Girls Basketball Preview: La Canada, Keppel high schools lead the way

LC HOOP

By Aram Tolegian

While the local boys high school basketball scene is chalk full of several good teams that could all vie for the top spot in the rankings, it’s painfully obvious that the girls scene isn’t nearly as deep.
What you see here below, is basically what you get … at least as far as the top five is concerned.
The area has become top heavy as far as the good teams and programs go. You can bank on Keppel always reloading. You can bank on La Canada coach Tamar Hill always putting a good product on the floor. And you can bank on Pasadena Poly always having a stud scorer.
After that, after the top five or so teams, it’s anybody’s guess and what fans will probably see all season is a revolving door in Nos. 6-10.
La Canada and Keppel put together strong league seasons and deep playoff runs last season. Each looks poised to do so again this year, assuming Keppel isn’t moved to the open division for the playoffs.
It’s still very early, but the thinking here is that the power teams are obvious and won’t change over the next few months.

TO SEE A BRIEF LOOK AT THE TOP TEN, CLICK THE THREAD

1. LA CANADA
The Spartans caught fire toward the end of last season and put together a playoff run that should provide plenty of momentum into this season.
It also helps that there’s plenty of experience returning for Hill. Guard Courtney Chen led the team in scoring last season and figures to be the focal point of the offense again this year.
But there are other capable options. Sarah Borland is a dangerous shooter, who should be even better this season. Aundrea Issakhanian does it all and sophomore Amber Graves got plenty of action last season as a freshman and should develop into a force inside.
With Chen running the point, the Spartans just don’t figure to hurt themselves and on nights when the shooters are on, most opponents will be in serious trouble.
2. KEPPEL
Only two starters are back from last year’s 27-win team, but don’t feel bad for head coach Joe Kikuchi.
Most people around the program feel they’ve reloaded despite losing Star-News Player of the Year Alyson Lock. It helps that Kikuchi got sophomore Sophia Fong, who transferred in from Bishop Montgomery. Fong will play the Lock role this year, but the jury’s out as to whether she’ll be as dominant.
Lauren Saiki is back and will play point guard. Center duty goes to Tammi Matsukiyo. The Aztecs got further bolstered by another new addition in Viviana Garcia, a guard from Mexico.
Keppel figures to remain dangerous from behind the arc thanks to the arrival of sharpshooters Kellie Kamida and Kyrstin Nakamura, who played junior varsity.
Once again, nobody is touching Keppel in the Almont League.
3. ARCADIA
It’s hard to imagine losing a dynamic scorer like Melody Chang and remaining formidable. But that’s exactly what new Apaches coach Adam Conover is banking on.
Chang’s 22 points per game will be missed, but the Apaches have plenty still in the tank and should have a an athletic front line that will give opponents fits.
Kaira Benton averaged 11 points and 11 rebounds last season and is the top returner. There’s experience at point guard with Christina Huynh back.
Coaches expect considerably more production out of Katie Mock, who got playing time last season.
In theory, the Pacific League should be dominated by Muir and Pasadena, but with those programs struggling, the Apaches stand a decent chance to wind up back on top in the league standings.
4. SOUTH PASADENA
The Tigers won 21 games and nearly pulled off a Rio Hondo League championship last season.
Most of the top players from last year’s team are back and even the slightest improvement put them right on La Canada’s heels in the Rio Hondo.
Juniors Lexie Scholtz and Sophia Hathaway averaged just over 10 points apiece. They should be even better this year with a season of experience under their belt.
Kristen Kafkaloff showed flashes of developing into one of the top players in the league last year as a freshman.
It’s safe to assume a very young team from a year ago that had surprising success will have gotten even better, so that means it’s probably also safe to expect a repeat of last year’s bottom line and may more.
5. PASADENA POLY
The Panthers swept the Prep League and posted some nice wins over area teams last season despite relying heavily on underclassmen for most of their production.
That should mean big things this season as last year’s leading scorer Kiki Yang (18 points per game) figures to be even better. Same goes for Kaitlyn Olah (12 points per game).
It’s hard to not call the Panthers overwhelming favorites to sweep the Prep League again and what they do in the postseason will depend on just how far they’ve come over the past year. It could be a special season.
6. LA SALLE
The Lancers were dealt a major blow when top player Kandyce Smith transferred to Bonita in the offseason.
The team was already in deep trouble playing in the rugged Del Rey League and after losing their best player things won’t get any better.
However, if we’re comparing La Salle to other area teams, they’re more than fine. Caroline Knop plays with an intensity most coaches envy. Sierra Bononi had some big moments last season as a sophomore and figures to only get better.
New head coach Nelson Wong inherited a shaky program and will have to stabilize things fast or else it could be a long season. There is some solid talent to work with and no reason the Lancers shouldn’t put one of the better products in the area on the floor.
7. MUIR
One of the sadder developments of the past few years has been the demise of Muir’s girls basketball program. What used to annually be the class of the area has fallen on hard times and enters the season with only a seven-player roster.
Still, though, the Mustangs are probably good enough to knock off several of the smaller schools in the area. But what that means when they get into Pacific League play (four league wins last year) is anybody’s guess.
Tierra Adams headlines this year’s team. She averaged 12 points per game and at 5-foot-11 is a force most teams have trouble with.
The Mustangs still deserve consideration in this top 10, but depth is a major issue at least for now.
8. FLINTRIDGE PREP
Although the Rebels were no match for Poly in the Prep League last season, they can certainly be as good or better this year.
Tala Ismail was an All-Area selection last season after an outstanding freshman season. The Rebels’ second and third-leading scorers are also back.
Ismail led the Rebels in scoring, but also managed to be quite a force on defense where she averaged over three steals per game.
Expect improvement. But the same can be said over at Poly. To be safe, we’ll call Flintridge Prep second best in the Prep League but certainly capable of a 20-win season.
9. FLINTRIDGE SACRED HEART
The Tologs were extremely young last season and paid the price by going 0-10 in the Mission League. But they were certainly competitive against local teams and figure to only get better.
Jenna Tran and Casey Johnson both led the team in scoring with just over 10 points per game apiece. Both were freshmen last season, so you can see why there’s optimism.
There is concern, however, over the rebounding situation because the Tologs weren’t very good at it last year and the top two inside players graduated.
Expect improvement, but also know this team has a long ways to go in a very difficult league.
10. TEMPLE CITY
The Rams were loaded with underclassmen last season and took their lumps.
Temple City should be a better team for it as the top-three scorers from last year are all back.
The Rio Hondo League is no easy task. La Canada and South Pasadena look to be far and away the best two teams, but with a year of maturity, the Rams can certainly battle San Marino for third place and maybe throw a minor scare into one of the top two on the right night.

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