Saturday CIF Girls Finals

Valerie Higgins attacks the basket for Chaminade of West Hills in CIF Open Division state final vs previously unbeaten Miramonte. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Valerie Higgins attacks the basket for Chaminade of West Hills in CIF Open Division state final vs previously unbeaten Miramonte. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Open Division showdown won by state No. 2 Chaminade of West Hills over previously unbeaten No. 1 Miramonte of Orinda behind Leaonna Odom’s 33 points. The other two winners on the final day of high school games ever to be played at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento are Cajon of San Bernardino (D2) and Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa (D4). Additional writeup (D2) by Cal-Hi Sports editor Mark Tennis.

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The first thing out of the mouths of the girls from Chaminade in the press conference after beating Miramonte in a run-filled 80-71 CIF Open Division title game victory was in unison, “Happy Birthday.”

The shoutout was for one of the two members of their dynamic duo, senior Leaonna Odom, who was celebrating her 18th birthday, and what a birthday present she gave herself, her teammates and the Chaminade faithful. The McDonald’s All-American, Jordan Brand Game All-Star and one of two leading contenders for Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year had a monster game.
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The Duke-bound Odom had a double-double 33 points and 15 rebounds with four assists, and with the help of the other half of the Eagles’ pair, Valerie Higgins, basically broke the back of Miramonte.

The 33 points by the 6-foot-2 Odom was an Open Division record and tied 2011 Ms. Basketball Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) for No. 8 all-time for most points scored in any division of a girls state championship game.

The Jordan Brand Game selection and 6-foot USC-bound Higgins finished with 16 points and eight assists with six of the assists coming on Odom baskets.

“Neah (Odom) is an unbelievable, dynamic player. She makes it so easy on me,” Higgins remarked. “I just have to beat the press and she’s there to finish and pad my assists.”

The two seem to feed off each other since three of Odom’s assists were to Higgins, and the easy baskets they created for each other plus Odom’s ability to weave, cut, drive and elevate over defenders for high percentage shots in the paint was a big factor in Odom’s 15-of-24 shooting that would have been even a higher percentage if you take away her missing all three of her 3-point shots.

After a slow start and despite a poor shooting night, Miramonte got a triple-double from its Ms. Basketball contender, Sabrina Ionescu. The Gatorade State Player of the Year, McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Game All-Star finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, but despite going 10-of-25 from the field she was only 1-of-9 from 3-point range. Ionescu had what is for her was a sub-par game but still, most analysts and writers that have seen just about every girls state championship game cannot remember another girl ever having a triple-double and the CIF doesn’t keep those records.

Leaonna Odom scored 33 pts in state final one week after hitting buzzer-beating 3-pointer in SoCal final. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Duke-bound Leaonna Odom scored 33 points in state final one week after hitting buzzer-beating 3-pointer in SoCal final. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Chaminade (31-4) and Odom in particular got off to an incredible start and were in control from the opening tip-off. The Eagles led 23-11 after the first quarter behind 10 points by Odom.

The Eagles stretched it to 37-17 midway through the second quarter before Miramonte (32-1) mounted a run led by Ionescu, Eastern Washington-bound Uriah Howard (13 points) and Keana Delos Santos (12 points).

When Ionescu hit a 30-foot shot at the buzzer Miramonte had gone on a 16-6 run after trailing by 20 to close to 43-33 at halftime. The Mats controlled most of the third quarter and ate away at the lead before taking a 53-51 lead themselves at the 1:32 mark of the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Delos Santos.

It would be the only lead Miramonte would have in the game as Chaminade stabilized and finished the third quarter with a 57-55 advantage it would never relinquish.

Odom and Ionescu traded baskets to start the fourth quarter but in the first four minutes of the final period Odom would score three more baskets and Higgins had two buckets to give Chaminade a 72-61 advantage that pretty much sealed the deal.

“When Miramonte made that run we needed to re-group and re-focus,” Odom remarked.

“We just had to dig deep and get that extra push,” added Chaminade head coach Kelli Di Muro. “I went to Neah (Odom) and Val (Higgins) and told them they had to step it up. I told the other girls they had to pressure up.”

Odom and Higgins get the limelight but one of the big reasons Chaminade was able to win was because of the contributions of those other girls Di Muro was talking about.

Junior Melissa Wright had a double-double 15 points and 11 rebounds, with five points in the second quarter 14-4 run that gave the Eagles their 20-point lead, and six points in the fourth quarter stretch that put the game away. Another junior, Isabel Newman, had 12 points, including 10 up to the point of the 37-17 advantage.

Another factor was rebounding. It was felt by most analysts that Miramonte would need to hold its own on the boards but it didn’t happen as Chaminade ended up with a 42-31 rebounding advantage.

