With all five starters back from a team that won the CIF Open Division state crown, St. Mary’s of Stockton is easy choice as preseason No. 1 for the state to start the 2015-16 season. It’s not even that hard to choose No. 2 and No. 3, either, as both Chaminade of West Hills and Miramonte of Orinda are loaded top returning players. Teams coming up the highest from the end of last season include No. 8 Cajon of San Bernardino and No. 14 Palisades of Pacific Palisades. Go inside here for teams No. 1 through No. 15 in our preseason State Top 40.
For a look at the teams we’ve ranked from No. 16 to No. 40 plus more on the bubble (Gold Club members), CLICK HERE.
For more on preseason No. 1 St. Mary’s of Stockton, CLICK HERE.
For last season’s final state rankings, CLICK HERE.
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With transfer and eligibility issues abundant in all 10 of the CIF Sections, and injuries factored in as well, the goal of the Cal-Hi Sports preseason rankings is to present a credible look at who will be in the mix this season with a goal of being as fair as possible in our assessment before any games have tipped off.
There is also a large group of incoming freshmen that made impressions over the summer and how they contribute as the season progresses will play out as well and will certainly have an impact on the rankings once the games begin.
The one thing every one of the California girls basketball analysts consulted with in coming up with these 35 top teams agreed on is the first three teams in the pecking order: St. Mary’s of Stockton, Chaminade of West Hills and Miramonte of Orinda.
In fact, the word on the street is St. Mary’s has the inside track to be national No. 1 to start the season in at least two rankings.
Once the Nike TOC and West Coast Jamboree are completed, which are the two major West Coast tournaments, and St. Mary’s gets back from the Title IX in Washington D.C., this pecking order may look different, other than the Rams likely will be on top regardless of how they do back east.
2015-16 CAL-HI SPORTS PRESEASON
GIRLS BASKETBALL STATE RANKINGS
(This is the 34th consecutive season that CalHiSports.com will provide state rankings; Last year’s final rating in parentheses with 2014-15 won-loss record)
1. (1) St. Mary’s (Stockton) 34-1
Some teams that have started at the top of the state have that one dominant player surrounded by a great complementary cast – like Mater Dei last year with Katie Lou Samuelson – but for St. Mary’s it’s the depth of talent that stands out most of all. In fact, if head coach Tom Gonsalves created a first and second team among his players, the second team would be in the top 20 of the state. Returning State Freshman of the Year Aquira De Costa is the one player off the roster that colleges are the most fired up about, but both Mi’Cole Cayton (Nebraska) and Kat Tudor (Oregon State) could also end up with the type of a season to make either one a viable Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year candidate. The schedule for the Rams also should be tougher this season since they are now considered an independent member of the Tri-City Athletic League and won’t have as many of those ridiculous rout contests.
2. (3) Chaminade (West Hills) 27-4
The girls from the San Fernando Valley aren’t quite as deep as St. Mary’s but they continue to have the top senior duo in the state and nation in Duke-committed Leaonna Odom and Southern California-bound Valerie Higgins. According to ESPN, the pair is No. 1 and 2 in the nation for the wing position. Odom had per game averages of 17.5 points and 6.6 rebounds while Higgins’ numbers were 14.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 5.3 steals per contest. Senior floor general Paige Fecske has graduated but two other incoming juniors, Melissa Wright (8.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Isabel Newman (6.4 ppg) are ready to blossom and fill the gap, plus with Fecske the only senior contributor gone, there’s also a whole slew of underclass players on the roster of reigning State Coach of the Year Kelli DiMuro. Junior transfer Alyssa Fisher from Alemany is a Fecske-type player and will be a big addition. It’s a long ways off but it’s not a stretch to say it could come down to the Eagles facing St. Mary’s in the CIF Open Division title game.
3. (5) Miramonte (Orinda) 30-3
If St. Mary’s of Stockton wasn’t so loaded as the defending CIF Open Division state champion, the Matadors (like Chaminade) also would have all of the necessary ingredients to be a preseason No. 1 team for the state. Despite being a much smaller school compared to other perennial public school powerhouses like Long Beach Poly or Berkeley, head coach Kelly Sopak’s program reached the NorCal Open Division final last year and returns all five starters, including Sabrina Ionescu, the State Junior of the Year and the state’s highest rated college prospect. “This is the best team (on paper) I have had in my 11 years as a head coach,” Sopak said. “We have put together a challenging schedule so we will definitely earn it or lose it on the court.” Ionescu, who is down to Oregon or Cal for her final college choice and won’t choose until the season is over, hit for 23.0 points, 7.3 assists, 8.9 rebounds and 5.0 steals as a junior. Co-captain Keana Delos santos (5-7 Sr.) and forward Uriah Howard (5-11 Sr.) are both returning honors candidates and D1 signers as well while sophomore Clair Steele (5-5 G) was one of Northern California’s top freshmen last season. Elle Louie (5-11 Jr.) also joined Sopak and Ionescu over the summer as part of a CalStars club team that went 54-1 and won a national title.
