While Aquira DeCosta from Stockton St. Mary’s completed a four-year career that is comparable to some previous Ms. Basketball honorees, she didn’t get quite that high after her senior year. Still, she would be this year’s choice as the State Senior of the Year. We also have our other usual selections for top state honors among sophomores, freshman and for each CIF division. Two girls were the primary contenders for the freshmen, but the sophomore honor proved to be even more wide-open and even more difficult to evaluate.
For official writeup on the 2018 Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year, CLICK HERE.
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Congratulations to these girls players for being selected as a Cal-Hi Sports State Player of the Year. Writeups by Harold Abend with assistance from Mark Tennis. Stay tuned for the upcoming release of the 39th annual Cal-Hi Sports All-State Teams. Here is a complete list of our girls basketball individual honorees for the 2018 season:
Aquira De Costa (St. Mary’s, Stockton)
It’s not always a slam dunk when a girl wins the State Freshman of the Year and follows it up with State Sophomore and State Junior honors that she will be the State Senior of the Year, and while the Baylor-bound DeCosta falls short of being named Ms. Basketball she does get a clean four-year sweep with her selection as the State Senior of the Year.
The 6-foot-2 DeCosta, who is the ESPNW No. 1 rated wing and No. 4 overall player in the senior class nationally, was also one of only two McDonald’s All-Americans this year from California and also helped lead the USA U18 3×3 national team to victory at the world championships where she was named the most valuable player. DeCosta also was on the Team USA U17 national squad two years ago.
This past season, DeCosta averaged 18.3 points and 13.1 rebound per game with 2.9 steals, 2.2 assists and 2.1 blocks as well.
DeCosta scored 30 points twice but her best game was a 29-point, 26-rebound effort at the Nike TOC in a 69-53 victory against a Maryland Riverdale Baptist team that at the time was in the top five in the nation. In the very next game she had 24 points and 17 rebounds in a 57-50 title game loss to Archbishop Mitty.
On the season, she had 21 double-doubles, including 19 points and 15 rebounds in a season-ending loss to Pinewood in the NorCal Open Division playoffs for a Rams’ team that finished No. 4 in the final state rankings.
It’s been since 2002 when there was a non-senior who was selected for Ms. Basketball. The Senior of the Year for that season was Brooke Smith, the former standout at Stanford, who was from Marin Catholic of Kentfield.
JUNIORS & D1/OPEN
Charisma Osborne (Windward, Los Angeles)
It’s been since 1999 when there was a junior who was Ms. Basketball. As much as we’d like to get Haley Jones onto one of this year’s all-time lists, the rule is that the Ms. Basketball also is atop the other player of the year categories she would land. Osborne therefore tops the juniors and also would be leading players who will be eligible for the upcoming all-state teams for the CIF Open and Division I classifications. It’s the same situation that happened this year for boys basketball and junior Onyeka Okongwu of Chino Hills. Since we call him Big O, is she the Big O for girls?
Last 10 State Juniors of the Year: 2017 Aquira DeCosta (Stockton St. Mary’s); 2016 Destiny Littleton (La Jolla Bishop’s); 2015 Sabrina Ionescu (Orinda Miramonte); 2014 Katie Lou Samuelson (Santa Ana Mater Dei); 2013 Jordin Canada (Los Angeles Windward); 2012 Kelsey Plum (La Jolla Country Day); 2011 Aly Beebe (Santa Maria St. Joseph); 2010 Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (Santa Ana Mater Dei); 2009 Chelsea Gray (Stockton St. Mary’s); 2008 Layshia Clarendon (San Bernardino Cajon).
Last 10 State D1 Players of the Year: 2017 Destiny Littleton (La Jolla Bishop’s); 2016 Valerie Higgins (West Hills Chaminade); 2015 Katie Lou Samuelson (Santa Ana Mater Dei); 2014 Katie Lou Samuelson (Santa Ana Mater Dei); 2013 Katie Lou Samuelson (Santa Ana Mater Dei); 2012 Nirra Fields (Santa Ana Mater Dei); 2011 Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (Santa Ana Mater Dei); 2010 Sara James (El Dorado Hills Oak Ridge); 2009 Layshia Clarendon (San Bernardino Cajon); 2008 Jasmine Dixon (Long Beach Poly).
