GIRLS BASKETBALL: Mustangs on a mission

Muir hasn’t forgotten last year’s playoff loss

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From left, Brittany Henderson, Cherrish Wallace and Eliza Pierre are ready to step up for top-ranked Muir HIgh School. (Keith Birmingham / Staff)

STAR-NEWS TOP TEN
1. Muir
2. Monrovia
3. South Pasadena
4. Maranatha
5. La Canada
6. Flintridge Prep
7. Westridge
8. Keppel
9. Pasadena Poly
10. Pasadena


By Scott Galetti, Staff Writer

At times, the 2006-07 season was a magic carpet ride for Muir High School’s girls basketball team.
The Mustangs (26-2) plowed through a strong nonleague schedule with just one loss to powerhouse Long Beach Poly before going undefeated in Pacific League play.
Dreams of a CIF-Southern Section title came to a crashing halt when San Clemente’s free throws sent Muir home empty-handed.
Many of the players that made the long bus ride home to Pasadena remember the emptiness after believing they could win a CIF-SS championship.
“It was a letdown and we didn’t come out and play like John Muir High School,” Muir coach Gary Johnson said.
Those players still have the confidence, as well as a hunger to make sure they achieve the goal this time around.
“As soon as the season was over, they wanted to start again,” Johnson said. “They just knew that they shouldn’t have lost to that team.”
Despite losing Darxia Morris, the Star-News Player of the Year, the Mustangs enter the 2007-08 campaign as the preseason No. 1 pick.
With Morris gone, many key players return; players that are battle-tested and ready to take it to the next step both this season and beyond.
Senior guard Cherrish Wallace, a first-team selection to the Star-News All-Area team, recently signed a letter of intent to play at Baylor University after averaging 10.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and a team-high 3.4 assists as a junior.
Wallace will be the floor leader for the Mustangs this season.
She’ll have plenty of reinforcements from juniors Brittany Hendersen and Eliza Pierre.
“We’re counting on those three girls right there,” Johnson said.
Hendersen, a 6-foot center, provides an inside presence that many teams can’t match. She averaged 8.9 points and 8.2 rebounds a game as a sophomore. Pierre had 8.5 points per game and led the team in rebounds.
“Eliza and Brittany are being highly recruited by a lot of Pac-10 schools,” Johnson said.
Other returning players expected to make an impact are senior Chrishawn Friersen (7.5 points), junior Kiarra Dade, senior Lauren Nolen, senior Kendall Rouse and junior point guard Page Robinson.
Johnson’s philosophy hasn’t changed from last season as his team will be built around a swarming defense that creates easy buckets.
“Basically, we’re going to be solid defensively,” Johnson said. “The girls are very offensively-minded as well.
“They worked on their game in the summer, especially with their club teams, so they’re very equipped offensively.”
One of Muir’s weaknesses this season could be defensive rebounding.
“If we get that straight, I just don’t think anybody will really come close to us,” Johnson said. “If we play our pressure defense and play smart, we’ll be there.”

2. MONROVIA
After finishing 20-5 a year ago, Michael Wagner stepped down as head coach and Rafael Camacho has taken over this season after spending a couple of seasons as an assistant coach for the Renaissance Academy boys basketball team.
Monrovia returns seven players from last year, including Maryum Jenkins (7.2 points, 5.7 rebounds), Jasmin Gordon (11.0 points, 6.0 rebounds), Vanessa Hernandez (10.4 points, 2.1 rebounds), Katrina Graves-Johnson and Ashton McLaurin (2.0 points, 2.7 rebounds).
Monrovia is vying for its third consecutive Rio Hondo League title.
“We will be trying to play up-tempo basketball and pressure defense,” Camacho said. “I hope our style of basketball will be attractive to those who come out to watch us play.”
Camacho hopes his team’s tough nonleague schedule will help his team build up to league play.
The Wildcats will take part in the Ayala Best of the West tournament in December and the Ayala Extravaganza one-day event in January.
“With the talent in the girls program, we should be playing against some of the better teams in Southern California to see how we do,” Camacho said.

