Bishop’s of La Jolla is making the most early-season noise while current No. 1 Mater Dei, No. 2 Long Beach Poly and No. 3 Stockton St. Mary’s are all perfect going into the Nike TOC in Arizona.
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By Harold Abend
Contributing: Mark Tennis, Paul Muyskens
The Bishop’s of La Jolla girls won’t be going to the Nike Tournament of Champions this week in Arizona, but they’ve already made some noise as a possible CIF Division IV Southern California contender after a 10-0 start that has seen them knock off some preseason ranked teams in their two tournament wins.
Still, it would have been nice to see how the new Littleton and Littleton combination of unrelated St. John’s-bound forward Imani Littleton and 5-foot-9 freshman Destiny Littleton would have performed at the annual big event in Phoenix.
“We haven’t played in the Nike the last three years because it conflicts with finals,” Knights’ head coach Marlon Wells told Cal-Hi Sports. “At this school, academics come first and I don’t mess around with that.”
What opponents haven’t been able to mess around with so far is the inside-outside combination of the two Littleton girls.
Imani Littleton has stepped it up after the recruiting process made her summer showing suffer a bit.
“Imani is playing with a lot of fire,” Wells remarked. “She’s more relaxed and real confident now that the recruiting process is behind her. She knows she has to be the leader of this team. It’s her last shot.”
The 6-foot-3 senior leader is currently averaging 23.6 points, 13.6 rebounds, 4.3 blocks and 3.9 steals per game.
Destiny Littleton, the No. 3 ranked player from the class of 2017 in the Girls of Summer rankings, has caught fire.
After a 34-point, 11-rebound, four-steal, three-assist performance in a 59-50 win over Archbishop Mitty, she caught the eye of Mitty and USA U16 head coach Sue Phillips, who favored a Tweet that had a link to the blurb about her.
Destiny’s per game averages are 20.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 4.3 steals.
Wells, who’s coached and worked with the top girls in San Diego the past decade and a half, including California’s all-time leading scorer Charde Houston, is high on Destiny but not yet ready to anoint her.
“Right now, skill-wise she’s as good as Charde but not as good as Candice (2004 Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year Candice Wiggins) or Kelsey (2013 Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year Kelsey Plum), but she certainly has that potential. For such a young age, her basketball IQ is very high, she really gets it, and she works very hard. Plus, she has a surprisingly strong, athletic body for such a young girl.”
(These are the first rankings of the 2013-14 regular season; updated through games played Saturday, Dec. 14; preseason rating in parentheses)
1. (1) Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 5-0
The Monarchs won the Battle at the Beach at Redondo Beach but the championship game final was not the anticipated No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup with Windward. Instead it was a 90-61 dismantling of a No. 5 Gardena Serra team that beat Windward in the semifinals. Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year candidate Katie Lou Samuelsson led the way after averaging 25 points and eight rebounds plus four three-pointers per game. Before departing for the Joe Smith Division of the Nike TOC in Phoenix and a first round matchup with Homewood (Flossmoor, Ill.) Mater Dei put up a 73-41 hurting on Redondo Beach Redondo Union behind 28 points from “Lou,” and despite head coach Kevin Kiernan saying “we were sloppy.”
2. (3) Long Beach Poly (Long Beach) 3-0
The Jackrabbits had a light schedule game-wise prior to the Nike TOC but the competition wasn’t light in their victories at the Iolani Classic in Hawaii. First they dispatched local Maryknoll of Honolulu, then a solid Portland (Ore.) Westview. In the title game, Poly defeated Riverdale (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) 57-49. Like Mater Dei, Poly is in the Joe Smith Division and opens with Regis Jesuit of Aurora, Colo.
3. (5) St. Mary’s (Stockton) 6-0
The Rams haven’t played as tough a schedule as Mater Dei or Long Beach Poly, and after winning the Christian Brothers Tournament in Sacramento they had a tussle with last year’s CIF Division III state runner-up Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco in a 87-82 home victory. Veteran head coach Tom Gonsalves and his girls open the Nike TOC with perennial national power Riverdale Baptist of Upper Marlboro, Md.
