PRESEASON TOP 10 RANKINGS
2. Pasadena Poly
5. La Salle
8. Flintridge Prep
By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
There are high expectations on west San Gabriel Valley basketball courts this season.
Muir High School made an unexpected appearance in last year’s CIF-Southern Section finals, advanced to the state playoffs and returns many of its top players.
Michelle Miller single-handedly helped Pasadena Poly to the CIF-SS semifinals. She was the division player of the year and returns for her junior year with help inside.
Blair returns 10 players from last year and will take aim at returning to the top of the Rio Hondo League.
No. 1 Muir (22-10 last season)
The Mustangs have always been tenacious on defense.
Coach Gary Johnson said they will be even tougher this season.
“We want to get those easy baskets,” he said.
Give credit to a recent college graduate for that. Tierra Henderson, who played for Johnson at Muir and went on to play at UCLA, has been added to the coaching staff.
“She’s giving our players toughness,” Johnson said. “She’s going to give them a different look at the way colleges do things.”
Five players who saw ample playing time last season will be joined by Emoni Jackson, one of the top freshmen in the nation, and sophomore Jordan Jackson, a transfer from St. Anthony’s, which won the CIF-SS Division 5A title last season.
Emoni Jackson, at 6-foot-1, will play forward, complementing senior Christian Conner in the middle. Junior Tahniya Sweatt is at point guard.
Senior Ahsia Owens and juniors Tyler Polk and Jerrica Daniels are also back.
“We surprised people last year,” Johnson said. “We’re still young, but we have experience. I think getting to the finals last year has definitely made us better.”
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No. 2 Pasadena Poly (22-5)
Coach Kim Weber Hall said that opposing players do not feel sorry for her.
“They saw, `You have Michelle Miller, what else can you complain about,”‘ she said.
Miller averaged 31.2 points and 12.1 rebounds per game last season – all while she was double- and triple-teamed.
“We’re making her a captain this year,” Weber Hall said of her junior guard. “In the past, she was our quiet leader and led by example. She’s becoming more vocal. She’s starting to change.”
The Panthers opened the season on Tuesday without one of their other key returning starters, Jade Richard-Craven, who is a member of the football team, which will play a CIF-SS semifinal game at Bishop on Friday.
“We might not get her back until after our (Dec. 11) Christmas tournament,” Weber Hall said.
The Panthers also return starters Courtney Foster, a sophomore, and junior Tessa Loera.
A big addition is freshman Kaitlyn Olah, who will give the Panthers an inside presence.
“We haven’t had that in a couple of years,” Weber Hall said.
No. 3 Blair (13-15)
The Wildcats are young, eager and have a new coach. They also have 10 returning players.
New head coach Antwine Adkins has been an assistant coach for seven years, most recently at Fullerton College.
“The important thing is to get the girls to play the game right and to get them to play at the next level,” Adkins said. “We’re going to teach them old school basketball.”
With this team, that means halfcourt ball. That’s because the Vikings are tall and plan on using that height to their advantage.
Adkins compared the play of senior Dejanae Gibson, who is 5-8, to Charles Barkley.
“She is ferocious in getting rebounds and if she’s coming your way, players want to get out,” Adkins said.
Adkins has high expectations for 6-1 sophomore Mariah Bankhead, whose father, Shawn, coaches the boys team and was a standout at Iowa State.
“If she does the right things, she could be one of the better young players in Southern California,” Adkins said.
The Vikings finished third in league to reach the CIF-SS playoffs last year. They open this season on Saturday at Mater Dei.
Senior Sabrina Martinez is expected to play big. She is one of four seniors on the team.
No. 4 Maranatha (14-14)
Four seniors return to the Minutemen, who changed leagues.
Maranatha finished second in the Alpha League last year at 7-3, but has moved to the Olympic League.
Six-foot senior Mian Ding returns. She led the Minutemen in scoring (15.1 points per game), rebounds (9.1), steals and blocks last season.
“We have a lot of young players, but we have these players with experience,” coach George Wrighster said. “They can take charge on the floor.”
Two other starters return, seniors Kaila Turner and Michelle Hsu.
The Minutemen have two freshmen who will see frequent playing time this season. Kei Lani Ando is a point guard and Victoria Chang is a shooting guard. Ando has already started this season.
No. 5 La Salle (19-8)
The Lancers had only three seniors last season. They have four this season.
They also have enough players to influence the middle. There is 6-2 junior Diamond Ridley-Pierce, 6-1 sophomore Billie Rude and 6-foot sophomore Janelle Bieker. Ridley-Pierce and Rude saw playing time last year.
Starting forward Itos Aikhionbare returns. So does returning starting seniors Jackie Pacheco and Amalea Sideropoulos.
La Salle has won 15 consecutive league titles. The Lancers reached the CIF-SS quarterfinals last season.
No. 6 Keppel (12-15)
The Aztecs have stepped back from the brutal schedule of last season.
The early season losses helped prepare them for the Almont League, but Alhambra did end the Aztecs’ consecutive league winning and title streaks.
The Aztecs have plenty of top returnees, including sophomore Alyson Lock, who averaged a team-high 14.9 points. Guard Brittani Hirose returns for her senior season. Seniors Bryttne Nakamura and Kiley Smith had playing time last season.
No. 7 Rosemead (19-5)
The Panthers lost a lot of players from their undefeated Mission Valley League team.
But that has not deterred coach Jay Gauthier.
“We’re going to be young, but very good,” he said. “We just have a really young group and they need to learn the offense quickly.”
The Panthers’ top two scorers have graduated, but Gauthier’s daughter, sophomore Melody, was one of Rosemead’s top scorers last season. She averaged 8.0 points.
“We have Melody, but we will be able to show that some of our other girls can score, too,” Gauthier said.
There are only three seniors, led by Kim Hong. Sophomore Sydney Hua is expected to step in. Lizzy Lemus, a freshman, comes in at point guard.
No. 8 Flintridge Prep (22-7)
The Rebels have become a CIF-SS playoff regular, but coach Todd Frost has a lot of work to do to get to the Rebels to that point this season.
He has four sophomores and three freshmen. Returning starters Kristin Shum and Shelly Kim are the lone seniors on the team.
“We hope we will be ready by the time of league play,” Frost said.
Among the newcomers expected to step up are sophomores Gabby Zen and Kinsey Thompson and freshman Maya Okamoto.
No. 9 Pasadena (14-13)
All will depend on senior Tyler Crockom.
She averaged a team-high 13 points last season and also led the team in assists.
Junior Megan Rutherford led the Bulldogs in rebounding last season. Seniors Cherice Turner, Ty Townsend, Victoria Towns, Ma Cherie Kitchen and Ashley Maberry all saw significant playing time last season.
No. 10 Monrovia (12-17)
Four players with significant playing time return for the Wildcats, who have a new coach in Eliazar Diaz Jr.
And then there is the addition of Gina Henderson. She was one of the Wildcats’ top players as a freshman, transferred to Bishop Amat last season and has returned to Monrovia for her junior year.
Guard Maryssa Black, a senior, averaged 10 points per game last season. Nicole Pena, also a senior, averaged 6 points per game. Junior Kaela Barnes and senior Ashley Cook also played last season.