3. SOUTH PASADENA
The Tigers (17-7) enter the season with plenty of experience with five seniors.
Candice Yen, a first-team All-Rio Hondo League selection since her freshman season, returns to lead the Tigers.
“She’s our strength underneath,” South Pasadena coach Ralph Punaro said.
Kendall Shinmoto, a second-team all-league selection the last three seasons, will provide the outside punch.
Shinmoto holds the school record for 3-point shots with 129, including a school-record 50 last season.
“She’s our leader on the court and she’s the one who you want handling the ball with 20 seconds to go in the game with us down by one because she’ll make something happen,” Punaro said.
Junior forward Nicol Biesek, a second-team all-league selection, came into her own a year ago and will provide an extra inside presence with Yen.
Punaro is looking for big things out of sharp-shooting senior guard Sarah Waldorf and forward Claudia Luck.
Junior guard Kara Yoshihara will be looked upon to help run the offense as a ball-handler and a shooter.
“I think we should be competing for the top spot,” Punaro said. “Monrovia is obviously going to be very good and La Canada is well-coached and San Marino is going to be a scrappy team.
“We’ve got a team with quite a bit of experience and we’re looking for them to take charge. If I step back and let them do their thing, they’re ready to take it to the next level.”

4. MARANATHA
Annie Miller takes over the reigns as head coach after the departure of Duane Takayama from a team that went 19-10 and reached the CIF-SS Division V-AA semifinals before losing to Alpha League-mate and eventual champion Whittier Christian.
Last year’s leading scorer, All-CIF selection Natasha Herring, returns for her senior season after averaging 13.1 points and leading the team in rebounding with a 9.1 average.
Junior Lauren McGee, an All-CIF point guard, will once again run the Minutemen offense after averaging 4.6 points and 3.8 assists last year.
Six-foot senior Kirstie Mitchell and 6-foot senior Rhiannon Smith, who transferred to Maranatha a year ago, will give the Minutemen an inside presence.
Another player Miller is expecting a solid season from is senior Brenda Cheah, who averaged just less than 2 points a game last season.
“There’s an exciting energy around the team this year and we believe, with hard work, that we could build upon the successes of last season,” Miller said.
Miller’s team is built with a defensive philosophy; one she hopes will create easy baskets.
“We want to keep the pressure on and wear our opponent down,” Miller said.

5. LA CANADA
The Spartans (17-11) lost seven players to graduation last season from a team that finished second in the Rio Hondo League, including leading scorer and floor leader Joy Lelo.
Her team also suffered injuries over the offseason that could hamper this year’s efforts.
“Three of our starters came down with injuries, one which was season-ending, so all of our experience is gone,” La Canada coach Tamar Hill said.
Still, Hill expects her team to be competitive this season.
Among the Spartans’ returning players is Stephanie Anderson, a 6-foot-2 senior center.
Hill expects a big season out of senior wing Bonnie Wilcox, while sophomore point guard Tia Chen will run the offense after leading the Spartans JVs a year ago.
“We graduated a lot last year and we have a long way to get to where we want to go,” Hill said. “(The players) work hard and give 100 percent, and whenever a team works hard, good things happen.”

6. FLINTRIDGE PREP
Graduation hit the Rebels hard after a trip to the CIF-SS Division IV-A championship game a year ago.
Rebels coach Kenny Fisher still has plenty to look forward to with the return of senior Courtney Robinson, a first-team All-CIF selection.
Robinson scored 24 points in the Rebels’ victory over Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy on Monday.
Sophomores Deanna Watson and Megan Musashi, a second-team All-Prep League selection, also return.
Junior Alina Khodadian returns for her third year on varsity and junior Katie Leavins is back for her second varsity season.
“As long as Courtney and Megan remain healthy, we’ll be a competitive team,” Fisher said.
One first-year player that could make an impact is sophomore Kelsey Merchant.
“Even though we lost three outstanding all-leaguers, we should be fine again this year,” Fisher said. “If our younger players progress, we’ll be competitive.”