4. (4) Long Beach Poly (Long Beach) 26-4
Right now there are questions as to whether former Jackrabbits’ freshman star Ayanna Clark will have to sit out until January. The Southern California-verballed junior transferred to Long Beach St. Anthony’s last season but never played in a game, so it would seem she should be declared eligible right away to play at Poly again by the CIF Southern Section. If Clark, the ESPN No. 2 ranked post and No. 8 overall player from the Class of 2017 is eligible right away, there could be an argument for Poly to even be ahead of Miramonte. Leading scorer from last season Tania Lamb has graduated and senior post Eliza Matthews is out with a knee injury, but veteran head coach Carl Buggs, the 2007 State Coach of the Year who has six CIF state titles, still has flashy junior guard Danae Miller (10.4 ppg) and eight other players returning that saw major minutes. Plus, West Torrance transfer Jasmine Jones (15.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg) will be eligible in January. Without Jones and with or without Clark, the Jackrabbits are in the Nike TOC and making a reappearance in the Platinum Division of the West coast Jamboree.
5. (2) Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 31-3
A girl named “Lou” has gone off to Connecticut, so losing Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year Katie Lou Samuelson is huge, but the Monarchs have recovered from losing previous Ms. Basketball winners Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Nirra Fields and kept on ticking. Another big loss is Andee Velasco but head coach Kevin Kiernan always seems to have girls waiting in the wings to step up and fill the void. This year may be a little more questionable than in the past, and that’s why the Monarchs are starting off a little lower than some previous years. The top returner is 6-foot-4 UCLA-committed senior center Ally Rosenblum and her 10.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game averages from last season. With Lou carrying so much of the load the last couple of seasons, the production of some other players is a bit skewed. Incoming junior Jayda Adams’ numbers last season weren’t very high, but USA Basketball liked her enough to make her one of only three California girls on the U16 team last summer. Sophomore 6-foot-2 power forward Emma Torbert (4.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg) looks ready to break out plus Kiernan has a lot of other girls just itching to get their hands on the rock now that Lou is gone. “We’re rebuilding, very young, especially the backcourt,” said Kiernan, the 2003 State Coach of the Year at Fullerton Troy, who has three state crowns at both Mater Dei and Troy. That’s fine but until further notice we still have Mater Dei as a top five team, particularly since St. Mary’s head coach Tom Gonsalves thinks the Monarchs will be almost as good as last year.
6. (12) Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 25-6
When 1999 State Coach of the Year and USA Basketball coach and evaluator Sue Phillips gushes about her team in the preseason it’s a rarity. However, when the winner of 27 West Catholic Athletic League, 24 CIF Central Coast Section, 11 NorCal and six CIF state titles, including last year’s CIF Division II championship, starts raving we listen. Phillips returns just about everyone. Junior Maddie Holland (11.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg), who has multiple mid-major Division I offers and who looked much improved over the summer, is the top returner along with super flashy junior point guard Heleyna Hill and her 12.8 ppg average. Versatile sophomore Karisma Ortiz has several mid-major offers and the sharpshooting duo of senior Jahnay Anderson (9.1 ppg) and junior Danielle Guglielmo (6.1 ppg) are back in Phillips’ arsenal. Perhaps the player to watch with the most upside talent is incoming freshman guard Haley Jones. She already has an offer from Georgia Tech.
7. (14) Brea Olinda (Brea) 26-5
Like Mitty above them, the Ladycats come way up from last season’s final ranking for mainly the same reason. Eight of the top 10 players from last season are back and head coach Jeff Sink looks pretty loaded from a team that lost to Bishop O’Dowd in the CIF Division III state championship last season. Sink, the 1998 State Coach of the Year who also has four state titles to his credit, has a leading returner in Arizona State-commit Reili Richardson, who averaged 17.4 ppg last season and turned some heads with her 19 points and overall play in the state championship game. The young group last season that Sink felt was a year away last year is here this year. How well players like junior Tyiona Watkins (15.5 ppg), who wowed some college recruiters this summer, can gel with a team that still is very young, will tell whether Brea Olinda will be a leading contender this season. Besides hosting their own Ladycat Classic in two weeks, the Orange County girls are at the Nike TOC and in the Diamond Division of the West Coast Jamboree.
8. (25) Cajon (San Bernardino) 28-4
The team that makes the second-biggest jump upward from last season’s final rankings is this year’s preseason top team from the Inland Empire. In the past, we have been reluctant to have Cajon too high in the rankings because it usually stays close to home in the non-league portion of the season. That is not the case this season as head coach Mark Lehman is loaded and has scheduled three major tournaments so it will be different than in years past. Washington State-bound senior Kayla Washington (28.1 ppg, 16.1 rpg) is the top returner of three outstanding juniors last season. She is joined by the senior Turner twins, Tyra (19.7 ppg, 9.2 assists) and Tyla (14.6 ppg, 9.4 assists), plus senior forward Taylor Goldsberry and her 6.8 points and 10.6 rebounds a game. The Cowgirls are in the Palisades tournament, Nike TOC and World International Invitational in Hawaii.
