Girls Basketball Preview: Diamond Ranch takes the baton from Bishop Amat as areas No. 1 team

“They are better than us. We’re clearly second-best.” Bishop Amat coach Richard Wiard on Diamond Ranch

By Steve Ramirez, Staff Writer
There was a changing of the guard, so to speak, among area girls basketball powers last season. That’s not expected to change this season. Diamond Ranch High School supplanted Bishop Amat as No. 1, and the Panthers are expected to be better this season.
The Panthers return all five starters from a team that went 23-5, cruised to the Miramonte League title and advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA semifinals.
“They are better than us,” said Bishop Amat coach Richard Wiard, whose Lancers set the standard for the past decade. “We’re clearly second-best.” Diamond Ranch’s strength lies in its athleticism and depth. The Panthers, led by reigning area Player of the Year Janelle Kearney, can go eight or nine deep and simply smother teams from the get-go.
To continue reading the rest of the top ten, click thread

“Our expectations are high,” said Diamond Ranch coach Mike James, whose Panthers move up to Division 2A this season. “Last year we had a lot of success. And with the experience and hard work the players have put in, I think they have bigger hopes for this year.

“We’re just taking it one game at a time. You respect everybody, every opponent, and there are times where you have to be lucky, too. You have to be good, but sometimes the ball has to bounce your way. If we can get that luck to go along with the skill, we’ll be fine.”

Kearney, who averaged 11 points and nine rebounds last season, is the leader, but James can also go to three other returning starters – Erica Greer (11 ppg), Erika Williams (10.7) and Chelsea Barnes (10.7) – who averaged in double figures.

Starting point guard Ariana Caffey, who averaged 5.1 points, 3.4 assists and 3.9 steals, also returns.

“Diamond has been known for their defense,” James said. “We’ve been able to continue that and have kind of taken it to the next level.

“The players enjoyed it, and I think when you get the players to buy into what you are doing, that makes it a lot of fun for everybody. Teams who have a hard time handling the ball tend to struggle against us.”

Here’s a brief look at the rest of the area top 10, with 2008-09 records in parenthesis:

No. 2 Bishop Amat (22-6)

The Lancers lost some key components from last season’s team that advanced to the 2A quarterfinals.

But they return arguably one of the top players in the area in forward Arielle Wideman and they also welcome back Wiard, who returns to the bench after a year hiatus.

“I’m excited about it,” Wiard said. “I kind of got back into it at the end of last year, so I’m excited about the season.

“We graduated a lot, but I think we’ll still be pretty good.”

Wideman, who signed to play at the University of Nevada, averaged 11 points and was all-area and All-Del Rey League. She’s joined by junior forward Leticia Galarza and senior guard Andrea Villanueva, who averaged 8.3 and 3.1 points, respectively, last season.

“Every year our goal is to try and win the league championship,” Wiard said. “It’s going to be tough. Bishop Montgomery is very good and St. Paul and Serra are tough.

“We have a chance to compete, then get in the playoffs and see what happens.”

No. 3 Sierra Vista (21-4)

The Dons cruised to the Montview League title last season and will be favored to make a similar run in 2009-10.

Sierra Vista is led by senior Crystal Avila, who was league MVP, but the Dons’ strength comes in numbers, as they can go eight to nine deep.

The Dons also look to senior wing Stephanie Franco.

“I think Crystal is one of the top five players in the area,” Sierra Vista coach Keith Locklear said. “She gives us an inside presence. The rest is typical Sierra Vista basketball: We work extremely hard, look to fast break and play great defense.

“I think we can make a run at CIF. Outside of Diamond Ranch and Bishop Amat, we can beat anyone else in the Valley.”

No. 4 Bonita (17-9)

The Bearcats were one of the top teams in the area last season, but had the misfortune of playing in the same league as Diamond Ranch.

That hasn’t changed, but Bonita should be the area’s best second-place team.

The Bearcats return their top three players from last season, including scorer Madison Zylstra, who averaged 14 points. Bonita is also led by sophomore Brianna Kennedy, who’s one of the better inside players, and Ariana Domasin.

No. 5 Walnut (18-9)

The Mustangs will battle South Hills for supremacy in the San Antonio League.

Walnut, which advanced to the semifinals two years ago, has the potential to be very good with forward Ella Rodriguez, guard Diana Wang and post player Amy McDill.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Walnut coach Lori Huckler said. “I’m looking forward to a good season. Our goal is to go one round further than last season, when we went to the second round.

“The goal, obviously, is always to win a championship, but realistically you want to go one round further.”

No. 6 South Hills (18-10)

The Huskies look to have a solid year with three core players returning.

South Hills is led by all-area player Melinda Gomez, who signed to play at Loyola Marymount next season. The Huskies also look to all-league players Jackie Valle-Acosta and Alexis Payton.

No. 7 Northview (18-10)

The Vikings, who dethroned Covina for the Valle Vista League crown last year, are the favorites to make it two consecutive.

Northview loses just one player from last season’s team and returns league MVP Bobbie Johnson. The Vikings also return all-league players Makoila Garcia, Chrissy McPhail, Lydia Sanchez and Claudia Ramirez.

No. 8 San Dimas (14-12)

The Saints will challenge Northview in the Valle Vista League.

San Dimas is led by all-league players Ashley Burchfield and Taylor Jackson.

“We were pretty young last year,” San Dimas coach Gary Jackson said. “We’re hoping that experience, that maturity, will pay off.

“I’m really excited about the season. I think we should be competitive. Northview won the league last year, and until someone beats them, they are the team to beat. We played them close last year. It should be a very interesting season.”

No. 9 Rosemead (13-10)

The Panthers are the team to beat in the Mission Valley League.

Rosemead returns a solid nucleus, including league MVP Evelyn Ramirez. The Panthers also will be led by all- league players Jeanne Tran, Ivy Luong and Kim Hong.

No. 10 Covina (16-10)

The Colts have a new coach in Matt Kearns, but they should be the same team that usually competes for a league title.

Covina is led by all-league players Chelsea Chmela and Jackie Ford.

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