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2013 Foothill League girls basketball preview: League closing gap on loaded Canyon

Cowboys look for fourth straight title, but Valencia, W.R. have other notions

Posted: January 6, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 6, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Valencia's Kalia Summerlin looks to lead a Vikings team that could be Canyon's biggest competition.

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There is this growing notion throughout the Foothill League that the best team over the last three years in the Santa Clarita Valley has some competition this season.

It’s not a surprise.

West Ranch was this team that appeared to be a year away from challenging for a Foothill League title based off the continuing growth of a young backcourt and a relentless power forward in Hannah Green.

Yet West Ranch, because of injuries and inconsistency early isn’t that team that the notion is about.

It’s Valencia.

The Vikings are the team, led by scoring guard Kalia Summerlin and muscle in the front court, that seems best suited to battle it out with stalwart Canyon for a Foothill League title in 2013.

“I would say so,” said Valencia head coach Jerry Mike on if this Vikings team is the best suited to win a league title since the 2005 championship team. “Nine seniors, good underclassmen. Let’s get it done.”

But Canyon is strong again, and this could be the Cowboys’ last chance for the foreseeable future of challenging for an illusive CIF title, thanks to four-year varsity stars Alia McCoy and Jaya Schultz.

Saugus, which shared a Foothill title with Canyon last season, appears to have lost too much to graduation, but is a scrappy, defensive-minded team that won’t go down without a fight.

Golden Valley and Hart, two teams who have suffered through various misfortunes over the past couple of years, are better teams.

This all makes for a better Foothill League in 2013.

 

Canyon

The Cowboys (12-3) have won three Foothill League titles, 71 games and are 8-4 in the postseason the last three seasons — that includes a trip to the state tournament in 2011.

Every single one of those seasons has ended in heartbreak because of the Cowboys’ four playoff losses, all four could have been wins.

This is the last hurrah.

McCoy, arguably the greatest Canyon girls basketball player of all time, and Schultz, a four-year starter and one of the most difficult matchups in the Foothill League (both are 6-footers) are seniors.

Though Canyon head coach Chuck Johns said his team’s issue is depth — its starting five is rock solid.

Junior guard and three-year varsity player Kali Vittallo has grown into one of the best shooters in the Foothill.

Fellow guard Marissa Schwimmer is a good defender and sophomore 6-footer Delaney McCann keeps improving.

“We don’t have the experience when it gets tight and (other) kids need to make plays. We’re still relying heavily on the top three kids,” Johns said of McCoy, Schultz and Vittallo.

Canyon’s three losses this season have come against teams all ranked in the state’s top 30 — No. 1 Windward, No. 18 Alemany and No. 28 Bishop Amat.

In the preleague season, Canyon has challenged itself with a stiff schedule and won the Ventura Buena Tournament.

This sets the Cowboys on their path.

Goal No. 1: Foothill League title, goal No. 2: (after two quarterfinal and semifinal appearances the last three years) a CIF title.

“I think if we can continue to get better and take ownership of the team, we have a shot. But our division is stacked. We have a ton of good teams,” Johns said. “I want this for the girls and school and the legacy they’ve created going forward.”

 

Valencia

The Vikings (11-4) look like the complete team — a scoring guard with leadership qualities in Summerlin, a girl who can play multiple positions and contribute in multiple areas in fellow varsity veteran Jennifer Anumba, a defensive terror in junior Sandra Ikeora, a utility player in Talia Roth and depth.

It’s a recipe for success for the Vikings and thus far Valencia has been successful with a runner-up finish in the Magnolia Optimist Tournament and a championship in its own tournament.

“I like this team a lot,” Mike said. “I think we have a good mix of inside and outside. It’s a really hard-working group, good leadership with Jen and Kalia.”

Summerlin is averaging more than 15 points per game in the Vikings’ uptempo offense and has handed off some of the ball-handling duties to bright freshman Sabrina Thompson.

Ikeora was quiet for the first half last season, then was arguably the Vikings’ best player in the second half.

Mike said he’d like to see Anumba score more, but acknowledges how valuable she is because she can do everything else well.

The coach added that he’s going eight or nine deep.

Valencia provides Canyon a challenge because the Vikings match up well defensively against the Cowboys at nearly every position.

 

West Ranch

The Wildcats (6-6) have not been quite the team it should be, said head coach Randy Smith.

