Archbishop Mitty starts in the No. 1 position, but it’s not as clear-cut as in some other recent seasons. Long Beach Poly also was strongly considered for that ranking while Clovis West has its best team ever. Two CIF state champions from last season – Sacred Heart Cathedral (D3) and Cardinal Newman (D4) – also will be much better, which means the Open Division may be calling this season.
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We’re going to find out early just how the pecking order at the top of this year’s California girls basketball rankings will shake out as four of the top five teams will be in action at the Iolani Classic in Hawaii beginning December 8.
With the graduation of many of the top players, the teams that return stars and teams that bring back an entire squad or were state champions, but not in the Open Division last year, jumped some Open teams in these preseason rankings but could very well find themselves in the top bracket for this year’s playoffs.
Also, there were some major transfers with girls’ families moving not only within and from out of state, but also in one case from Europe, and that has had an impact as well.
(Listed with record from last 2015-16 season)
(Last year’s final state ranking in parentheses)
(Any results from this week not included)
1. (5) Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 23-4
After beating Pinewood by 19 points in the CIF Central Coast Section Open Division title game, the Monarchs were upset by Richmond Salesian in the NorCal Open first round after many thought head coach Sue Phillips and her girls had a legitimate shot to go all the way to a state title. Now, not only does Mitty have some unfinished business but is going to be doing it with a bulls-eye on its back as the top team to begin the season. “A big bulls-eye,” Phillips mused when told her team had barely edged Long Beach Poly for the top spot, a Poly team the Monarchs could play at the Iolani Classic. From Hawaii, Mitty goes to the Nike TOC and then the Coaches vs. Cancer Tourney at Eastside Prep. Just about everyone returns, including State Freshman of the Year runner-up Haley Jones (10.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.7 assists). “Haley Jones is amazing. You heard it first here,” said a not too often gushing Phillips. “UConn and Notre Dame are calling and we’ve had 25 schools through here, but we’re not just Haley.” The leading returner is actually San Jose Mercury News Player of the Year and St. Mary’s-committed senior Maddie Holland (10.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg and 3.9 assists). Other top returners are senior Tahlia Garza (10.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg), junior Karisma Ortiz, senior Daniella Guglielmo and junior Krissy Miyahara, and others as well.
2. (4) Long Beach Poly (Long Beach) 27-5
The Jackrabbits missed going to the CIF Open Division title game last season on a 3-point buzzer-beater in a loss to Chaminade in the SoCal Open championship, otherwise they might have added a second Open title and seventh state championship for head coach Carl Buggs. Instead, Poly finished No. 4 in the final rankings and now have some unfinished business this year with what on paper is a better team than last year’s team that among other things came north and won the Platinum Division of the West Coast Jamboree. Poly returns its three top scorers plus a whole slew of role players that always seem to step up year after year return. USC-committed senior Ayanna Clark (13.4 ppg, 9.9 rpg) is the biggest piece back along with senior Loyola-Marymount-committed senior forward and Long Beach Press Telegram Player of the Year Jasmine Jones (13.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 3.9 steals), with senior Danae Miller (10.1 ppg) holding down the point. Like Mitty, the Jackrabbits are in Hawaii and the TOC but then they head to Washington (DC) for the Title IX Classic.
3. (8) Clovis West (Fresno) 30-4
The Golden Eagles lost 53-44 to Long Beach Poly last season on the road in the SoCal Open semifinals and like that team head coach Craig Campbell returns everyone. Besides the loss to Poly, the top team from the CIF Central Section had two losses to St. Mary’s-Stockton and a two-point loss to Arizona No. 2 Hamilton-Chandler. Among the solid wins was a 57-48 win over D4 state champ Cardinal Newman at the St. Mary’s MLK event so the returners bring a solid resume into the season. Campbell’s top returners are three very solid players, UC Santa Barbara-bound Sarah Bates and Arizona-committed Bre’yanna Sanders, and San Jose State-bound Megan Anderson. Because of that depth and the way Sanders and Bates impressed over the summer, the Golden Eagles come up quite a bit. Another plus is the addition of Clovis North transfer Tessa Amundsen, who has signed with Boise State. It’ll also be fun to see development of Campbell’s daughter, Maddie, who was on the 2015-16 Cal-Hi Sports All-State Freshman Team. Clovis West hosts the Nike Central Showdown and then heads to Hawaii for the Iolani.
