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Foothill League Girls Basketball Preview: It’s full of contenders

One thing is certain — no one has an easy path to the title

Posted: January 9, 2010 10:47 p.m.
Updated: January 10, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Lindsey Hill, Valencia's senior point guard, pushes the ball on a fast break for the Vikings in their season-opening 77-45 win over Oxnard on Dec. 1.

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Graduations and departures have left things shaken up at the top of Foothill League girls basketball.

Saugus, the reigning champion, is struggling to find ways to replace the production of Nicole Hicks and Gabrielle Conn.
West Ranch returns a host of players but got off to a slow start.

Valencia lost Starla Wright, who graduated and now plays for Cal Lutheran. Despite the return of talents Lauren Spargo and Lindsey Hill, who was an All-SCV selection last year, Valencia too, is hovering just above .500 heading into league play.

Golden Valley lost Jasmine Jefferson, its leading scorer last year. The Grizzlies also underwent a third regime change in six months when Marq Hawkins stepped up to try and steady the ship.

Hart carries the record of a rebuilding team into league play — it’s a young, fast group with a lot of potential but looking for consistency.  

With a new coach but a balanced roster of returning players, this might be the year for the Cowboys, who haven’t won a title since 1973.

First-year head coach Chuck Johns has the Cowboys’ top guns of Brooke LeMar and Adriana Dent loaded and poised to make a run at the title.

“I think that this being my first year, I’m not sure what to expect. But I know that it will be competitive and that there are a lot of strong, well-coached teams,” Johns said. “It will be a test.”

So far, the Cowboys have passing marks, earning an 11-5 pre-league record.

Depth is perhaps the biggest asset for the Cowboys, which allows for flexibility in the starting lineup according to Johns.

The two strongest constants have been Dent, a junior, and LeMar, a senior.

LeMar, who is headed to Southern Illinois next year to play for the Salukis, is one of the league’s premier backcourt players. She brings the intangibles for Canyon, like leadership and court savvy.

Dent is a solid compliment. Whether near the perimeter or the post, Dent is the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.5 points per game.

She also contributes close to five rebounds.

“(Dent) is a big kid who’s very athletic, and she can create a lot of opportunities for herself and she really gets out on the break,” Johns said.

Leading the team’s effort on the boards at seven per game is Mariah Mewborn, a 6-foot sophomore shooting 50 percent from the floor, with a growing offensive game to match her rebounding prowess.

Senior Kayla Michel, another talented 6-foot post player for Canyon, has battled injuries all year but will be a player to watch as the season progresses and she gets healthy.

West Ranch (7-6) and Valencia (8-7) also figure to play big roles in the title race.

The Wildcats return four starters and seven key contributors from a team that finished third in the league last season.

Randy Smith, who is in his second year as coach, took over in October before last season and had little time to work with his squad.

With a summer under his belt and the return of Erin Ruiz, a talented guard, the team has really started to come together, Smith said.

“I think we started the season very inconsistent, but I think our last six games, we are starting to gel,” he said.

Ruiz has been a big part of that. Through 13 games, her scoring average is nearly identical to last season’s 14.6 per game.

She led her team with 11 points as West Ranch edged Valencia 48-45 in the consolation championship of the Beverly Hills Classic on Dec. 31.

The Wildcats’ biggest loss was Alex Ritz, a defensive specialist, who was a senior last year.

But Kaylyn Tarver, a 5-foot-7-inch senior, has stepped nicely into that role, Smith said.

Smith said her typical stat line includes four blocks, four steals, seven or eight rebounds and eight or nine points, and “she’s always playing the other team’s best scorer.”

The team doesn’t have a lot of traditional post presence, but instead will rely on speed and transition baskets to win.

However seniors Brittani Walker and Tori Wilson are averaging a combined 13 points and 15 rebounds to help run West Ranch’s up-tempo offense.

Valencia may have been bested by West Ranch in a preseason test, but don’t discount the Vikings’ talented squad or its chances at contention.

Vikings head coach Jerry Mike said the team’s record reflects the rocky road the squad has been on in a young season.

“It’s been a little up-and-down in the beginning,” Mike said. “We’ve had some good wins and a few hard losses.”

He said the starting lineup is still taking shape despite the team having 14 games under its belt.

Hill has been a steadying presence at the point for Valencia, averaging 10.9 points per game while shooting 42 percent from the field and dishing out 4.5 assists.

Spargo improved her scoring average from last year and also added strength to the Vikings’ rebounding, which has helped center Faith Anumba with post defense.

As an undersized center, the 5-foot-8-inch Anumba has routinely been burdened with guarding players at least four inches taller than her. But her ability to alter shots and rebound has been big for Valencia.  

“We’re a good transition team, we get the ball out and move it around and we try to get some open looks and get the ball into (Anumba),” Mike said, adding that the team’s size has encouraged a faster pace.

Jenny Lentz, who was a second-team all-Foothill League selection, continues to thrive for the Vikings. Her 10 points per game average is a solid compliment to Hill’s passing.

But when the offense needs a spark, it seems to be Spargo that usually gets the call.

