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2013-14 Foothill League Girls basketball preview

Posted: January 12, 2014 10:57 p.m.
Updated: January 12, 2014 10:57 p.m.

Valencia's Sandra Ikeora (32) is averaging 10.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game so far this year.

 

t’s rare to find a year like this in Foothill League girls basketball.

Usually there’s a team or two at the top and a definite bottom feeder or two.

Not the case in 2014.

Signs are pointing to Valencia repeating as Foothill League champions, with an exciting young team built around senior post player Sandra Ikeora — who could dominate on any given night.

But there are those who are saying Canyon, which won its fourth Foothill title in a row by sharing with the Vikings and made its customary deep run in the playoffs, has recovered quickly from graduations thanks to its own veteran Kali Vittallo.

Yet Golden Valley and Hart are intriguing.

Two uptempo, athletic teams used to bottom feeding look poised to make a run at the postseason and more.

West Ranch, though, might have the best returning player in the Foothill in Chico State-bound point guard Whitney Branham.

She doesn’t have a lot of threats surrounding her and Saugus is likewise not very deep.

Yet both teams are used to battling and can be competitive in league.

With all that, this could be the most competitive Foothill race since 2009 when two games separated the champion from the fourth-place team.

Valencia (10-6 thus far)

Valencia head coach Jerry Mike said there’s no reason to use youth as an excuse, even if three of his starters are freshmen.

They are three talented freshmen — 5-foot-11-inch point guard Kayla Konrad, guard Ashlee Ane and wing player Kenadee Honaker.

The emergence of Konrad has moved last year’s point guard Sabrina Thompson, just a sophomore, into more of a scoring role.

Those for surround the key element of this Vikings team — Ikeora.

Ikeora has player of the year ability, could score 20 points on a given night with double-digit rebounds and be a dominating player in the Foothill.

Thus far, the senior’s numbers are about the same as last year’s — 10.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game with 2.3 blocks.

“We need her to score more,” Mike said. “She really likes to pass. She gets the ball inside she likes to kick it out.”

Valencia’s advantage will be the size of its guards and its depth — even with five freshmen.

The Vikings have the option of going big inside to create matchup problems as well with the strong Ikeora and 6-foot-tall senior Paige Nealy.

Valencia could have been much better, but talented defensive stopper Talia Roth will miss the season due to a torn ACL suffered in July.

Canyon (14-2)

After four straight Foothill League titles and the graduations of 2013 Signal and Foothill player of the year Alia McCoy and versatile Jaya Schultz, one era is over.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean an end for Canyon at the top of the league.

Canyon has started the season 14-2, with four-year varsity veteran Kali Vittallo leading the way.

Vittallo, a tremendous shooter with range, is now running the point.

She is a definite player of the year candidate.

The Cowboys have size and experience with a stronger 6-foot-1-inch junior Delaney McCann at center.

Canyon head coach Chuck Johns has had a lot of faith, giving her minutes with his varsity stars of the past.

A couple of players who have bigger roles this year are post player Monica Friedl and wing Alexa Porcia.

Both, a senior and junior respectively, have come a long way from not playing organized basketball until their freshman year to now.

The hope is that Schultz’s little sister Leena, a sophomore guard, will continue to heal from ACL surgery this summer.

“We still have a lot of pieces coming back. We have some kids,” Johns said. “I think their expectations and standards are just as high as any other team in the past.”

West Ranch (9-7)

West Ranch is relying on player of the year candidate, the Foothill League’s leading scorer in 2013, senior Branham to score, rebound, pass, direct and make her teammates better.

A tall task, but the Wildcats have no choice with little depth.

Senior wing Jasmine Hayes gives Branham some scoring relief with an ability to score double figures.

Sophomore twin guards Jami and Jill Wyman are experienced basketball players who may provide the Wildcats with a boost.

Freshman forward Katie Jacobs gives West Ranch a little size but it doesn’t have much.

The Wildcats have started the season at 9-7, which says that first-year head coach Allison Moore is getting a lot from her team.

“I’ve been hearing people have very low expectations for us. We think we will surprise some people,” Moore said.

Saugus (9-7)

Saugus head coach Kent Eaton maintains that this is a different story going into 2014.

However, there are the similarities.

The Centurions again are short on depth, are not big on star power and are more in the hunt for a playoff spot than a Foothill League title.

But Eaton said this team differs from the 2013 version in that it doesn’t possess the athleticism of last year’s squad and doesn’t have the cohesion.

“We’ve got some experience and my expectation is I’m hoping we can beat Golden Valley, Hart, West Ranch,” Eaton said. “I think if we put it together, we might be able to hang with Valencia and Canyon depending on how we shoot.”

A lot will be on the shoulders of senior power forward Justice Bennett, who had a strong debut last season after transferring in from Missouri.

Bennett has a well-rounded game (she is averaging 12 points and eight rebounds per game) and will give Saugus some muscle down low.

Junior point guard Mija Williams has been the Cents’ second offensive option thus far, a year after she was mostly a bench player.

Eaton said 5-foot-10-inch senior Tiffany Cary is an X-factor. He said she’s capable of being a double-digit scorer, and Saugus might need that to get into the CIF-Southern Section postseason because it doesn’t have much depth.

Hart (8-7)

It’s finally here.

After a combined 12 wins the last two seasons, Hart is in a position where it could compete in the Foothill League and reach the postseason for the first time since 2011.

Finally Hart has some size and some versatility that will allow its best player and now three-year varsity player Breze Kimble to operate away from the basket.

Kimble, who will be a guard in college and will likely be playing at a four-year university, has had to be the Indians’ center her first two seasons.

She’s still putting up center-like numbers with 17.9 points, 12.5 rebounds and tough defense every outing.

But she finally has help.

Freshman Sophia Jacobsson has moved into the point guard position, allowing sophomore Julia White to play shooting guard and do what she does best — a little of everything.

Newcomer Nicole Benz has been the team’s best outside shooter and is defending and rebounding well inside.

Hart will benefit from the addition of power forward Emma Thompson, an energetic junior who had to sit out 30 days because of her transfer from Alemany.

“For me to say this is the most excited I’ve been coaching doesn’t say much because I’ve been here three years. But we have a group of kids who are young, very fired up, super-motivated and love to play together,” said Hart head coach Terra Palmer.

Golden Valley (11-4)

Golden Valley is 11-4 going into league play.

Are the Grizzlies that good?

Very possibly.

The Grizzlies are big on athleticism, have size and had last year to learn from, which in turn brings confidence.

“I know we’re capable of winning Foothill games,” said second-year head coach Kerri Garland. “It’s about us being smart and taking care of the ball and continuing to come together. I feel we could finish as one of the top three.”

With track star Caitlyn Zindroski coming into her own as a scoring guard and regularly scoring double digits (one time shoe broke 30) and Mariah Madison also capable of being a double-figure scorer, Golden Valley is scoring nearly 60 points per game.

Garland has fast-paced offense in her blood as a former College of the Canyons player.

Newcomers Serene Tyus and LaDaesha Merriweather and varsity veterans Keilani Conner (point guard) and Cherokee Cardriche (center) give the Grizzlies versatility.

They should be able to match up well with all the teams in the Foothill.

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