“You have to exert a lot of energy to come back from 20 points down,” Miramonte head coach Kelly Sopak said. “You usually only have two big runs in you and we tried to make a third run and we just didn’t have it. I thought it was a good run, a tough run, and I thought we had them. We just couldn’t weather their last storm.”

And they had no answer for Odom.

“She’s long and she’s tall and she did what she usually does,” Sopak remarked.

Despite coming into the game No. 1 in the state, not a lot of people saw Miramonte as a team that could come into the game 32-0 despite not playing quite as tough a schedule as Chaminade.

“We had our doubts throughout and we really weren’t sure we could make it this far, and I’m disappointed but very proud of my team and my teammates for the season we had,” Ionescu said.

Di Muro pretty much summed it up.

“It’s been a long, hard season and we played one of the toughest schedules in the nation – and tonight it paid off.”

Chaminade goes to 2-0 in state title games after winning the 2014 Division II championship with an 80-51 victory over Archbishop Mitty of San Jose. Miramonte falls to 0-2. The Mats lost to Bishop Montgomery of Torrance in the 2002 Division III title game.

Tyla Turner hit for 17 points in CIF D2 state final. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Tyla Turner hit for 17 points in CIF D2 state final. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Division II
Cajon (San Bernardino) 55,
Elk Grove 36

The final score in this division is deceiving in a major way. With a little less than two minutes left in the third quarter, Elk Grove actually took a 32-29 lead on a 3-pointer Sydnee Kilbride, but it was a nightmare for the Thundering Herd for the rest of the game.

The Cowgirls scored the final basket of the third quarter, then hit for 17 more in a row to start the fourth and went on to win their first-ever CIF state title.

“I just told them to make the last quarter our best quarter,” said Cajon head coach Mark Lehman, who has been a high school basketball coach for 31 years (17 of those coaching boys). “I didn’t do anything to adjust. They just didn’t let the scoreboard or the clock bother them.”

Cajon (27-6) almost acted in the first half of the game as if it was still celebrating last week’s impressive 51-30 win over perennial powerhouse Mater Dei of Santa Ana in the CIF SoCal Division II final. Elk Grove (24-11) led 20-11 until 2:30 of the second quarter until a 10-0 run by the Cowgirls gave them a one-point lead.

Kayla Washington (right) hugs teammate after Cajon girls won CIF Division II state title. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Kayla Washington (right) hugs teammate after Cajon girls won CIF Division II state title. Photo: Willie Eashman.

When asked what the difference was in the fourth quarter compared to the previous three, Elk Grove head coach Larry Price pointed to rebounding from Cajon standout Kayla Washington.

“They unleashed their bull,” said Price, in his first year at Elk Grove after running a successful program at Florin of Sacramento. “We did everything we could to keep her off the boards. We’d get stops, but could grab the rebound. It kind of tired us out.”

Washington, who has signed with Washington State and is the team’s leading all-state candidate, came up with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Teammate Taylor Goldsberry also was tough inside with 12 points and 16 rebounds.

It was the play of senior guard Tyla Turner, however, that also sparked the fourth quarter turnaround. She had one basket and six free throws during the 19-0 run and finished with 17 points. Her twin sister, Tyra Turner, had seven points and a game-high five steals.

“Yes, we started off slow,” Tyla Turner said. “And when we didn’t start fast, it threw us off for awhile. In the second half, we just said, ‘This is not right.’”

Despite Elk Grove not scoring a basket in the fourth quarter (its only four points were on free throws), junior Mira Shulman had another solid outing. She finished with 15 points and was joined in double-figures by Madison Wong (10 points).

This also was the first appearance for the Elk Grove girls in a state final. The Thundering Herd boys also have never been in one, but in 1975 when Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year Bill Cartwright was leading the way they were State Team of the Year and won the Oakland Tournament of Champions title, which was the precursor to the current CIF state playoffs.

“It is nice to get this experience,” Lehman said. “If I could make a wish, I’d want every player and coach to be able to win a state title. Elk Grove gave us all we could handle until the end.”

It's celebration time for Cardinal Newman girls after state title win. Photo: Willie Eashman.

It’s celebration time for Cardinal Newman girls after state title win. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Division IV
Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa) 39,
Antelope Valley (Lancaster) 37

At times in the CIF Division IV state championship contest that kicked off the action on Saturday morning it seemed like there was a lid on the basket for both teams.

There was nothing covering the rims at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento but the shooting frustration experienced by both squads in the Cardinal Newman victory resulted in the lowest scoring D4 title game in the 28 years since the CIF began Division IV competition in the 1988 season.

