By Tyler Drohan, Correspondent
The 2010-11 girls basketball season is set to tip off with some familiar teams at the top, separated by very little. Traditional powerhouses Bishop Amat and Diamond Ranch are close, while Bonita finds itself sandwiched in between the two, the three teams fighting to prove who’s the best in the San Gabriel Valley. Diamond Ranch and Bonita make up part of the newly formed Hacienda League, which will include traditional San Antonio League power Walnut as well as Diamond Bar, West Covina, Los Altos and Rowland. (To continue reading about the girls top ten, click thread).
Above: Diamond Ranch Girls Basketball standouts Chelsea Barnes (left) and Erika Williams getting ready for the season for No. 1 Panthers.
SGVN Girls Basketball Preseason Top Ten
1. Diamond Ranch
3. Bishop Amat
5. Chino Hills
6. St. Lucy’s
8. South Hills
10. Sierra Vista
Glendora is moving back to the Baseline League, arguably the top league in the area. Charter Oak, South Hills and Claremont, though, more than make up the void in the new Sierra League. The Montview League race will also be an interesting one to follow.
As always, we begin our season with the Tribune’s preseason top 10.
1. Diamond Ranch
Diamond Ranch enters the season as the top team in the Valley after making a CIF State playoff appearance last season, finishing 27-4, including a sweep of the Miramonte League. The Panthers return All-CIF and All-Valley player Erika Williams and Chelsea Barnes, two juniors who averaged a combined 24.8 points and 11.5 rebounds per game last season. The team is excited about junior Tyvette White taking over the point guard position. New to the starting lineup will be freshman Cayla Freeman.
“I’m excited about it,” coach Mike James said of the upcoming season. “For us, it’s kind of new. We have about half our team back from last year, but we have some kids whose roles are changing a little bit, so I think we’re excited about it, to just get started.”
Regarding Williams, the reigning Tribune Coach of the Year said: “Her role is going to change a little bit more; we’re going to do a little bit more with putting the ball in her hands and Chelsea’s hands than we have in the past couple years, because we graduated three kids that were four-year varsity players, so now those two are stepping in and their roles are going to be a little different.
“Chelsea probably could have been the league MVP last year because she was a tough matchup for teams. You didn’t know who to put on her, because she would overpower a guard, and then you would put a forward on her and she’d easily be much quicker than that person. And she’s had a real good offseason.”
The Panthers are excited to move into the Hacienda League and about the challenge that presents.
“Our league is going to be tough. Walnut has basically owned the San Antonio League for 10 years. I think that we should probably be in the top three teams in league. It’s just a matter of who can stay healthy, and I think that will determine part of who comes out on top,” James said.
If the Panthers are the favorite in the Hacienda League, though, it’s likely not by much. James said Bonita could be considered the favorite because of its returning players, but he’s still high on his squad.
“I’m excited to get this year started. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” James said. “I think there are people who think we are not going to be as good, because of the players that we’ve lost, but I think the players that have changed roles are going to make us a pretty formidable team for anybody to play against. It’s just a matter of us playing well, and there’s a lot of good teams in our area that have done well.”
Youth was served last season at Bonita. The Bearcats finished 25-5, including 6-2 in league, with both losses coming against Diamond Ranch. Bonita made it to the Division 3A semifinals before bowing out to Santa Margarita.
The Bearcats, however, return their three leading scorers from last season. Senior captain and leading scorer Madison Zylstra averaged 13.7 points per game and 7.7 rebounds. Fellow senior captains Taylor Anderson and Jaclyn Smith also return; Anderson averaged 11.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season and was named first-team all-Valley.
Six-foot-three junior center Brianna Kennedy averaged 10 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last season and gives the Bearcats a size advantage this season.
The team is also excited about the addition of freshman point guard Nikki Wheatley, who’ll start right away.
“As a coach, you cannot ask for a better point guard,” coach Darrin Baumunk said of Wheatley. “You would never know that she is a freshman by watching her play. She is very quick, athletic and hardworking. She adds so much speed and versatility to a team that already has many weapons.”
Bonita won 14 consecutive games to open the season, as well as all three early- season tournaments they played in. Baumunk has scheduled an even tougher nonleague schedule this season in hopes that the Bearcats will be even more prepared come league and playoff time.
“As a coach, you always want to get off to a great start, but at the same time you don’t want to be playing your best ball early,” he said.
“You want to be able to get better and better each and every night, so that by the end of league play, you are playing your best ball before the playoffs. This past offseason, we as coaches made sure that we would have a nonleague schedule that would be much more competitive and much harder than we had last year.”
The Bearcats will open the season against rival San Dimas. Bonita is also going to play in the Nike tournament in Phoenix, in addition to playing in the Covina Classic and the Ocean View tournament in Orange County. The team is also slated to play Bishop Amat at Azusa Pacific University in the Rowland boys extravaganza.
“After getting beat last year against Santa Margarita in the semifinals, I told myself that I knew we were as good as them, but we were not as tough and aggressive as they were, so I wanted to make sure that we would be at their level this year,” Baumunk said.
As for the newly formed Hacienda League? Baumunk is excited to play a 12-game league schedule as opposed to the 8-game slate the team played in the Miramonte League.