4. (8) Miramonte (Orinda) 6-0
Going into the Nike TOC, the Matadors won two tournaments that had no teams of any stature, but they still get to move up in the state rankings. Depending how they do in Phoenix, they could hold tight or drop back down a bit. We’re placing them ahead of Gardena Serra because that team is not playing in the TOC and also has a light schedule going into league. The one drawback is that the Mats are not in as tough a division in Phoenix as Windward. Head coach Kelly Sopak tried to get into a higher division but the Mats ended up in the Mike Desper Division with Brea-Olinda (Brea), the No. 3 or maybe even No. 4 bracket in this year’s TOC pecking order.
5. (17) Serra (Gardena) 3-1
Up to this point, everyone that has played Mater Dei has been blown away so the 29-point loss in the finals of the Battle of the Beach isn’t surprising but the eight-point win over Windward in the semifinals sure ranks as one. Since Windward has handled the other teams it has played, that means a sharp rise for the Cavaliers in this week’s rankings. This is another team that should be even better when transfers become eligible in January.
6. (2) Windward (Los Angeles) 8-1
The Wildcats have to fall in behind the Serra team they lost to, but the remainder of their resume is solid and includes two wins over Fullerton Troy, a 27-point win over Lynwood and a 33-point win over Alemany. The Wildcats are in the Blue Division at the Nike TOC with Carondelet, Etiwanda and Sacramento. They also open with a St. Anthony’s (Melville, N.Y.) team that is nationally ranked.
7. (9) Salesian (Richmond) 4-0
Coach Steven Pezzola’s girls haven’t played a very challenging schedule so far going into the Nike TOC, but have started out strong. The Pride are in the Gray Division in Phoenix, which includes Bishop O’Dowd, and they open with an Oregon City (Ore.) team that is always tough. All-America candidate Mariya Moore is averaging 20.7 ppg in her early games.
8. (14) Sacramento 3-0
The Dragons are like Salesian in that they’ve not been tested yet but still get to move up due to other teams losing. Plus, it remains to be seen how the loss over the summer of UC Santa Barbara-bound Chaya Durr (ACL injury) will affect the Dragons, particularly in the Nike TOC where they are in the same division as Windward, and could meet the Wildcats in the second round if they win their opener with Southwest DeKalb of Decatur, Ga.
9. (18) Bishop’s (La Jolla) 10-0
It’s a nine-spot rise for the Knights and while they have been impressive so far, we’re not quite ready to jump them past Salesian in D4 or Sacramento until we see what those two do in Phoenix.
10. (10) Carondelet (Concord) 3-0
The Cougars and their 500-plus game winning head coach Margaret Gartner can’t be punished for not going too far out of the box prior to the TOC, so they hold tight after they were the Dorothy Speck Tournament winner in a somewhat weak field. In the semifinals of that event, point guard Natalie Romeo had a triple-double with 23 points, 16 assists and 12 rebounds. Carondelet is in the Blue Division of the Nike TOC but on the bottom half with Etiwanda. They open with Brooklyn (N.Y.) Nazareth National.
11. (7) Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 3-1
California’s defending Open Division champions have a huge win two-point win over St. Mary’s of Berkeley but a two-point loss to Lynwood. This is a young team led by junior point guard Asha Thomas that is improving each week and a loss to Lynwood is not the end of the world. The Dragons open the Nike TOC with a Highlands Ranch team from Colorado that has two wins over La Jolla Country Day but an 11-point loss to an up-and-down Alemany. This is where the who-beat-who aspect of the rankings has made it really difficult to place teams.
12. (6) St. Mary’s (Berkeley) 4-1
The Panthers’ loss to Bishop O’Dowd drops them down some pegs in these rankings, but there certainly will be plenty of opportunities to go back up. At Phoenix, the team with top national recruits Mikayla Cowling and Gabby Green is in the top division (Joe Smith) and opens play with a matchup against perennial power Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.).
