Clarissa Perez of St. Paul HS has been selected for the Whittier Daily News’ First Team: Basketball April 1, 2015. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb/Whittier Daily News)
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Clarissa Perez was the St. Paul High School girls basketball team’s most important player. Not so much for her scoring ability, which can’t ben underestimated, but mainly her role as a leader.
It was from that aspect that Perez pushed her team to greatness in 2015, advancing to the CIF-Southern Section Division 4A finals. It was St. Paul’s second trip to the finals in the past two seasons and the Swordsmen’s fifth appearance since 2002.
For her efforts, Perez is the Whittier Daily News Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
“She was huge for us,” St. Paul coach Robert Miller said. “She was big in terms of leadership in convincing the younger girls to believe that we can play at this level. Her leadership is what inspired everyone to believe we can be in those games.
“Plus, she’s such a great player and draws a lot of attention on the court. She makes the other players on the court better.”
Perez did a little of everything for St. Paul She ranked among the area leaders in scoring, but also is a great passer and was solid on the defensive end. But it’s her leadership quality that keyed the run in 2015.
“We had a great year,” Perez said. “Nobody expected us to make it to the finals. But we did it. I’m very proud of my team. They were a young group of girls.
“I’m very proud of my coaches, helping me become a better leader and learning from my teammates that no matter how young you can do anything you want. I’m glad for our school that we went to (the state playoffs) again and another (CIF) finals.”
But all parties believe it was Perez’ mental aspect that drove the Swordsmen to one of its better seasons.
“Our seniors set this as our goal,” Miller said. “Clarissa’s leadership was huge. She sort of got the younger players on board and convincing them that’s where they wanted to be.”
Perez also leader on the court, and the Swordsmen’s best scoring option. She had no qualms of being a decoy and setting up the other players to achieve, but when they moment called for she was ready to put the team on her back.
She did so in a 4A quarterfinal victory over Notre Dame Academy. Perez scored a career-high 30 points, including eight in the fourth quarter that allowed St. Paul to prevail,64-52.
“The big thing for me this year was that I had to trust my teammates,” Perez said. “I wanted to make sure my teammates stepped up, and they did. We won a lot of big games. I proud of them.”
Perez is now taking her talents to Utah, where she will play next season at Utah State University-Eastern.
“This is where I am as a basketball player and where I want to go,” Perez said. “(Utah State-Eastern) went to the semifinals last year of the national junior college tournament, and I come from a winning program like St. Paul, so I wanted to go to a winning program. I want to learn like I did at St. Paul, and that’s what they offered me.”
COACH OF THE YEAR
ROBERT MILLER, ST. PAUL
Miller has been one of the top coaches in the area since arriving at the Santa Fe Springs campus in the late 1990s. He’s taken the Swordsmen to the divisional finals, including this season when they advanced to the Division 4A title game. The Swordsmen also swept the season series from rival Bishop Amat for the first time in Miller’s tenure.
For his efforts, Miller is the Whittier Daily News Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
“It’s great to have good players and they make me look really good,” Miller said. “They did that again this year. We were pleased to (get back to the CIF finals). We’d like to win it, eventually, but it will come.”
Sweeping Amat was also special for the Swordsmen and Miller.
“We’d never been able to do that since I’ve been here,” Miller said. “It was great. It would have felt a little bit better if coach (Richard Wiard) was still there. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. But it’s a tremendous rivalry between the two schools.”
GUARD: ADRIANA GONZALEZ, ST. PAUL, JR.
The junior was part of the Swordsmen one-two punch with Clarissa Perez. She combined athleticism with solid shooting ability to key St. Paul’s run to the CIF-Southern Section Division 4A final. She was first team All-CIF-SS Division 4A.
FORWARD LILY PERKINS, CANTWELL, SO.
Perkins is one of the better all-around players in the area, who can drive to the basket, as well as make outside shots. She’s also a solid defender. Perkins keyed Cantwell’s run to the Camino Real League title and the Division 4A semifinals. She was first team All-CIF-SS Division 4A.
FORWARD: MONIQUE MESA, CANTWELL, SR.
Mesa was a force inside for the Cardinals, who were 22-6 and advanced to the Division 4A semifinals. She missed five games during a January stretch when the team struggled. The senior averaged eight points and eight rebounds per game.
GUARD: SARAH GURROLA, EL RANCHO, SR.
Gurrola keyed El Rancho to its third consecutive Del Rio League title, but it’s first outright crown under coach Randy Shigezane. She led the team in scoring at 13 points a came, but also had 5.9 assists per contest. She also helped El Rancho to the CIF-SS quarterfinals and was Del Rio League MVP.
FORWARD: CRYSTAL RODRIGUEZ, EL RANCHO, SR.
Rodriguez combined with Gurrola to give the Dons a formidable scoring tandem that few could stop. She averaged 13 points a game and also was a force inside with nearly 10 rebounds a game. Rodriguez also had nearly three steals per game. She was first team All-Del Rio League.
FORWARD: CASSANDRA HAIR, WHITTIER, SR.
Hair was one of the top frontline players in the area. She helped the Cardinals to a 17-11 record and a second-place finish in the Del Rio League. Hair averaged 9. 5 points a contest and 7.1 rebounds. She was first team All-Del Rio League.
FORWARD: LAINIE JAMES, SONORA, FR.
Sonora’s big turnaround from a sub-.500 campaign in 2014 to 21-7 this season can be attributed to James, who along with sophomore Meghann Henderson, gave the Raiders a solid one-two punch. She was that good. James, despite her youth, led the team with a 12. 5 points per game average. She was All-Freeway League.
GUARD: MEGHANN HENDERSON, SONORA, SO.
The sophomore has been solid for the Raiders in her first two seasons. She combined with freshman Lainie James to provide Sonora with a solid scoring duo. She averaged 11 points a game. James was first team All-Freeway League and All-Division 3AA.
GUARD: EMMA ZENER, LA HABRA, SO.
Zener helped key the Highlanders to a third-place finish in the Freeway League. She proved to be a solid scoring option, making 69 3-pointers en route to averaging 11 points a game. Zener was first team All-Freeway League.
FORWARD: AMANDA CUEVRO, LA HABRA, JR.
Cuevro was arguably the top frontline players in the area. She gave the Highlanders a solid scoring punch with a 10-point average. She also ranked among the area leaders in rebounding, averaging 13 a game, including six on the offensive glass. She was first team All-Freeway League.
Forward: Tia Banks, St. Paul, Fr.
Guard: Stephanie Guerra, Cantwell, Sr.
Guard: Vanessa Espinoza, Cantwell, Sr.
Guard: Marissa Dunn, Sonora, Jr.
Guard: Jazz Shedd, Sonora, Jr.
Center: Hannah Mc Arthur, La Habra, So.
Guard: Alicia Aguirre, Schurr, Jr.
Forward: Lauryn Jordan, La Mirada, So.
Guard: Ashley Miller, El Rancho, Sr.
Center: Christa Evans, Whittier Chr., So.
Guard: Marisa Orosco, Schurr, Sr.
Forward: Brianna Olvera, Montebello, Sr.
Forward: Maddy Fitzpatrick, La Serna, Sr.
Guard: Dennisa Gallegos, Santa Fe, Sr.
Guard: Amber Valdez, Whittier, Sr.
Forward: Brittany Corona, El Rancho, So.
Guard: Celeste Chavez, California, Sr.
Forward: Janelle Rocha, Pioneer, Sr.
Center: Desiree Reyes, Santa Fe, Sr.
Guard: Jazpur Bristol, La Mirada, Sr.
FINAL TOP TEN
1. St. Paul (19-15)
2. Cantwell (21-8)
3. Sonora (21-7)
4. El Rancho (20-11)
5. La Habra (14-11)
6. Schurr (14-12)
7. Whittier (17-11)
8. Santa Fe (14-11)
9. La Serna (12-13)
10. Montebello (13-11)
CAMINO REAL: Cantwell, St. Joseph
DEL REY: Serra
DEL RIO: El Rancho
OLYMPIC: Heritage Christian