7. WESTRIDGE
The Tigers finished 17-5 a year ago en route to a second-place finish in the Prep League behind Flintridge Prep. Sophomore Sharon Woo is the lone returning starter and sophomore point guard Melia Isihara is back after seeing significant playing time.
“Sharon has done an incredible job on defense during our scrimmage,” Westridge coach Melanie Horn said. “Melia is going to be our floor leader. She’s very tenacious and is always looking to drive and passes very well.”
Senior Carrie Ryan could be a factor in the post after recovering from a shoulder injury during the 2006 track season. She sat out last year. Freshman Taelor Bakewell, a 5-foot-11 post player, could provide scoring punch for the Tigers.
Sophomore Lily Leventhal has improved her 3-point shooting and junior post Kelsey Olafson has matured into a solid player over the summer.
“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” Horn said. “After losing five players, four of whom were starters, the expectations are low, but I think we have great depth and quickness.”

8. KEPPEL
The Aztecs (22-8) won the Almont League before falling in the second round of the CIF-SS Division II-A playoffs.
This year’s Keppel team will be much different for a variety of reasons.
First, three key players transferred: Shelley, Margo and Amanda Gupilan to parochial school Bell-Jeff in Burbank.
“It’s a big loss, but our team is just moving forward and trying to get our season going,” Keppel coach Tan Ha said.
Ha’s team may have lost three quality players, but it gained one in sophomore Michelle Lo, who played for Sonora last season.
“She’s still trying to get a feel for our system and how we play,” Ha said.
Lo scored 18 points in the Aztecs’ 70-66 loss to Canyon Springs on Monday.
Three returnees from last year remain in junior post Janise Ho, junior wing Kylie Yoshimura and junior forward Tiffany Rubin.
“Janice is pretty athletic around the basket, has good footwork and runs the floor well,” Ha said. “Kylie is one of our better shooters and has the most experience of our girls and Tiffany is our most consistent shooter and attacks the basket well.”
Ha is quietly optimistic about his team’s chances this season.
“I think we can have a pretty good season if we can get up and down the floor and pressure the ball well,” Ha said.

9. PASADENA POLY
The Panthers (11-14) hope to improve on their second-round appearance in the CIF-SS Division IV-A playoffs from a year ago.
Senior point guard Miranda Wakimoto, who was second on the team in scoring (8.5 points), is expected to provide court leadership.
Junior forward Kelly Pray returns to provide a post presence. She was fourth on the team in scoring (6.5 points) and second in rebounds (6.7).
Sophomore Rose Dicovitsky, who led the team in scoring (9.1 points per game) and rebounds (8.7 rebounds), will miss the first two months of the season with a shoulder injury.
“With her out, Kelly and Miranda will need to pick up the scoring slack,” Poly coach Kim Weber Hall said.
Freshman guard Jade Richard-Craven brings quickness.
“We’re going to have her on the point of our press and hopefully that will create some easy layups for her,” Weber Hall said.

10. PASADENA
The Bulldogs (8-20) are looking to turn some heads this season.
With a wealth of youth, Pasadena could be on the right track.
“We’re going to be energetic and have a great group of girls,” Pasadena coach Ray Mayberry said.
Pasadena starts two freshman, one sophomore and two juniors, including Alex Shibate, who is in her third year of varsity.
Junior center Choles Turner is back in action after breaking her foot early last season. Mayberry is counting on Turner’s leadership ability.
“When the soldiers need a talking, she gives them a talking,” Mayberry said.
Mayberry will be counting heavily on a pair of freshmen to lead the way.
Point guard Tayler Crockom is expected to step right in and run the offense and Ashley Mayberry brings solid outside shooting and excellent defensive skills to the table.
“If we can get up on offense to catch up to her defense, we should win more games than we’re expected to,” Mayberry said.