Girls Basketball: Star-News’ Preseason Top 10 Rankings

NO. 1 MUIR — In Northwest Pasadena, the rich do indeed get richer.

“I think we will be better than last year,” Mustangs coach Gary Johnson said. “We’re going for that ring.”

That’s a lot to back up, considering Muir went 14-0 in the Pacific League, reached the CIF Division I-A semifinals, losing to Mira Costa 49-44, and then advancing to the CIF State Division III Southern California championship game, losing to Magnolia 40-39. The Mustangs finished 28-3.

“We expect great things in CIF and State,” Johnson said.

It helps that 6-foot-1 senior center Brittnay Henderson and 5-8 swing Eliza Pierre are back. Both committed to Division I programs during the early signing period; Henderson to Kentucky and Pierre, rated the No. 2 point guard in the country by ESPN, to Cal.

“I definitely think it will help them because they can avoid the hype of who’s watching them and what kind of scholarship they are going to get,” Johnson said.

The Mustangs also picked up 5-9 junior Taylor Gomez, a transfer from Artesia. Senior Kiarra Day will see ample playing time and Paige Robinson will play point guard. Marty McClendon, a 5-11 junior forward/center, and Taylar Mills, a 6-0 standout hurdler on the track and field team, join the squad.

The Mustangs open the season against Magnolia on Monday in the Troy Tournament.

“We want our revenge,” Johnson said, with a laugh. “No, we want to play all the good teams. It makes us better.”

Click on thread for the rest of the Top 10

NO. 2 KEPPEL — The high-low game is back with junior Michelle Lo and senior Janise Ho. But new coach Ib Belou said the Aztecs, who reached the CIF II-A quarterfinals last season and went 20-8, will be more diversified. “We’re making them more disciplined and we’re going to play defense for 32 minutes,” Belou said. “We’ll have a more balanced attack.” That means Ho, a 5-10 senior, will venture outside of the key more often. And Belou promises 5-10 guard Lo won’t turn the ball over nearly as many times as last season. “We have eight seniors and four juniors; they have really matured,” he said. “Everybody thinks of Keppel as just winning league titles and going two or three rounds in the playoffs. We don’t want to win just league. We want to go further in the playoffs. Ultimately, we want to win a CIF championship.” On a team with no sophomores and freshmen, Kayleigh Nakamura is also expected to contribute greatly.

NO. 3 MONROVIA — The Wildcats have their two best players, Maryum Jenkins and Jasmine Gordon, returning. It’s a good omen for the only team to have beaten Blair in Rio Hondo League play last season. Injuries, however, created a second-place tie in league.
Numerous league coaches said the Wildcats should be the favorites to win the title.

NO. 4 FLINTRIDGE PREP — The Rebels lost only one player to graduation. Unfortunately, it was last season’s best player, Courtney Robinson. But Flintridge Prep has four starters back from a Prep League championship team that went 23-6 and reached the CIF Division IV-A semifinals, losing to Laguna Hills. “They’re very young, but they have experience,” coach Kenny Fisher said. “The year before, we went to the finals and lost everybody, so we definitely defied expectations last year. We need to kind of exploit on last year’s experience.” All-CIF returnee Megan Musashi, a junior, senior Alina Khodadian and juniors Deanna Watson and Kelsey Merchant are back in the starting lineup.

NO. 5 PASADENA POLY — Four starters return and the Panthers pick up a freshman who played for the junior national championship team. “We’ll be very, very good,” coach Kim Weber Hall said. “I know our expectations are high.” Michelle Miller, a 5-9 point guard, is among the best freshmen that Hall said she has coached. Combined with returning starters Kelly Pray, Tammy Newman, Julia Brown and Jade Richard-Craven, Poly hopes to make a run at Flintridge Prep in the Prep League.

NO. 6 MARANATHA — The expectations have become Alpha League and CIF titles. But coach Annie Miller said that’s not her philosophy at all. “We focus more on the continuity of the players more than against wins and losses,” she said. The Minutemen, 24-6, played league champion Whittier Christian for the Division V-A title last season, losing 37-31. Senior Lauren McGee, juniors Kristina Newkirk and Lauryn Elffers and sophomore Mian Dingle return, but it will be a different Maranatha team, Miller said.

NO. 7 BLAIR — The Vikings can’t sneak up on anybody this season. They won the Rio Hondo League title last season, but they lost standout guards Melissa Fudge and Stephanie Defrance. They also lost their coach. Blair, which went 20-6 overall and 9-1 in league, has Brianna Daniels and Michiko Chavous returning for new coach George Wrighster. Chavous is the team’s lone senior. The Vikings’ two tallest players are freshmen: 5-11 Zany Brown and 5-10 Ashley Clark.

NO. 8 PASADENA — The Bulldogs took their lumps last season, starting three freshmen en route to a 7-20 season. Coach Ray Mayberry expects that year of experience to help Pasadena turn the corner. “Our goal is to win 10 games this season,” Mayberry said. “We want to be in every game.” Six-foot sophomore center Cherisse Turner, 5-7 sophomore guard Taylor Crockum and senior forward Alexis Shibada are expected to make impacts this season. “The problem we had last year was that we had to get the girls acclimated to high school basketball,” Mayberry said.

NO. 9 SOUTH PASADENA — Three returning starters are back for the Tigers, led by senior Nicole Biesek, who was South Pasadena’s top scorer and rebounder last season. Biesek, a forward, averaged 12.0 points and 11.8 rebounds last season. She and Kara Yoshihara, a guard, are the team’s lone seniors. Sophomore guard Kelsey Lee again returns to the starting lineup. Sophomore center Emma Mitchell, 5-11, and junior forward Kimberly Hu are also expected to make impacts. The Tigers, who were 17-7 last season and tied Monrovia for second in the Rio Hondo League, also have 6-2 sophomore Mercedes Binns coming off the bench. “Everybody has responded, but the question is, can we translate practices to games?” coach Ralph Punaro said.

NO. 10 SAN MARINO — The Titans barely made the playoffs last season, but they have a lot going for them this season. They have four players who are 5-10 or taller. They have a new coach, David Jensen, who was last season’s All-Area coach of the year after guiding Blair. There’s senior center Jessica Ecung and two key senior returnees, guard Lauren Oshiro and forward Tiffany Liu.