By Fred J. Robledo
As the high school girls basketball seasons continues through the holidays in preparation for league and the CIF Southern Section playoffs that follow, plenty of area teams have reason to think big.
Duarte advanced to the Division 4AA championship last year, losing to St. Paul 45-44 in the final, and has key players back.
Rowland advanced to the Division 2A semifinals, and returns arguably the best player in Tianna Eaton, the reigning area player of the year.
Diamond Bar advanced to the quarterfinals in Division 1A, one of the toughest divisions in Southern California, and South Hills made it to the Division 3AA quarterfinals.And now there are others looking good in holiday tournaments like Covina, Walnut, Los Altos, West Covina, Bonita, and Glendora, all of whom find themselves in the Tribune’s first top ten rankings of the season.So where does everyone fall in line? Here’s our first look.
The Raiders went undefeated in the Valle Vista League, earning their first league title since 1988 and parlayed that into a Division 2A semifinal appearance, their first since 1979.
The Raiders, who were a stunning 25-3 last year, will remain in Division 2A and have nearly everyone back in hopes of chasing a championship in a couple of months led by reigning area player of the year Tianna Eaton, who also was a CIF first team selection.
Eaton, headed to UC Riverside, averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds, and she has a fine supporting cast that includes junior Faith Castillo, who plays with a chip on her shoulder, and will likely be the teams’ second-leading scorer.
Also back is junior and two-year starter Nicolle Woo, who was injured most of last year and is huge piece to have back, and junior Rachel Campinia, a strong defender who will be asked to score more this season.
Also keep track of freshman Kaylin Ngo, who already is averaging 10 points for a Raiders team off to a 6-1 start having advanced to the finals of the Bonita tournament, and playing well in this week’s Duarte tournament, hoping to advance to Saturday’s championship.
2. Diamond Bar
The Brahmas return all-around senior Juliana Gamboa, who earned area first team honors last year after averaging 12 points, four rebounds and three steals, and she showed a preview of what her senior year is all about with a quadruple-double this week with 30 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists and 10 steals in a 85-48 victory over Wilson.
The Brahmas, who were 24-5 last year and reached the Division 1A quarterfinals, will remain in Division 1A and will likely be the Palomares League favorites after finishing second to South Hills a year ago.
Another big reason for optimism is senior center Candace Black, who had 19 points and seven rebounds in the win over Wilson, and senior Lauryn Del Campo. Add freshman Karen Shao, and no wonder the Brahmas are off and rolling to a 4-0 start.
A year after finishing 22-7, the Colts return Tribune first-team selection Mariah Sierra, who also was a Division 4AA first team standout after averaging 10 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
The early returns are promising for the Colts, off to a perfect 6-0 start, which includes a 49-36 victory over South Hills in Wednesday’s quarterfinals of its own Covina tournament. The Colts will face Valley View in Friday’s semifinals at 8 p.m.
Along with Sierra, the Colts welcome back senior Diana Navarro, a second-team all-area selection who averaged 10 points, and junior Allison Ayala, a third-team all-area selection from a year ago who averaged 12 points, but who has upped her game, currently leading the team in scoring with an 18 point average through six games.
There is also returning sophomore Mariana Cruz, who averaged nearly 10 points as a freshman, so expect the Colts to give Rowland all it can handle in the chase for the Valle Vista league crown.
The Falcons had a dream season under first year coach Scott Wiard, advancing to the Division 4AA title game and losing a heartbreaker to St. Paul in the final seconds, 45-44.
The Falcons return 6-foot-7 junior Patricia Morris, who earned area first team honors after averaging 12 points and 11 rebounds, and second-team all-area standout Ryley Thompson, a senior averaging 11 points through the first two weeks.
The Falcons also expect sophomore Delaney Thompson to be a big help, but they graduated super guard MacKenzie Barnes, and though the Falcons remain the Montview League favorites, their success last year has catapulted the Falcons to Division 1A in the first year of division realignment that places teams in divisions based solely on competitive equity, so a deep run in the playoffs will be much more difficult.
The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start, which included a surprising loss to West Covina this week in its own tournament, which makes the chance of the Falcons advancing to the finals on Saturday much more difficult.
The Mustangs are usually fighting for the Hacienda League title under longtime coach Lori Huckler, but they only finished 15-10 and wound up third in the Hacienda a year ago.
But with nearly everyone back, they’ll be in the league title hunt.
The Mustangs return two all-area third steam standouts in junior Yasmin Dabbous, a forward, and senior Jenna Pitpit, a guard.
The Mustangs are off to a 3-0 start, which includes a pair of wins in this week’s Duarte tournament, defeating Knight 58-32 and Bellflower, 71-39. If the Mustangs defeat Banning on Thursday, they will get a shot at No. 1 Rowland on Friday in the final round of pool play that will determine who advances to Saturday’s championship.
6. Los Altos
The Conquerors were 20-8 last season and finished second to Chino in the Hacienda League, and return nearly everyone, including junior Ilani Wells, who earned second-team all-area honors as a sophomore.
Two seniors to watch out for are Jezteni Espinoza and Kaylee Shozuya, and don’t let the Conquerors’ early 4-2 start fool you, both losses were to quality teams, losing to Sonora in the Whittier tournament and recently to power Roosevelt in the quarterfinals of the Covina tournament.
The Tartans were 15-12 last year, but were only 3-7 in the strong Palomares League, tying for fourth with Ayala.
Expect the Tartans to be much better, as evidenced by its 4-1 start that includes a 59-53 victory over Burroughs to capture the La Habra tournament last week.
Returning is all-area second team selection Michelle Can, a junior leading the team this season with 11 points a game, but also watch out for junior Alexis Lowden, averaging 10 points and who was named the most valuable player of the La Habra tourney.
Also playing well is junior McKayla Tilton, averaging almost 10 points, and sophomore Kayla Sera.
8. West Covina
The Bulldogs are the biggest surprise in the top ten, and beating Duarte 50-47 was a big reason why.
The Bulldogs were 11-15 last year, but senior Katrina Ponce De Leon, averaging 15 points, is shooting the ball well, and fellow senior Andrea Bustillo is averaging 10 points, and had 20 points in the win over Duarte.
There are also two freshman to keep an eye on. Lauren Bustillos, Andrea’s sister, is playing well and freshman Nikki Thompson notched 11 points in the win over Duarte.
The Bulldogs are 4-2, which includes losses to Rowland and tough Murrieta Valley early, but if they finish the Duarte tournament with wins over Upland and Bell, they’ll advance to Saturday’s championship, which might be a rematch with Rowland.
9. South Hills
The Huskies graduated all-everything Joy Krupa, but returning is all-area second-team guard Denise Wang, who can light it up from distance.
The Huskies were 21-8 last year and aren’t nearly as deep. Their 2-4 start is some reason for concern, but losses to JSerra, Lakewood and Covina are nothing to worry long-term about, but don’t expect a repeat of the Palomares league title. Diamond Bar is clearly the favorite, but the Huskies should battle Bonita, Ayala and Glendora for the next three spots.
The Bearcats return senior guard Alyssa Ono, named to the all-area third team last season after helping her team finish 19-11 and 7-3 in the Palomares League.
The Bearcats are off to a 4-2 start, which included a first-round victory over Charter Oak in the Covina tournament, however they were knocked out in Wednesday’s quarterfinals by Cantwell Sacred Heart, 49-30.
In addition to Ono, sophomore Sami Riggs is expected to be a big contributor. She had 12 points in the loss to Cantwell.