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The Detour

For years the league title has gone through Hart, but perhaps not this year

Posted: January 11, 2009 6:31 p.m.
Updated: January 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
The road to a Foothill League championship in girls basketball has gone through Newhall Avenue.

Hart High has won seven straight titles, including a share of the crown last year with Saugus.

It's had to share with Valencia as well - that was 2005.

But the Indians have won 17 of the last 20 Foothill League championships.

The road this year, though, travels around the Santa Clarita Valley - down Centurion Way on its way to Dickason Drive, back through Nadal Street looping around to Newhall Avenue.

Quite simply, there are detours this year.

"I would say the top three are Canyon and Valencia at one or two. Everyone else has Saugus at No. 3," said second-year Hart head coach Zach Koebel. "Us at No. 4 or 5. But last year, (prognosticators) had us pegged as the No. 3 or 4 team and we won league."

Hart has been so dominant this decade because of the talent that has gone through the program.

The glory days of that period would have started when Ashlee Trebilcock came in, leading the Indians to the CIF-Southern Section division finals in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Then Taylor Lilley led the squad to a CIF-Southern Section Division I-A title in 2006 and Megan Ford admirably held the torch the past two seasons as the Foothill League and The Signal's player of the year.

With Ford's departure, the cupboard is seemingly bare and the question now is: Are the glory days over?
With talent flowing from all parts of the Santa Clarita Valley, it's not a slam dunk for Hart anymore.

CalPreps.com has Canyon rated the No. 75 team in the state with Valencia 25 spots behind. Saugus comes in at No. 147 and Hart doesn't even crack the top 200.

So it would be somewhat of a surprise for the Indians to win the league title.

But the Indians received a Godsend in Grant High-transfer Amanda Corona - a do-it-all point guard that provides the Indians with a scoring force.

Corona averaged 17.2 points per game as a junior at Grant of Van Nuys and she was dependable. In 18-of-25 games, she scored at least 15 points.

Giving the Indians more of a chance is that the cupboard wasn't exactly bare.

The Indians (4-11) are young, but senior Briana Fitchpatrick, should give them some more stability this season.

They have struggled, though, against stiff competition.
So there's still an opening for the other Foothill League teams.

It's not so much because of the Indians, but more because of the league's two most talented teams - Canyon and Valencia - and a third that is not that far off.

Canyon (10-5) worries a lot of Foothill League opponents because of its guard play.

Brooke Lemar, based on experience and her position, is the leader.

But the four main guards have been described as equally talented.

Junior Lemar, a three-year varsity player and point guard, sophomores Layana White and Brieanna Perkins and junior Vanessa Aguilar are all averaging at least 10 points per game.

Perkins scored 14.7 points per game last season at Quartz Hill. Aguilar scored even more than her former teammate Corona at Grant, averaging 19.5 points per contest.

But talent doesn't necessarily equal victories.

"You can have a lot of talent, but you have to have a complete team," said Canyon head coach Stan Delus.

Delus is confident that his team has the other things that could win it a title - big-game experience (as the Cowboys played the toughest pre-league schedule), depth and enough size. The Cowboys, though, have struggled putting a complete game together.

"I would love to see everybody at one time play well," Delus said. "We've had sprinkles here and there. I'm actually waiting and think it will come soon."

Valencia (13-2) seems to have gelled thus far.

The combination of Starla Wright in the front court, experienced point guard Lindsey Hill and swing player Danielle Cavanagh, who at 6-feet-tall will create matchup problems, makes the Vikings a tough challenge.

Wright is the key.

Her tenacity on defense and her inside game makes her the best returning post player in the league.

"If we're going to be championship caliber, we have to have Starla getting her shots," said Valencia head coach Jerry Mike. "You can double-team her, but we have other girls that can put points on you."

Including junior guard Jenny Lentz and sophomore center Lauren Spargo, the Vikings have five players scoring at least 8.6 points per game.

All five players are returning varsity players.

That kind of experience has been a difference already for the Vikings, especially in close games.

On Dec. 6, the Vikings knocked off Saugus 79-75 in overtime to claim the Valencia High Five Classic championship.

Valencia trailed by 13 points in the third quarter.

"We didn't play badly," said Saugus head coach Kent Eaton. "Things didn't go down for us."

Eaton comes on for his first year as Saugus head coach, replacing Eric Olsson - who guided the team from the 2004-05 season until 2007-08, his second stint.

What remains is a commitment to defense.

Also remaining is one of, if not the best, tandems in the league - Nicole Hicks and Gabby Conn.

Hicks is scoring 17.6 points per game as a swing player and Conn is averaging a double-double with 12.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.

Conn is returning from meniscus and ACL surgery and is close to 90 percent, Eaton said.

"She's been frustrated because she's trying to figure what she can do on her knee," Eaton said. "The first few games, she was protective a little bit. But right now, she's coming on like a force. She's basically one of the reasons Nicole is having such a great year."

Behind that pair, Eaton said Kaylynn Martin, the daughter of The Master's College men's head basketball coach Chuck Martin, can defend anybody in the league.

Saugus (7-9) could very well be a dark horse this season because of the aforementioned three.

The final two teams in the Foothill League have major challenges.

Randy Smith at West Ranch (6-8) and James Wilson at Golden Valley (4-5) enter their first seasons.

Smith has the luxury of returning guard Erin Ruiz, who is scoring 14.1 points per game.

"She's our only relatively consistent scorer," Smith said. "We do depend on her. If she struggles, we struggle."

But Smith, a cross country and track and field coach as well at West Ranch, will also rely on man-to-man defense to keep it in games.

As for Wilson, who played under Riley Wallace at the University of Hawaii and played professionally in Europe, he has a similar problem.

Jasmine Jefferson is the only key scorer back.

Jefferson is putting up 16 points per game.

"We played in a tough tournament in Las Vegas and she played well inside, she could score at will inside," Wilson said. "The challenge is getting the ball inside to her."

The Jefferson-Ruiz battle, though they probably won't guard each other, should give some glitter to the Golden Valley-West Ranch battle.

Those kind of matchups will be seen across the board this season.

Corona against Aguilar.

Hicks against Wright.

And so on and so on.

The stars could determine the outcome of league.

The question is: Who will be the stop sign for the rest of the league?


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