3. Bishop Amat
Coach Richard Wiard has a team similar to that which he had last year, although Amat will need to replace Tribune Player of the Year Arielle Wideman.
The Lancers return the other four starters, including all-Valley senior Laticia Galarza, who will be returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the state championship game.
All-league point guard Andrea Villanueva returns as a four-year varsity player.
Six-time Tribune Coach of the Year Wiard guided the Lancers to the CIF State final against St. Mary’s of Stockton. The improbable run to the top was made with a team lacking in size and athleticism, a similar theme with the team this season.
“We have a few players back from last year’s state final, so we have a decent amount of experience,” Wiard said. “We don’t have a lot of size – our tallest player is really only about 5-9 – so that could be a problem, but we weren’t really tall last year either and we did OK.”
The Lancers will play in the Covina, Ayala and Arroyo tournaments, as well as against Bonita at APU on Jan. 22.
“We’ve played in a lot of big games; whether it was the CIF playoffs or the state playoffs, we got a chance to play a lot of big games. So I don’t think that the big games will scare us. I don’t know that we’ll win them, but they won’t scare us,” Wiard said.
The Lancers will be competing in the tough Del Rey League. The girls finished in a three-way tie for the league title last season with Bishop Montgomery and Serra.
The Mustangs have dominated the San Antonio League for years, but now find themselves with a new challenge as they move into the highly anticipated Hacienda League. Walnut is 31-1 in the last four seasons of San Antonio League play en route to outright league titles each season.
Walnut finished last season 21-5, including 8-0 in league play, but lost to Riverside Poly in the first round of the playoffs.
The Mustangs graduated all-Valley players Ella Rodriguez (first team) and Diana Wang (second team), but return key seniors Amy McDill, Tricia Choy and Nnenna Abaeze. McDill and Abaeze were the second- and third-leading rebounders on last year’s team. Walnut split a pair of nonleague games against Bonita last season. McDill was also named to the all-league first team.
5. Chino Hills
For three consecutive years, Chino Hills has finished second to Ayala in the Sierra League. It appears, however, as though the Huskies, who finished 18-8 overall and 7-3 in league last year, are prepared to finally secure a league title over the Bulldogs. The Huskies lose leading scorer Ericka Norman, but return the next eight leading scorers on the team.
Seniors Casey Zinn (5-11) and Chariah Harris (5-11) combined to average 17.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game to lead the frontcourt. Zinn was first-team all-league, while Harris received second- team honors. The Huskies also return second-team all-league point guard Lindsey Crawford. This may very well be the year for the Huskies and coach Scott Stewart.
6. St. Lucy’s
The Regents enjoyed their most successful season in years last season. The team finished 16-10, including 5-5 in the tough Sierra League to finish fourth. The team returns talented senior Alexandra Quincey, who was a first-team all-Sierra League selection last season after leading the Regents in scoring with 16.8 points per game.
The Regents are primed to take the next step and compete at the top tier of the Sierra League, which has replaced Glendora, Diamond Bar and Chino with South Hills, Charter Oak and Claremont.
Coach Mondo Lanier has the Regents moving in the right direction. This season will be a step-up year for St. Lucy’s.
Ayala has consistently been one of the top teams in the Valley in girls basketball. The Bulldogs have dominated the Sierra League to the tune of 49 wins in their last 50 games, including four consecutive undefeated seasons.
The Bulldogs, however, lost five key seniors from last year’s CIF State playoff team. Possibly the biggest loss was junior transfer Jillian Alleyne, a first-team all-league player and one of the top recruits in the 2012 class. The Bulldogs’ top returning scorer is sophomore Christa Carrillo (5-10), who averaged 2.1 points per game in a limited role last season.
The Bulldogs will need to not only introduce a number of new players, but they also will begin their first year under new coach Amy Campbell. Former coach Mel Sims retired to spend time with his family after 17 years as the Ayala coach, which included 14 consecutive league titles. The Bulldogs will need a quick turnaround if they want to continue the streak.
8. South Hills
South Hills will make the switch out of the San Antonio League to the Sierra League.
Coach Tiffany Liang’s Huskies finished second to Walnut in each of her first three seasons. The Huskies may be excited to get away from Walnut, but couldn’t be too thrilled to move into the tough Sierra with Ayala, Chino Hills and St. Lucy’s.
The Huskies graduated San Antonio League MVP Natalie Maxey, but return first-team all-league senior Jackie Valle Acosta.
Last season, Duarte enjoyed success spurred by a number of young players. The top four scorers on the team were a freshman and three sophomores, and that foursome combined for 36.7 points per game, scoring 74 percent of the team’s points per contest.
The lone freshman was 5-foot-9 point guard Imari Brown, who averaged 10.8 points, 7.9 steals and 6.3 assists per game to lead the team in all three categories. The Falcons finished the season 17-7 overall, including a 10-2 record in the Montview League, finishing second to Sierra Vista.
Coach Mark Smith has the team poised to take the mantle away from Sierra Vista as the top team in the Montview.
10. Sierra Vista
The Dons finished 20-6 last season and bowed out in the second round of the playoffs to Santa Margarita. The team finished a perfect 12-0 in the Montview League, though, for the second consecutive year.
The team will be led by new coach Francisco Juarez this season. The expectations remain high, though, despite the coaching change and the graduation of nine seniors.