Rowan Hein (Clovis North, Fresno)
There were eight different girls who were talked about as possible winners in this category for this year. We won’t list them all because we’d then give away most of those who will be on the all-state sophomore team (coming soon). Two of them ended up being from the same team. When this happens, it’s not uncommon for the two of them to cancel each other out and another player gets the honor.
In this year’s situation, the final decision was one of the closest we’ve had in awhile even where the girls were on different teams. However, in the end a choice had to be made by the Cal-Hi Sports braintrust, and rather than have them cancel each other out and give it to a girl from another team, this year’s sophomore honor has gone to Hein, who sparked a breakthrough season at Clovis North.
At 5-foot-10, Hein is tall for a point guard but that is her role on the Broncos and she performed it well, and did other things inside the paint that point guards don’t always do. Her 15.5 points per game on 48 percent shooting from the field was second on the team to teammate Savannah Tucker, also a sophomore and the other player from Clovis North considered. The 6.4 rebounds a game that Hein snagged was second on the team and she led the Broncos with 4.8 assists a game while already setting the career assist mark at Clovis North. Hein was also team leader in 3-point and free-throw percentage.
Hein had six double-doubles from the point guard position, including 18 points and 10 rebounds with eight assists in a 77-55 win over state-ranked Bishop Montgomery. She had 18 points and seven rebounds in the CIF Central Section title-game loss to Clovis West for a Broncos team that finished 26-6 and No. 11 in the final state rankings.
Every year is different and every class is different, but you have to go back to 1978 for the great Jackie White from San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno to find the last time a sophomore from the CIF Central Section has been given this honor.
Last 10 State Sophomores of the Year: 2017 Haley Jones (San Jose Archbishop Mitty); 2016 Aquira DeCosta (Stockton St. Mary’s); 2015 Destiny Littleton (La Jolla Bishop’s); 2014 Sabrina Ionescu (Orinda Miramonte); 2013 Katie Lou Samuelson (Santa Ana Mater Dei); 2012 Jordin Canada (Los Angeles Windward); 2011 Kelsey Plum (La Jolla Country Day); 2010 Aly Beebe (Santa Maria St. Joseph); 2009 Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (Santa Ana Mater Dei); 2008 Chelsea Gray (Stockton St. Mary’s).
Kiki Iriafen (Harvard-Westlake, North Hollywood)
Some others had Iraifen rated behind Brooke Demetre of Mater Dei, but after personal observations of both players, and looking at what Iriafen meant to a Harvard-Westlake team that went further in the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs and the CIF Southern Regional Open playoffs than Mater Dei, the 6-foot-1 forward/center, who only started playing basketball as an eighth-grader, is a narrow choice over Demetre as the State Freshman of the Year.
There was no doubt Iriafen was the real deal when college coaches and analysts like Dan Olson of ESPN hardly knew who she was when she performed for them at the MLK St. Mary’s Showcase in Stockton, and sparkled. She went up against 6-foot-5 Salesian junior post Angel Jackson, who lots of colleges were there to see, and got the best of Jackson after finishing with a double-double 22 points and 16 rebounds in a 54-39 Wolverines’ victory.
Iriafen, who can handle the ball with either hand and finishes down low, let her teammates like the Pepperdine-bound Rufus-Milner twins, Jayda and Jayla, plus others, do the majority of the ball-handling duties. Olson was equally as impressed as we were.
“She has a lot of natural talent and knows her limits, but even so she was the best player on the floor,” was the assessment Olson, and that says a lot, because Jackson is a highly regarded D1 recruit and the Rufus-Milner twins are signed to play D1 ball.
Iriafen led the team in scoring and rebounding with 17.0 and 10.8 per game averages, respectively, and against a schedule of top tournaments and nationally-ranked teams. The cherry on the sundae is Iriafen had 21 double-doubles for the 26-6 Wolverines, who finished No. 6 in the final state rankings.