4. (2) St. Mary’s (Stockton) 28-1
Last year’s preseason No. 1 team stayed that way until the NorCal playoffs. The Rams also were rolling along as the No. 1 team in the nation until Pinewood put an end to that in last year’s NorCal Open semifinals. There is no question Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Basketball finalist and ESPN No. 1 rated wing and No. 6 overall rated junior Aquira DeCosta (15.2 ppg. 9.4 rpg and 3.2 steals) will be leading the charge but head coach Tom Gonsalves has injuries and transfers that have left him short in the backcourt. Naje Murray (San Diego State signer) and Nicole Young are out with knee injuries and Sierra Smith has transferred, meaning DeCosta is going to have to carry a huge portion of the load. Others have graduated such as all-state picks Mi’Cole Cayton (Cal) and Kat Tudor (Oregon State). St. Mary’s still should have the depth to be one of the state’s top teams, but any further injuries could really hurt. The Rams open at the Cardinal Newman Classic followed by the Nike TOC and the Platinum Division of the West Coast Jamboree.
5. (9) Salesian (Richmond) 27-6
The Pride lost first team all-state guard Minyon Moore to USC, and she’s the one that buried Mitty, but Salesian was still going to be good this season, and now with Sierra Smith coming over from St. Mary’s and being made eligible immediately, head coach Steve Pezzola has a team that is loaded. Big 6-foot-5 sophomore post Angel Jackson (8.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg), a Cal-Hi Sports first team freshmen selection, got better from the season to spring and spring to summer, and is starting to get major D1 interest. Other top returners include sophomore Makayla Edwards, junior Taimane Lesa-Hardee and junior Sydni Stewart, plus a few other quick players like Anjel Galbraith and Taisia Fleming. Salesian will be at the Iolani and is also playing in the Platinum Division of the West Coast Jamboree.
6. (7) Mission Hills (San Marcos) 29-4
The Grizzlies finished ahead of La Jolla Country Day and Windward in the final Cal-Hi Sports state rankings since they beat Country Day 68-64 in the CIF San Diego Section Open title game and then defeated Windward 49-45 in the SoCal Open first round before bowing out to Chaminade. At the beginning of this season, therefore, they open ahead of them again for a couple of reasons. Washington-bound Kayla Rooks (20 ppg, 12 rpg) returns and although second leading scorer Madison Adams graduated head coach Christopher Kroesch has picked up a jewel with the arrival of 5-foot-10 junior Hailey McCoy from Oak Ridge of El Dorado Hills where she averaged 13.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Kroesch is not taking the team out of the San Diego area until the MLK Showcase at Stockton St. Mary’s where they face Oak Ridge and Salesian. The Grizzlies open with the La Jolla Country Day Sweet 16.
7. (11) Windward (Los Angeles) 20-6
Former Stanford star and Wildcats coach Vanessa Nygaard has had solid teams since taking the helm in 2012 and already has a very solid 100-21 record in four years. Last year’s team made it to the CIF SoCal Open Division by winning its first two games in the CIF Southern Section Open Division. Windward should be a team to be reckoned with this season as well with reining Cal-Hi Sports State Freshman of the Year Charisma Osborne returning along with several other top underclass players. Windward has Etiwanda and La Jolla Country Day on the early-season schedule so we will see if the Wildcats are as good as some in Southern California seem to think they are.
8. (10) La Jolla Country Day (La Jolla) 24-6
Had incoming freshman sensation Te-Hina Paopao not have gone down in late summer with a knee injury that will have her out this season, the Torreys would be No. 3 in these rankings. Instead they still make the top 10 based on the return of Cal-committed senior Alaysia “Birdy” Styles (17.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg), who has improved her game immensely since last season, and is currently the ESPN No. 8 rated senior wing in the country. Other top returners for head coach Terri Bamford include juniors Jayda Villareal, Kiera Oakry, Bianca Notarainni and Kendall Ellenbeck. Country Day hosts its Sweet 16 beginning November 30 and after that wlll face Windward and Etiwanda.