In addition to possessing the team’s most complete game on offense and defense, she has an ability to score at will on drives, pick up fouls and shoot with consistency.

Her field-goal percentage regularly hovers in the 40- to 50-percent range, despite the fact that she is called upon to score from all over.

Mike said that finding offensive consistency from the fifth starting spot will be critical to the team’s success this year.

“I’m still kind of learning about the team,” he said.

At the same time, the Indians are looking to establish rhythm on offense and defense.

Hart head coach Zach Koebel said his team’s record may be 5-9, but they’ve  showed the potential to be 9-5.

Three of the Indians’ losses were by a combined six points, and another was to a team that they had beaten earlier by 15.

He said the losses did, however, reveal a problem for his group — consistency.

Hart also seems to have the same issue as its Foothill League rivals — there isn’t a lot of size on its roster.

Koebel said the focus this year will be on using the defense to create shots in transition and limiting mistakes, which have cost the Indians dearly in their losses.

“Turnovers will kill us,” Koebel said. “The shooting percentage for us isn’t as important, because we’re hoping to manufacture opportunities on defense.”

Hart has had trouble stopping teams that run set offenses well. As a result, the Indians use a little more up-tempo pace than Koebel’s predecessor, Dave Munroe. Koebel said Munroe crafted 15 league titles in 18 seasons with methodical and effective half-court sets.

“If you look at our roster, it’s night-and-day,” Koebel said. “Our post player is the size of some of the guards that (Munroe) had in the past. We’re still a work in progress, but we’re pressing full-court more, we’re looking to be in transition more.”

Despite playing against taller opposition, 5-foot-8-inch Brittany Costanzo has been a steady post presence for the Indians.

Costanzo, who was a second-team all-league selection last year, has an all-around element to her game, Koebel said. “She’s kind of an inside-outside player. She can shoot outside, handle the ball or post up, when there’s a mismatch. And she’s fearless on the glass.”

Melissa Boscarino, who was a freshman on varsity last year, has provided quality play at the point for Hart.

Charlotte Reininger, a junior, has been one of the team’s better rebounders and a solid front-court player. Junior Christine Falcone gives most teams match-up problems because of her combination of size and agility.

The cast will help replace the talents of Morgan Lincoln, a skilled ball-handler that elected not to come out to focus on academics; Amanda Corona, who graduated; and Taylor Cubas, who transferred to SCCS.

Speaking of departures, nobody was hurt more than Saugus (5-12).

Hicks and Conn may have been the most talented duo in the league last year. Conn is now playing for Ventura College, a program that is a perennial contender at the community college level, and Hicks plays at San Francisco State.

Kaylynn Martin, a senior bound for The Master’s College next year, leads the offense from a guard-forward position.

But despite also having an adept point guard in Jordan Oster, Saugus has had a tough time finding a rhythm offensively.

“We’re struggling to put the ball in the basket, but the attitude is great,” Eaton said. “(Martin) is a captain and guiding them in the direction they need to be going.”

Megan Dawe has been a consistent post presence for the Centurions in a league that isn’t very frontcourt heavy. Her nearly double-digit scoring average has been a huge boost to a young team looking for offense.

Kim Smyther has been a tough rebounder and defender for the squad. Eaton called her an “intimidating factor out there.”

Sophomores Kayla Hiller and Crsytal Makous contribute valuable minutes along with freshman Rachel Eaton.

Golden Valley is another team looking to overcome struggles that can be inevitable with change.

Hawkins had his work cut out for him when he took over the Grizzlies (0-15). He’s the team’s third coach since last season ended.

“We are a very, very young team, and there’s been a lot of transition,” Hawkins said.

But Hawkins, who was the freshman girls coach last season, said he understood what needed to be done.

“The first few weeks, it was basically just cleaning up a lot of the misconceptions, redirecting a lot of the thought patterns, basically, being a cushion for a lot of the fallout, trying to make things better and move on,” Hawkins said.

One of the losses was Jefferson, who averaged 14 points a game last year but did not report to the team when tryouts began and, consequently, was left off the final roster according to Hawkins.

He said he has worked to build confidence and emphasize the positives during a thus-far winless rookie campaign.

Teresa Ohaya is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, averaging a double-double with 11.8 points per game and 10.3 rebounds. She’s also contributing stringent defense and 1.8 blocks per game.

“(Ohaya) has an endless amount of potential,” Hawkins said. “She is a slasher who’s quick, and she’s got a good outside shot and a good head for the game. Good instincts, loves rebounding and she can leap out of the building.”

Another one of those positives has been the play of 5-foot-10-inch center Gloria Nuno, who has been a strong defender and rebounder for the Grizzlies.

Briana Tredick and Ronisha Miller have helped shoulder the scoring load, along with junior Samantha Headlee.

Freshman Taalibah Muhammad has also helped on the boards, averaging nearly five per contest.

While they haven’t been able to find a winning formula yet, it’s too early to early to discount any team from a title shot.

Koebel phrased the league’s parity best, after lamenting how many legitimate contenders there are this season.

“You know what? It looks like everybody thinks they’ve got a shot this year.”

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