Last 10 State Freshmen of the Year: 2017 Breanne Ha (Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos); 2016 Charisma Osborne (Los Angeles Windward); 2015 Aquira De Costa (Stockton St. Mary’s); 2014 Destiny Littleton (La Jolla Bishop’s); 2013 DiJonae Carrington (San Diego Horizon Christian); 2012 Katie Lou Samuelson (Huntington Beach Edison); 2011 Joesetta Fatuesi (San Jose Presentation); 2010 Kendall “K.C.” Waters (Oakland Bishop O’Dowd); 2009 Jordan Adams (Santa Ana Mater Dei); 2008 Justine Hartman (Brea Olinda).
Serena Tuitele (Pleasant Valley, Chico) 6-1 Sr.
It would be a bit unfair to call the 6-foot-1 senior power forward/center a one-girl team since two other players on the Vikings averaged in double-digit scoring this season but in the big games is where Tuitele shined brightest.
The Vikings were no match for a deeper Redondo Union (Redondo Beach) in the CIF Division II state championship game after falling 57-42, but there was little doubt and a virtual consensus among those on press row that Tuitele was the top player in the game after finishing with game-highs of 21 points and 10 rebounds, with Redondo sophomore guard Alyssa Munn, who also was considered for this award, a close second. Besides that, there is no other D2 player in the state that had the kind of overall season Tuitele had and that is why she has been chosen as the Division 2 State Player of the Year.
Against final state No. 10 ranked Folsom, in one of the Vikings’ biggest wins of the season, she handled the ball like a point guard and finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals in a 59-57 victory. On the season, Tuitele averaged around 16 points, eight rebounds, three steals, two assists and two blocks per game for a Vikings team that finished 25-5 and No. 36 in the final expanded state rankings.
Tuitele, who is the younger sister of Syrus Tuitele, a former medium schools all-state football lineman at Pleasant Valley, gains this honor one day after Pleasant Valley boys’ player Kevin Kremer was named the D3 State Player of the Year. The last player from a CIF Northern Section school to be State Player of the Year in any division was Kayte Christiansen from Modoc of Alturas in 1998 for Division V. She is now a color commentator for the WNBA and for the Sacramento Kings. Tuitele will play next at Colorado.
Last 10 State D2 Players of the Year: 2017 Julia Blackshell-Fair (Fairfield Vanden); 2016 Kayla Washington (San Bernardino Cajon); 2015 Sydney Raggio (San Francisco St. Ignatius); 2014 Natalie Romeo (Concord Carondelet); 2013 Erica McCall (Bakersfield Ridgeview); 2012 Hannah Huffman (Concord Carondelet); 2011 Ali Gibson (Stockton St. Mary’s); 2010 Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (Santa Ana Mater Dei); 2009 Jonae Ervin (Brea Olinda); 2008 Atonye Nyingfifa (Redondo Beach Redondo Union).
Nia Johnson (West Campus, Sacramento) 6-1 Sr.
As a junior, the Cal State Bakersfield-bound Johnson was the second-leading scorer and rebounder on last year’s Division IV state champion Warriors team but was edged out as the Division IV Player of the Year by the overall play of third-leading scorer and UCLA-bound senior Kiara “KJ” Jefferson. This year, the Division III Player of the Year could very well have gone to Jefferson again but this time it’s Johnson edging Jefferson so now both West Campus girls have a state player of the year award.
Both girls put on a show in the 75-47 CIF Division III title-game victory against Sunny Hills of Fullerton but it was Johnson who had the better stats just like she had all season after finishing with a double-double game-high 23 points with 12 rebounds, plus five assists and four steals with only one turnover.
On the season and for a West Campus team that won its final 22 games and finished No. 35 in the final expanded state rankings, Johnson led the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals with 16.4, 7.1, 3.6 and 2.4 per game averages, respectively, and she was second on the team to Jefferson in 3-point shooting.
The winner of this D3 honor in 2007 was Sacramento High forward Vickie Baugh. Like Johnson and Jefferson, she was coached by current West Campus head coach John Langston, who was at Sac High previously before going to West Campus.
Last 10 State D3 Players of the Year: 2017 Haley Van Dyke (Moraga Campolindo); 2016 Sabrina Ionescu (Orinda Miramonte); 2015 Sabrina Ionescu (Orinda Miramonte); 2014 Sabrina Ionescu (Orinda Miramonte); 2013 Oderah Chidom (Oakland Bishop O’Dowd); 2012 Kendall “K.C.” Waters (Oakland Bishop O’Dowd); 2011 Aly Beebe (Santa Maria St. Joseph); 2010 Chelsea Gray (Stockton St. Mary’s); 2009 Chelsea Gray (Stockton St. Mary’s); 2008 Jazmine Jackson (San Francisco Sacred Heart Cathedral); 2007 Vickie Baugh (Sacramento).