9. (26) Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco) 21-9
Every analyst consulted has the Irish as the No. 4 team in Northern California and why not? Since the season ended, Iimar’I Thomas has gotten in tip-top shape and the result is that it’s taken her game to another level that got her an offer she accepted to become a Cincinnati Bearcat. If it was just Thomas, the Irish would not be jumping this high but head coach LyRyan Russell returns all his firepower from the defending CIF Division III state championship team and not only that, unlike some teams below them, SHC is scheduling tough just like last season. They go to the La Jolla Country Day Sweet 16 and by mid December and before they play in the Platinum Division of the West Coast Jamboree they will have played No. 4 St. Mary’s and Cardinal Newman as well.
10. (15) Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 23-8
The Trailblazers got beat pretty bad in their final two games of last season in losses to Chaminade in the CIF Southern Section Open playoffs and Clovis West in the CIF SoCal Open, but unlike Chaminade head coach Alicia Komaki returns just about everyone, including Long Beach State-bound Alexis Griggsby. Komaki and her girls are the top team from the San Fernando Valley by a hair over Chaminade and could make some noise this year. They open next week at Oaks Christian before moving on to the Troy tournament where Mater Dei is on tap.
11. (1) Chaminade (West Hills) 31-4
How good will the Eagles be after losing the dynamic Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year finalist duo of Southern California freshman Valerie Higgins and Duke frosh Leaonna Odom? The answer is certainly a question mark. Coach Kelli Di Muro had good teams before she had those two superstars and in fact won the Platinum Division of the West Coast Jamboree with a similar team to this year and when Higgins was a freshman. For Chaminade to do well, seniors Melissa Wright and Isabel Newman will need to play like they did in the Open title game victory over Miramonte of Orinda. Chaminade opened with Oaks Christian already this week and among tournaments they’re in is a return to the Jamboree’s Platinum Division.
12. (39) Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) 29-3
As mentioned earlier with Mission Hills, Oak Ridge loses Hailey McCoy but the Trojans, who still will have the biggest front line in the state among the ranked teams, were going to move up anyway based on their showing at the San Diego Classic where they played as a club team. However, over the summer the Olson family moved to the area from Minnesota and former North Tartan Nike Elite star Marie Olson, a 6-foot-2 junior forward who averaged a double-double last season at Apple Valley (MN), is now part of that front line. In the middle for head coach Stephen White is another transfer as 6-foot-5 junior Shayley Harris has come down from Redding University Prep where she averaged 12.7 points and 7.5 rebounds a game. The third girl is 6-foot-3 junior forward Kassidy DeLapp (9.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg) who will move to power forward. The Trojans open at the Clovis West Nike Central Showdown.
13. (16) Troy (Fullerton) 26-6
After finishing No. 2 to Brea Olinda last season, the Warriors get the nod to start as the top team in Orange County this season. Coach Roger Anderson will have some solid players returning but loses a lot as well. Leading the way will be the junior duo of leading scorer Kianna Smith (14.7 ppg, 3.3 assists) and Naomi Hunt (10.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg) but some fresh new faces will need to step up if Anderson and his girls are to make some real noise this season.
14. (6) Pinewood (Los Altos Hills) 24-6
That upset of Stockton St. Mary’s got the Panthers a ton of credit last season but despite most of the team returning and junior Brianna Claros returning from missing the last 14 games, this is a different year and a different team without Chloe Eackles. She was the only girl that could handle the big girls and do the dirty work and at 5-foot-10 was the tallest player on the team. Over the summer, playing as a club team, the Pinewood girls had some problems with physical, very quick teams and that could be the case during the season if they don’t shoot the lights out every game. State Freshman of the Year candidate and leading scorer Hannah Jump (12.0 ppg) returns as does senior Akayla Hackson (11.6 ppg), senior Erin Poindexter-McHan (10.1 ppg) and Claros (10.6 ppg). Pinewood opens with the LJCD Sweet 16 just like last year.
15. (19) Bishop’s (La Jolla) 25-8
The Knights only finished No. 19 in the final Cal-Hi Sports rankings but part of the reason they come in ahead of several teams ranked higher to end last season is Cal-Hi Sports State Freshman, Sophomore and Junior of the Year and SoCal pre-season starting five Destiny Littleton (35.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.0 steals, 2.9 assists) and fellow senior Isabel Aguirre (142 3-pointers) return, and head coach Marlon Wells has five freshmen with potential coming in. The improved depth could be very important with 12 players on the roster instead of the seven that ended last season with a loss to Oaks Christian in the CIF SoCal D1 first round as the top seed. Littleton is within reach of the state career scoring record of 3,837 set by Charde Houston of San Diego in 2004, according to the Cal-Hi Sports record book. Wells knows a lot about that record, too. He was San Diego High’s coach at the time.