That’s because of one major reason: Power forward Hannah Green missed the season’s first eight games with a wrist injury and she is finally coming back to her form of last season.

That form made her an All-Santa Clarita Valley First-Teamer last year.

Green had a motor like no other, defended all comers with tenacity and scored.

Three-year varsity guard Whitney Branham had to carry the load early and she is scoring nearly 16 points per game and stealing at a rate of 4.5 per contest.

The issue for the Wildcats thus far is getting the others to play a major role.

“As a team, they realize we’re capable of beating anybody if everyone plays well and capable of losing to everybody if one or two players play well,” Smith said. “That’s the challenge — having five players on the floor all playing at a high level.”

Senior guard Melissa Arima and senior center Melanie Jensen will be counted on to be those girls and both have contributed at times this season.

 

Saugus

What goes up 6 feet, must come down.

Saugus’ pair of six-footers — 2012 All-SCV and Foothill League player of the year Megan Dawe and all-leaguer Kim Smither are now gone, leaving a major hole in the Centurions’ front court.

Now the Cents (9-7) are hoping a hard-working group of girls — short on size, with no go-to girl on offense — can gel and surprise people.

“We don’t have a (former player of the year) Nicole Hicks or Megan Dawe. Without the go-to girls, it will be tough,” said Saugus head coach Kent Eaton. “Sometimes what we’re seeing is some of the girls are finding out if I’m willing to take the shot right now.”

Saugus will rely on defense and effort.

There are veterans — senior and forward Rachel Eaton and guards Faye Osburn and Alexa Ferrante.

Eaton will do the dirty work — score some, rebound a lot and play defense.

Osburn and Ferrante have a lot of responsibility in the backcourt and have shown flashes of great play.

Where Saugus is fortunate is at the forward position with junior out-of-state transfer Justice Bennett — who is strong, can score and will be active on the floor.

The Cents have been hit early by injuries, though.

Although a Foothill title isn’t expected, Saugus should hang around this season.

 

Golden Valley

There has been no team in the Santa Clarita Valley that has been through more turmoil than Golden Valley girls basketball.

In one calendar year, there have been four coaches.

That revolving door has stopped with former College of the Canyons basketball player and former Kennedy High of Mission Hills head coach Kerri Garland.

Garland intends to stick around and thus far has had to try and turn things around quickly.

She has simplified things for her athletic team, maybe even more than the players expected early on. But her point has been to get the girls fundamentally sound.

Golden Valley started at 6-7 in the preleague.

“I definitely think we’ll surprise people,” Garland said. “I think people knew Golden Valley had talent, but not structure and discipline.”

The Grizzlies lost some talent off last year’s playoff team, but there’s an interesting mix now.

Junior guard Mariah Madison scores in bunches and fellow guard Caitlyn Zindroski is a budding track star whose talents translate well to the basketball court.

There is size with senior center Courtney Maduike and sophomore Cherokee Cardriche — two girls at 6 feet 2 inches tall.

On top of that there are some talented freshmen in guards Destiny Moore and Azaria Hill — the sister of former Valencia baseball star Virgil Hill and daughter of International Boxing Hall of Famer Virgil Hill Sr. and Olympic track gold medalist Denean Howard-Hill.

Garland played for COC from 1994-1996. An assistant coach for those teams was current Hart High head coach Terra Palmer.

 

Hart

It seems that Palmer will have a little rivalry in a couple of ways with Garland.

Hart (4-8) and Golden Valley are two teams with a brighter future than the present.

Yet Hart is not the 0-10 Foothill League team it was last season.

“We are worlds better than where we were,” Palmer said. “But I’m honest. We have to get better to be up with Valencia and Canyon.”

Though they are vastly undersized, the Indians have some building blocks.

The most special one is Breze Kimble — a second-year varsity player and just a sophomore. Palmer thinks she will become the best player in the Foothill League down the line.

Kimble is playing out of position with her back to the basket, but the versatile 5-foot-7-inch player is scoring 16 points per game and doing all the other things well.

Palmer said she has another special player for her uptempo style in freshman point guard Julia White, the younger sister of Hart sophomore quarterback Brady White.

There are only three seniors on the team, including little forward Kianna Landon, who had to play JV last year because of her transfer from Newbury Park.

Landon has seven games of at least 13 rebounds this season.

Another senior, Nikki Aganian, will be a key ball handler this season. She has had a couple of strong offensive performances thus far.

 

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