Destiny McAllister (Brentwood, Los Angeles) 5-10 Jr.
It turns out that Destiny and her father, Darin, know Lakers’ legend Magic Johnson very well and the all-time great player tweeted out congrats for Destiny as the “John Wooden 2018 California Girls Player of the Year.” Magic was only partly correct. That honor referred to Destiny being the player of the year for the CIF Southern Section in her division. But now, after this selection has been made, McAllister is without question a state player of the year.
In looking over Division IV, there were several deserving players, including some solid underclass players on D4 state champion Rolling Hills Prep of San Pedro and a couple of girls on runner-up Woodside Priory of Portola Valley. After assessing their overall season, however, we decided to go with McAllister, who was the centerpiece of an Eagles’ team that came into the CIF state playoffs as the top seed for D4 in the CIF SoCal regional playoffs.
Brentwood was upset in a heartbreaking 51-49 loss to Palmdale Knight in the SoCal D4 semifinals, but it wasn’t because McAllister failed to produce. The 5-foot-10 junior had a rough outing from outside the 3-point arc, but finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds with three assists. On the season, she averaged 16.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game and had 11 double-doubles for the 30-5 Eagles.
Last 10 State D4 Players of the Year: 2017 Kiara Jefferson (Sacramento West Campus); 2016 Minyon Moore (Richmond Salesian); 2015 Kennedy Burke (Chatsworth Sierra Canyon); 2014 Jordin Canada (Los Angeles Windward); 2013 Kelsey Plum (La Jolla Country Day); 2012 Kelsey Plum (La Jolla Country Day); 2011 Imani Stafford (Los Angeles Windward); 2010 Brandi Henton (Modesto Christian); 2009 Gizelle Studevent (La Jolla Bishop’s); 2008 Alex Cowling (Vallejo St. Patrick-St. Vincent).
Vanessa Smart (Hueneme, Oxnard) 5-8 Soph.
For our Division V Player of the Year, we go to Ventura County to honor a 5-foot-7 sophomore point guard who can also play the 2 or 3 just as well.
Hueneme had to forfeit a lot of games and ended the season 15-18, including the forfeits, but that wasn’t the fault of Smart, and despite that she and her Vikings’ teammates came as close as you can come to playing for a state championship after winning seven straight games in the CIF Southern Section Division 5-AAA playoffs and the CIF Southern Regional Division V playoffs combined before losing 71-70 in the SoCal D5 title game to eventual state champion Sierra Pacific of Hanford.
Smart had 37 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals, and was 10-of-17 from 3-point range in the SoCal title game loss. The 10 treys will qualify for the Cal-Hi Sports Record Book. On the season, Smart averaged 22.7 points, 6.8 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 4.5 steals per game and she was 132-of-264 (50 percent) on 3-pointers. The 132 3-pointers will also make that list in the record book.
It’s rare for a D5 player to be an overall player of the year in a county as big as Ventura, but Smart was recently given that accolade by the Ventura Star Free-Press. There has never been a previous D5 state player of the year from Ventura County. In fact, the last from Ventura County to be state player of the year in any division was Margaret Mohr from La Reina of Thousand Oaks in 1983 in Division IV.
Last 10 State D5 Players of the Year: 2017 Kayla Tahaafe (E. Palo Alto Eastside College Prep); 2016 Kayla Tahaafe (E. Palo Alto Eastside College Prep); 2015 Destiny Littleton (La Jolla Bishop’s); 2014 Marissa Hing (Los Altos Hills Pinewood); 2013 Kennedy Burke (Chatsworth Sierra Canyon); 2012 Michelle Miller (Pasadena Poly); 2011 Haillie Eackles (Los Altos Hills Pinewood); 2010 Haillie Eackles (Los Altos Hills Pinewood); 2009 Shelly Gupilan (Burbank Bellarmine-Jefferson); 2008 Rachael Bilney (Ross Branson).
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