16. (34) Ventura 23-10
Veteran head coach Ann Larson has had some good teams but this year’s team with every major contributor back from the CIF Southern Section Division 1-AA champions may be her best. The top returners are 6-foot-1 senior forward Aubry Knight (14.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg), 6-foot-2 senior center Barbara Rangel (13.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and guard Savannah Page (10.4 ppg). The girls played on a couple of different club teams this summer but all looked very good. Knight, who has signed with Colorado, may miss some early season games because she’s one of the top players on Ventura’s volleyball team, which was still playing entering the semifinal round of the CIF SoCal Division I playoffs. The Cougars open with Gardena Serra in the Palisades tournament.
17. (27) Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa) 31-5
Bright, young head coach Monica Mertle brings back everyone led by 6-foot-3 Boise State-committed senior forward Hailey Vice-Neat. Also returning to the front line is 6-foot-5 Lauren Walker, who also is getting D1 offers. Junior Maiya Flores and sophomore Avery Cargill will start in the backcourt but keep an eye out for incoming freshman guard Anya Choice. Cardinal Newman won the 2016 CIF Division IV state title, but for 2017 there’s a very good chance the team will be in the Open Division.
18. (18) Alemany (Mission Hills) 24-11
The Warriors played what was probably the toughest schedule in the state last season and ended up 1-2 against Chaminade and 1-1 against Brea Olinda. Their front line is almost as big as Oak Ridge with 6-foot-2 senior Anaya McDavid, 6-foot-3 junior Jillian Archer and 6-foot-1 junior Jasmine Hardy all back, and head coach Bryan Camacho has four other 6-footers. The question will be ball handling. According to Camacho, it could be athletic 6-foot junior wing Aminata Dosso, who comes to Alemany from Paris, France. Alemany opens at the Palisades tourney and then faces Troy in its own tournament and will also come north for the MLK event at St. Mary’s.
19. (40) McClatchy (Sacramento) 23-6
Some respected NorCal analysts consulted for these rankings have the Lions ahead of Pinewood and Cardinal Newman. This is still a big bump up from the end of last season and it’s not just because of Utah-bound Jordan Cruz and her remarkable story of returning to action after brain surgery. New head coach Jeff Ota also welcomes back promising sophomore Kamryn Hall, who averaged nearly 12 ppg. Cruz was the team’s leading scorer at more than 16 ppg.
20. (24) Harvard–Westlake (Studio City) 21-11
This team was young last year and still had some big wins, including making it all the way to the SoCal D2 semis before losing to Cajon of San Bernardino. Leading scorer and rebounder Jayla Ruffus-Milner (14.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg), a 5-foot-11 forward, leads the returners along with senior Sydney Tsutsui (7.5 ppg), junior Lauren Lapesarde and her twin Jayda Ruffus-Milner. The Wolverines open this week at the Palisades tourney.
EXPANDED NEXT TOP 20
21. (36) Elk Grove 24-11
22. (23) Carondelet (Concord) 23-7
23. (28) Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 27-6
24. (NR) Valencia 22-5
25. (18) Oaks Christian (Westlake Village) 22-9
26. (12) Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 24-7
27. (13) Brea Olinda (Brea) 29-4
28. (31) Fairmont Prep (Anaheim) 21-9
29. (NR) Sacramento 24-10
30. (NR) Palisades (Pacific Palisades) 24-9
31. (21) Serra (Gardena) 22-10
32. (32) Edison (Fresno) 28-5
33. (33) Etiwanda 18-11
34. (38) Vanden (Fairfield) 24-9
35. (NR) Folsom 21-9
36. (3) Miramonte (Orinda) 32-1
37. (NR) Campolindo (Moraga) 25-6
38. (35) Lakeside (Lake Elsinore) 29-6
39. (37) Lutheran (Orange) 28-7
40. (14) Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) 30-5
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