In fact, the 76 points combined was the third fewest points in any game in the 35-year history of the CIF girls state championships. Only the 37-30 victory by Ventura Buena over Los Gatos in the 1984 D1 title game and the 34-33 D5 win by San Lorenzo Redwood Christian over Santa Fe Christian (Solana Beach) in 2000 had fewer points scored.

“These girls have played in enough blowouts so it feels really good to win a close game,” Newman head coach Monica Mertle remarked. “It wasn’t the prettiest game. It was a grinder, but we came out with a win.”

Cardinal Newman (31-5) led 36-31 entering the fourth quarter but the Cardinals only scored three points in the final period, and none for the first five minutes, however Antelope Valley only registered six points themselves.

On the Antelopes’ final possession, in which a basket could have sent the game to overtime, they went inside but Newman’s 6-foot-5 post, Lauren Walker, got her seventh blocked shot of the game with six seconds left, and when Hailey Vice-Neat secured the rebound the clock ran out.

Antelope Valley guard Tyler Smith and rest of her squad often faced a wall when trying to score against Cardinal Newman's front line. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Tyler Smith and Antelope Valley often faced a wall when trying to score vs Cardinal Newman front line. Photo: Willie Eashman.

“Coach (Mertle) kept me telling go straight up, straight up,” said Walker, who only had four points but registered 11 rebounds to go with the blocks. “I thought I actually wasn’t going to get it, but I tipped it and Chief (Vice-Neat) was right there to grab it.”

“I grabbed that rebound and it was the longest five seconds of my life,” Vice-Neat said. “I thought of calling time out, but no way, and we won a state championship.”

Vice-Neat, who teammates affectionately call her “Chief,” double-doubled with game highs of 19 points and 12 rebounds with two blocks.

Cardinal Newman led 12-7 early and 13-11 after one quarter but had a wretched second quarter and trailed 24-19 at halftime. Things got worse when Antelope completed a 12-2 run between the second and third quarters and Newman was facing a 29-21 deficit with six minutes left in the third quarter.

However, the lid that seemed to be on the basket for Newman shifted the other way as Antelope Valley (30-3) was only able to score eight points in the final 14 minutes with three baskets, and the Antelopes complicated things by going 2-for-10 from the free-throw line during that time period.

Senior Tylen Price, the coach’s daughter, led Antelope Valley (30-3) with 14 points (eight rebounds), but 13 of them came in the first half and she was 0-fo-3 from the field and 1-of-2 from the free-throw line in the final two quarters. Tyler Smith added 10 points but she was only 2-of-7 from the field and 0-for-2 on free-throws in the second half.

The loss ended a 30-game winning streak for Antelope Valley. The girls from Lancaster lost their first two games in the Palisades Invitational to Open Division champion Chaminade and Torrance West.

“I’m a little sad, but just getting here and overcoming the things we had to overcome makes me tip my hat to my girls and the whole Antelope nation that supported us all year,” Antelope Valley head coach Deon Price said. “Hey, we got here with the big dogs and I like the taste in my mouth getting here, so I’ll do everything I can to get the girls back here again.”

All season, Mertle had been saying she scheduled the girls tough preparing for this game since she knew the likelihood of her girls beating state No. 9 Salesian (Richmond) in the CIF north Coast Section Division IV title game and advancing to the Open Division was pretty slim.

Newman lost 64-47 to Salesian but still was awarded the No. 1 seed in the Division IV Northern Regional bracket where they defeated Scotts Valley (61-45), Atherton Sacred Heart Prep (69-32) and Menlo of Atherton (51-32) in the NorCal D4 title game.

“Playing Salesian totally prepared us,” Mertle said. “Our entire preseason and non-league schedule, plus driving them to Clovis West (Fresno) and St. Mary’s (Stockton) for scrimmages all paid off.”

Both teams were in their first state title game appearance, but before Cardinal Newman started taking in girls, the previous school, Ursuline, won the 1992 Division IV state title in a 61-59 victory over Santa Ynez.

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

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  1. phil60
    Posted March 28, 2016 at 9:00 am | Permalink


    Do you know if the CIF had discussed moving the finals down south before completing the two-year contract at the Kings’ new arena? The finals have been in the north now for years, and they have now moved football from the south to the north. Should they not be fair about it? Or, is there another agenda going on? The south has plenty of viable sites. Would appreciate it if you have any info on this.

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted March 30, 2016 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      Golden 1 Center and Kings gave CIF same price as this year but obviously with a brand new arena. The CIF just could not turn that down. USC’s Galen Center was only SoCal with bid that was even close. There’s no agenda other than the NorCal sites don’t cost nearly as much.

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