13. (4) Etiwanda 1-1
Coach Anders Anderson’s squad takes a rankings hit for losing to Chaminade of West Hills 49-44 on the road. The good news is that a 53-43 victory against Alemany of Mission Hills shows how good the Eagles can be. Etiwanda also is in same Blue Division at the Nike TOC as Carondelet and Sacramento so if it comes out on top there’s no reason why the Eagles can’t be back up towards the top five.
14. (12) Santiago (Corona) 8-0
We could have put the Sharks higher, but it’s been a very light schedule so far and they aren’t playing in a tough tourney like Etiwanda so we’ve decided to keep them behind the Eagles. Santiago has won tourney titles at San Marino and Paloma Valley and has been led by senior Monique Billings with 20 points and 12 rebounds per game.
15. (24) Canyon Springs (Moreno Valley) 3-1
A win over preseason state No. 13 Vista Murrieta allows the Cougars to get a bump in this week’s rankings. Their loss came to Highlands Ranch of Colorado at the La Jolla Country Day Sweet Sixteen tourney.
16. (13) Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) 4-2
The big win for the Broncos was 50-47 in overtime over preseason No. 11 Archbishop Mitty at the LJCD Sweet Sixteen. Jaelyn Brown and Brittney Reed, both sophomores, had 17 and 15 points in that triumph. The loss to Canyon Springs at the same tourney (as well as an additional loss to the host Torreys), however, causes an overall drop in the rankings.
17. (11) Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 4-2
Like so many other top teams, the Monarchs have been inconsistent so far. On the poor side has been losses to Bishop’s and Vista Murrieta. However, both of those teams are higher in these rankings and there also is a 27-point win over Lynwood.
18. (16) Lynwood 4-2
Two 27-point losses make the Knights look ugly, but those losses were to Windward (No. 6) and Archbishop Mitty (No. 17). The reason they can be right behind Mitty in these rankings is because of wins over Alemany of Mission Hills and Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland.
19. (19) St. Ignatius (San Francisco) 5-0
The Wildcats hold steady at No. 19 due to two double-digit wins over Eastside Prep and Vanden. They just don’t yet have the strength of schedule to be in front of many of those teams that were in La Jolla. In a 65-50 win last Saturday over Vanden, Josie Little had 16 points. The Vikings were 4-0 entering that game and were No. 22 in our preseason state rankings.
20. (NR) Huntington Beach 7-0
The Oilers’ resume includes a four-point win over Orange Lutheran and a seven-point win over La Jolla Country Day. They are in the Nike TOC Red Division with Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas. They could be back to the level they were at two seasons ago when they went 26-6.
Teams That Dropped Out From Top 20:
Previous No. 15 Clovis West (Fresno); No. 20 La Jolla Country Day (La Jolla).
Teams On the Bubble
Bishop Alemany (Mission Hills) 7-4
Bishop Amat (La Puente) 5-1
Bonita (La Verne) 8-0
Brea Olinda (Brea) 4-1
Brookside Christian (Stockton) 3-3
Canyon (Canyon Country) 5-1
Chaminade (West Hills) 5-1
Clovis West (Fresno) 7-1
Eastside Prep (East Palo Alto) 7-2
Foothill (Tustin) 6-0
JSerra (San Juan Capistrano) 6-3
La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad) 5-0
La Jolla Country Day (La Jolla) 4-4
Lutheran (Orange) 5-1
Mark Keppel (Alhambra) 11-0
McNair (Stockton) 4-0
Millikan (Long Beach) 2-2
Monte Vista (Danville) 7-0
Mt. Carmel (San Diego) 6-0
Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) 5-1
Sacred Heart Cathedral (S.F.) 1-2
Santa Rosa 4-0
Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth 5-0
Troy (Fullerton) 4-4
Vanden (Travis AFB) 5-1
Wilcox (Santa Clara) 6-1
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend