, which enters the playoffs winners of its last eight games. The Vikings have not scored more than 57 points in any game whereas the Lancers have eclipsed 50 points seven times. Common opponents include Valley Chrisitan High, which defeated Norwalk but lost to the Vikings and Fountain Valley High and Huntington Beach High, both of whom won their games against Marina and Norwalk.

The winner will play either Avalon High or second-ranked Canyon High in the second round.

DIVISION 5AA

Orange Vista High (10-11 overall, tied for second place in the Inland Valley League) @ #3 La Mirada High (18-5, 8-2 in the Mid-Cities League, second place)

La Mirada had a season to remember and being in Division 5AA with an experienced returning squad had a lot to do with it. The Matadores faced one team above Division 4AA, and that was Mayfair, which split a pair of games with La Mirada. The first league meeting went to the Monsoons, 65-59, with the Matadores taking the rematch 62-61. La Mirada went 5-2 against teams from Division 4AA, 1-0 against teams from Division 4A and 5-2 against teams from the same division. At one point, La Mirada won eight straight games.

The lone senior for the Matadores, and their leading scorer is Jirah Domingo, who has missed the last three games while in concussion protocol. Juniors Jael Arreguin and Emily Gonzalez and freshman Jordin Shaw had combined to start all but three games while juniors Simran Sahota and Nayeli Tamayo have split the starting duties.

Orange Vista went 5-3 in the Inland Valley League, tied with Canyon Springs High, which finished one game above .500. League champion Elsinore High, which went 6-2, was also a game above .500 overall. The Coyotes won five of their first seven games before going on a six-game skid. There were no common opponents between the two teams.

The winner will play either Liberty High or Sierra Vista High in the second round.