Preseason Girls BB Top 35 (Part 1)

In action from last year's first-ever CIF Open Division state final, Jordin Canada from Windward of Los Angeles is about to make a move to the basket. Photo: Willie Eashman.

In action from last year’s first-ever CIF Open Division state final, Jordin Canada from Windward of Los Angeles is about to make a move to the basket. Photo: Willie Eashman.

The first four are from SoCal, led by Mater Dei of Santa Ana, with the next seven from NorCal, led by St. Mary’s of Stockton. Check here for writeups of the first 15 teams.

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With transfers impacting several of the ranked teams, including two of the top three at Mater Dei of Santa Ana and Long Beach Poly, things could drastically change come January 6 when those transfers become eligible.

Mater Dei has two underclass transfers coming in, most notably Neah Odom. The 6-foot sophomore that can jump higher than any girl on the current roster led a 22-6 Los Alamitos team in scoring and rebounding as a freshman with 14.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.

The two biggest transfers in the state are coming to Long Beach Poly from St. Bernard of Playa del Rey. The prize is Lajahna Drummer. The UCLA-signed 6-foot-3 power forward/center is the top big girl in the state, and despite missing all of last year with a knee injury, she looked great over the summer and even better when observed last week in practice.

Although she only played three games last year at St. Bernard before injuring her knee, 6-foot-2 forward Emoni Jackson showed no effects of the injury in last week’s practice. She is headed to Michigan.

Here are the first 15 teams in the Cal-Hi Sports preseason rankings:

(This is the 33rd consecutive season that CalHiSports.com will provide state rankings for California girls basketball; Last year’s final rating in parentheses with 2012-13 win-loss record)

1. (3) Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 30-2
The Monarchs lose one Samuelson sister, but even with Karlie Samuelson graduating they still have 6-foot-3 all-everything Katie Lou Samuelson and her game is off the radar screen right now. Not only that, but other than the middle Samuelson sister leaving, the Monarchs return all the rest of their top players, including point guard Andee Velasco, 5-foot-11 power forward Peyton Langston, and rising sophomore Jayde Woods. Plus, they add two transfers, including solid sophomore Neah Odom. The Monarchs are certainly better this year than last, and come January 6, they’ll improve.

2. (2) Windward (Los Angeles 32-1
There’s no way to replace the scoring, three-point shooting, and leadership of Courtney Jaco (now at USC), but the Wildcats still have the state’s top player in UCLA-bound Jordin Canada, and one of the state’s top big girls in USC-bound Kristen Simon. Junior Emily Surloff will be the outside gunner and Canada will look to shoot the “3” more often and assume the leadership role. Second-year head coach Vanessa Nygaard also has senior leadership and solid play from senior guard Macchiati Smith, and a load of small quick underclass girls. Windward opened on Monday in the Palisades Tournament.

Long Beach Poly senior Arica Carter was one of top players at Las Vegas tourney last summer. Photo: Harold Abend.

Long Beach Poly senior Arica Carter was one of the top players at a Las Vegas tourney last summer. Photo: Harold Abend.

3. (7) Long Beach Poly (Long Beach) 26-5
The Jackrabbits were going to be doing a lot of hopping without the two D1-signed senior bigs, but come January 6 the landscape and pecking order in Southern California, and the state for that matter, will be altered. Poly comes into the season with plenty of size and speed returning, most notably Louisville-bound Arica Carter, the ESPN No. 15 rated guard in the country. Senior Jada Matthews, a 6-foot-1 George Washington-signed power forward, is the top returning big girl, but waiting in the wings is 6-foot-3 freshman Ayanna Clark, the top-rated girl from the class of 2017 in the Girls of Summer rankings. Head coach Carl Buggs also has an arsenal of small, quick players plus some big underclass players on an 18-girl roster.

4. (9) Etiwanda 28-4
Unlike the three teams above them, the Eagles have never won a state championship or a section title, and are still unproven. However, with all five returning senior starters having signed a Division I scholarship, Etiwanda is going to be a force to be reckoned with this year. Head coach Anders Anderson has the luxury of two guards who can play the one or two, Oregon-bound McKynzie Fort, and Arizona-signed Cherice Harris. He also has the biggest front line in the state to start the season in USC-bound 6-foot-1 Amy Okonkwo, Nevada Las Vegas-signed Alyssa Anderson and Cal State Fullerton-bound 6-foot-3 post Deja Smith.

Bri Moore is the top returning player for St. Mary's and spearheads the team's vaunted press.

Bri Moore is the top returning player for St. Mary’s and spearheads the team’s vaunted full-court press.

5. (5) St. Mary’s (Stockton) 32-3
Head coach Tom Gonsalves doesn’t have a lot of height and loses Onome Jemerigbe, but he has almost no holes on a 14-girl roster, and speed to burn. The vaunted Rams’ press will be something to behold this year. The top returners are highly-regarded junior point guard Bri Moore, the ESPN No. 17 rated point guard in the nation, and powerfully-built and athletic Arizona-signed G/F Charise Holloway. As usual and to go with the pressing, run-and-gun style, St. Mary’s will be raining threes. The leading gunner, sophomore Kat Tudor, made 112 three-point shots and shot 51 percent from beyond the arc last year. Another returner who has played well and has improved since the summer according to Gonsalves is sophomore Angel Johnson.

6. (6) St. Mary’s (Berkeley) 30-5
One national ranking doesn’t have Etiwanda in it and has the Panthers ahead of St. Mary’s of Stockton, but while both St. Mary’s teams return almost all its talent, the Berkeley girls don’t have a lot of depth. What they do have is the Cal-bound duo of Gabby Green and Mikayla Cowling, and that’s a ton of talent. Another factor is they had a 12-point loss to the Stockton girls last year. As for the 6-foot-1 Green, she was tied with Poly’s Lajahna Drummer as the second-highest rated player on the Girls of Summer final rankings. The 6-foot Cowling, who looked markedly improved in her overall game this summer, was right behind her teammate and tied for the fourth-highest mark this past summer. After that, however, only senior forward Taylor Berry stands out.

7. (1) Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 30-3
With four Division I players leaving, there are those that have written off the defending CIF Open Division champions, however after what they showed in a practice a couple of weeks ago, head coach Malik McCord may not have the top team in the state this year, but he has a legitimate top 10 contender. Although only a junior, Asha Thomas, the ESPN No. 15 rated point guard in the country, is the floor general and has taken control of leading the team. Her backcourt mate, junior Aisia Robertson, looks much improved after a season in which she was out of the spotlight. Like Thomas, she’s stronger and has matured. The size O’Dowd lost will be impossible to replace right away, but McCord has incoming freshmen with size and 6-foot-1 Loren Lassiter shows the improvement of being banged around last year by the bigs. Another major factor is the arrival from Indiana of Maya Pace, a 5-foot-10 freshman lefty who can jump out of the gym, shoots the ball well, and has great court presence for a freshman.

8. (8) Miramonte (Orinda) 27-3
Like Etiwanda, the Mats haven’t won anything with the talented young group head coach Kelly Sopak has assembled, but they almost upset Stockton St. Mary’s in the NorCal Open Division playoffs, and the nucleus of the team, led by Sabrina Ionescu, tore up the summer circuit. The 5-foot-11 Ionescu has grown an inch and looks even better than she did when she was a runner-up as the State Freshman of the Year. Another returner that sparkled at a recent practice is Loyola Marymount-signed Breanna Alford. Senior two-sport star Megan Reid (soccer) also is improved and will provide some leadership with the five returning seniors. Other underclass players to look for are sophomore guard Keana Delos Santos and 5-foot-10 sophomore wing Uriah Howard.

9. (16) Salesian (Richmond) 29-8
The NorCal Division IV champion Pride aren’t as deep as some teams, but they have Louisville-bound Mariya Moore, and also one of Northern California’s top posts, Colorado-signed 6-foot-4 Zoe Correal. Besides Moore handling the ball everywhere on the court, head coach Steve Pezzola has a solid point guard in junior Kian McNair. Two other girls that will be larger contributors than last season will be senior Alana Horton and junior Maya Williams. After that, there is a bit of a drop, but with the way the relentless Moore can take over a game, the Pride will be solid.