9. (21) Oaks Christian (Westlake Village) 26-7
The team making another huge jump from its final ranking last year is a Lions’ team that falls in behind Cajon. Kristy Hopkins is the new head coach and she inherits a squad where everyone returns from a team that made a good showing in the CIFSS Open Division and then finished as the runner-up in the Divison IV Southern Regional to eventual D4 state champion Sierra Canyon. Washington State-committed senior Katie Campbell (16.7 ppg) is the top returner but look for breakout seasons from senior Roxy Barahman, junior Sydney Boyer, senior Autumn Naylor and senior Milana Kazmer plus others. The Lions are playing in the Platinum Division of the West Coast Jamboree.
10. (8) Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 25-9
The defending CIF Division III state champions start a little lower than they finished but despite a solid group of returners Dragons head coach and 2013 State Coach of the Year Malik McCord does lose the dynamic backcourt duo of Asha Thomas and Aisia Robertson and losing them is hard to replace. Despite that, O’Dowd is still No. 4 in Northern California to start with junior wing Maya Pace leading the returners. Other girls to watch are seniors Salihah Bey and Mylah Andrade, but don’t be surprised if several other girls have breakout seasons as well, including sophomore Zakiya Mahoney and junior Alexa Mason. Two girls to look for are the incoming freshmen duo of Jada Holland, and Bianca Shaw, the daughter of former O’Dowd and NBA star and coach Brian Shaw. O’Dowd is in the Iolani Classic in Hawaii and the Platinum Division of the West Coast Jamboree.
11. (13) Vanden (Fairfield) 30-4
The Vikings come up a bit and fall in behind the team that beat them in the CIF D3 Northern Regional title game. Head coach Allison Johnson has a returning group that is looking very solid with two D1 players, junior guard and ESPN No. 5 rated 2017 guard Julia Blackshell-Fair, and Utah-committed senior guard Kiana Moore. Blackshell-Fair was very impressive over the summer and has some big-time schools on her trail. Vanden is in the Diamond Division of the West Coast Jamboree.
12. (15) La Jolla Country Day (La Jolla) 18-11
The defending Division V state champions and head coach and 2012 State Coach of the Year Terri Bamford has just about everyone back but most importantly Washington-committed senior Mai-Loni Henson and 6-foot-2 junior wing Alaysia Styles, the ESPN highly regarded recruit that has some of the nation’s top colleges interested in her. Other top returners are senior guard Mariana Ecija, sophomores Kiera Oakley, Bianca Notarainni and shooter Jayda Villareal, plus some others and newcomers as well. No question Country Day is the top team from the CIF San Diego Section to start the season. The Torreys open by hosting their annual Sweet 16 tournament.
13. (7) Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco) 18-11
The defending CIF Central Coast Section Open Division champions returns its best player but loses some others from a team that gave CIF Open champion St. Mary’s one of its toughest games of the season before falling 70-65 in the NorCal Open semifinals. Highly-regarded junior Iimar’i Thomas is back but O’Dowd and Vanden look a little stronger with a few more returning players that were major contributors so the Irish fall in at No. 6 in Northern California. Head coach LyRyan Russell also has his girls in the Platinum division of the West Coast Jamboree
14. (32) Palisades (Pacific Palisades) 23-11
The team that makes the biggest jump up from its final ranking from last season is a defending L.A. City Section Open Division champion Dolphins’ team that has everyone back with the exception of senior Bianca King, but includes flashy junior point guard and highly regarded recruit Chelsea Gipson and her 19.2 ppg average. With guard Kayla Merrill-Gillett (17.8 ppg), head coach and USA basketball assistant coach Torino Johnson has one of the top backcourts in the state. Palisades is in the loaded Diamond Division of the West Coast Jamboree.
15. (18) Clovis West (Fresno) 26-5
We always feel a little sorry for the Golden Eagles in the age of the CIF Open Division because they will almost always have to play in it coming from the CIF Central Section, instead of being in the Division I bracket where in most years is where they fit best. This year’s team, though, figures to be a more legit Open Division squad after four sophomores were in leading roles last season. League MVP Megan Anderson (6-1 jr. F) leads the way, but Bre’yanna Sanders (6-0 jr. F) has an offer from Arizona State. Backcourt standouts Danae Marquez (5-5 jr.) and Ashley Cross (5-8 sr.) also have received college offers. Head coach Craig Campbell always has a lot of depth, too. One of the new players who could make an impact is his incoming freshman daughter, Madison Campbell. Clovis West didn’t do well in its CIFSS SoCal Open Division game last year vs. Chaminade of West Hills, but knocked off Alemany of Mission Hills in its previous game.
For Part 2 of these preseason rankings, CLICK HERE.
Mark Tennis, the publisher of CalHiSports.com, contributed to these rankings. 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