10. (12) Carondelet (Concord) 26-4
The Cougars lose their post and a point guard, but those two only accounted for 18 points per game last season. Head coach Margaret Gartner, who comes into the season with 492 career wins, returns her two top players, Nebraska-signed guard Natalie Romeo (21.3 ppg last season) and Loyola Marymount-bound guard Mackenzie Cast. The remaining cast of returning girls are all guards and are led by senior Gabriella Grupalo and Marcella Hughes. If the Cougars are to make some noise this season, Gartner is going to have to get something out of her returning big girls that really had little production last year.

11. (20) Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 24-6*
Like Carondelet, the Monarchs aren’t very deep, and they lost several seniors, but they do have one of the top players in Northern California in UCLA-signed Kelli Hayes. Plus, they have USA Under-16 coach Sue Phillips at the helm, and she is one of the best in the business. Two other girls who shined this summer are junior center NiaJai Craig and sophomore point guard Jahnay Anderson. Look for more production from sophomore guard Kaliya Griffin and watch out for big, strong incoming 5-foot-10 freshman guard Maddie Holland.

12. (4) Santiago (Corona) 29-3
The Sharks don’t have the firepower of last year’s team that won the loaded CIF Southern Section Division IAA title since first team all-state Chrishae Rowe and her nearly 20 points per game are gone along with the 13 ppg from Shiana Carrington. Coach David Wolfe, however, does have three other returning starters and depth so that Santiago should remain as a top 25-level squad for the state. Center Monique Billings (6-4 Sr.) tops the cast. She has signed with UCLA and is an all-state candidate. The other two returning starters are guard JonNae Vermillion (5-10 Sr.) and guard Paris Jones (6-4 Sr.).

Clovis West's Emily Anderson fires away during a game last season.

Clovis West’s Emily Anderson fires away during a game last season.

13. (23) Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) 27-7
The word around Southern California is that the young Broncos are going to be really bucking this year. Part of the reason is they return almost all their firepower, including sophomore sensation Jaelyn Brown, the No. 3 rated girl from the Class of 2016 in the Girls of Summer final rankings. The 6-foot-1 Brown, who is lightning quick, can jump out of the gym, and finishes strong around the basket. She also is rumored to be on the radar screen of Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma – and that’s saying something. Another girl who could have a breakout year is 5-foot-10 sophomore Brittney Reed. Brown averaged 13.8 ppg and 10.3 rpg but Reed wasn’t far behind with per game averages of 10.9 points and 8.6 rebounds.

14. (30) Sacramento 27-5
Head coach Michele Massari has a load of returning talent, and it might translate into one of her best teams. Big and strong Arizona State-signed Ayanna Edwards tops the list, followed by Nevada Las Vegas-signed Simone Sheppard, who looked good over the summer. There also is D1 prospect and guard Chaya Durr, plus point guard and D1 prospect Zonyia Cormier. Also, there is University of Pacific-bound transfer Najah Queenland who will be eligible in January. Massari might not have the five D1 signees that Etiwanda has, but she has her own five with two signed and lots of depth, size and speed. This could be a very good year for the Dragons’ faithful.

15. (29) Clovis West (Fresno) 23-6
The preseason No. 1 for the CIF Central Section and the defending Division I section champions are going to be loaded this season. Head coach Craig Campbell welcomes back his top four leading scorers, led by returning second team all-state Division I forward Emily Anderson (signed with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo). Also back is 5-foot-9 all-section point guard Portia Neale (signed with Cal State Fullerton). Others listed by Campbell as players to watch include Emma Guerrero (5-9 Sr.), Aysha Kirklan (5-9 Soph.) and Mariah Ruiz (6-0 Sr.). Even more depth and skill will come from four freshmen, two transfers who will be eligible in January plus those coming up from an 18-2 JV squad.

For writeups of the next 20 teams in order, CLICK HERE.

Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at marketingharoldabend@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend


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