With the multitude of transfers changing the landscape, it took a lot of digging once we got past the first few teams but one thing that didn’t change from the final expanded rankings after last season was the top three teams: Windward of Los Angeles, Archbishop Mitty of San Jose and Pinewood of Los Altos Hills. We almost put Clovis West third, but are starting the Golden Eagles fourth.
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(Last year’s final ranking in parentheses with last year’s final record)
1. (1) Windward (Los Angeles) 27-3
Finishing No. 1 the previous season does not always guarantee being in the catbird seat to start the next season, and arguments can be made to give the top spot to any of the top three teams, but in the end the 2018 CIF Open Division champion Wildcats get the nod for a number of reasons. First and foremost is while they lost a couple of seniors, the top players for head coach Vanessa Nygaard are returning, and at the top of the list is Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year Charisma Osborne. The UCLA-committed guard solidified that position with her performance in the Wildcats’ 58-47 victory over Pinewood in the CIF Open Division title game where she finished with 26 points and set an Open Division record with six three-pointers. Osborne, who was the State Freshman of the Year and a close runner-up for State Sophomore of the Year two years ago, averaged 18.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 3.2 steals last season. Nygaard also returns guard Kaiyah Corona, who committed to Dartmouth over the summer, plus senior India Otto and junior McKayla Williams. Another reason is coupled with the returning talent, Windward ended the season on a 19-game winning streak culminating in the win over a Pinewood team that was coming off wins over national No. 5 St. Mary’s (Stockton) and an Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) team that was No. 1 in the nation until the Pinewood loss. Add it all up and Nygaard and her Wildcats start off at number one. The Wildcats are going to the Nike TOC and additionally have a very tough non-league schedule. Windward opened the season on Thursday at home against Troy of Fullerton with a 62-42 victory in which Osborne scored 19 points. Windward now moves on next week to the Battle of the Beach Tournament where Harvard-Westlake (Studio City) is one of the teams its scheduled to face. Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) is on the non-league schedule and Nygaard and her girls face a defending Nevada 4A champion Centennial (Las Vegas) they lost to last year at the Matt Denning Classic at Santa Ana Mater Dei in December. “We never really have lots of depth because there are less than 200 girls in our school,” Nygaard said in a text message. “But we’re going to the TOC, and yes we have a competitive non-league schedule and we’re looking forward to another exciting and fun season. Our strengths will be experience, hard work, and a growth mindset.”
2. (2) Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 29-1
Just like Windward, the Monarchs open in the preseason rankings in the same spot as they finished in the final rankings last year. Mitty claimed a national championship last season based on their competitive equity resume that had them at No. 1 and No. 2 nationally in the computer rankings and No. 1 and No. 3 in two sets of human rankings last season, but they lost to Pinewood in the NorCal Open Division title game. Although we’re putting them ahead of Pinewood like the final rankings last season based on the loss being in triple overtime and them having a comfortable win over Pinewood in the CIF Central Coast Section Open Division championship, they will have to fall in behind Windward to start, but that could change at the Nike TOC in mid-December. A lot of folks will say that Mitty should be in the top spot because 6-foot-1 senior superstar Haley Jones showed better than Windward’s Charisma Osborne in the USA U17 Gold Medal winning performance this past summer, and ESPN rates the 2018 California Gatorade Player of the Year as not only the No. 1 wing but the No. 1 overall player in the nation. Jones averaged 21.8 points 10.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.5 blocks and 2.0 steals per game. Karisma Ortiz and Nicole Blakes have graduated but Jones will be joined by returning standouts Ania McNicholas, a senior guard who averaged 6.7 ppg last season, and sophomore guard Hunter Hernandez and her 6.5 points per game last season. Head coach Sue Phillips, who rarely has had any transfers in her long career at Mitty, has two this season, sophomore post Olivia Williams from Pinewood, and sophomore wing Marley Langi from Eastside College Prep of East Palo Alto. Both will not be eligible for the TOC but after their CCS sit-out period will see action after the first of the year and just prior to the start of West Catholic Athletic League play. Unlike a lot of teams beginning their season this week or next, Phillips and her girls don’t open until December 1 at Arroyo Grande, and should not break much of a sweat until the TOC. “That makes sense,” responded Phillips when told her team would start behind Windward in the preseason rankings. “The reality is what matters is not where we’re ranked in the preseason but where we’re ranked at the end of the season.”
3. (3) Pinewood (Los Altos Hills) 27-3
As was stated in the writeup on No. 1 Windward, an argument can be made to have the Panthers as either No. 1 or No. 2 based on who they return, but we are going to maintain the season-ending pecking order of last year until things shake out after the major tournaments. The Panthers looked good over the summer at the San Diego Classic against some good teams from Southern California and Arizona, and won the title, and they did it without their top player, Stanford-bound sharpshooter Hannah Jump. Jump led the team last year with 16.7 ppg and she drilled 102 3-pointers on 45 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Two girls that looked good and were co-MVPs in San Diego, and will be two more top returners are senior forward Klara Astrom and sophomore guard Courtni Thompson. As is usually the case, head coach Doc Scheppler will have an undersized squad with Astrom the tallest starter at 5-foot-9, but he loves the way senior forward Trinity Copeland is progressing. Other players in Scheppler’s arsenal are senior shooting guard Kaitlyn Leung, and versatile sophomore guards Annika Decker and Una Jovanovic. “”We’ve got a great group of eight,” Scheppler remarked. “Our eight can play with anyone. We’ve had great practices, the girls are motivated and we have five seniors that know the system and create great team chemistry. I’m excited about the season.” Pinewood has Cardinal Newman and Bishop O’Dowd scheduled before heading to the Iolani Classic in Hawaii where it opens with Hawaii power Lahainaluna. After they return to the mainland and a game with St. Francis (Mountain View), the Panthers will make their first-ever appearance in the 19th Annual West Coast Jamboree where at this time they are slated as the top seed in the Platinum Division.
4. (5) Clovis West (Fresno) 32-4
After all was said and done, head coach Craig Campbell and his girls actually had the best game against Windward in the playoffs last season after falling 61-50 in the Southern Regional Open Division title game, but even so the Golden Eagles still finished with their third-straight 30-win season. The best news for Clovis West faithful is 12 of the 14 girls from last season’s roster return, including all the top scorers led by the coach’s daughter and leading scorer, USC-bound Madison Campbell. She averaged 20.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg and 4.7 assists and drilled 123 3-pointers. Besides Campbell, the Golden Eagles return fellow senior stars Aari Sanders (11 ppg, seven rpg) and Champney Pulliam (11.6 ppg, 79 3-pointers), who hit a last second game-winning 3-pointer in the SoCal Open semis to squeak past Harvard-Westlake, plus sophomore phenom Nikki Tom. There is one newcomer to watch, junior transfer Aaliyah Seull, who will be immediately eligible and who Campbell says has mid-major interest. Coach Campbell and his girls will play in three tournaments, their California Central Valley Showcase, the Iolani Classic in Hawaii, and then after Christmas they head to Orlando for the Florida Prospects tournament. “I think we have the potential to be better than last year,” Campbell said. “We’ll be deeper, and our returning kids have developed and are a little more mature. The team is ready to take the next step and we hope to be right back in the mix.”
5. (8) Etiwanda 25-6
Just like last year, the Eagles are the No. 1 preseason team from the Inland Empire. Last season, head coach Stan Delus did a heck of a job in his first year at the Etiwanda helm after his girls made a solid run in the playoffs before bowing out in the Southern Regional Open Division second round to Windward. Delus loses Nevada-bound Da’ja Hamilton plus a couple of other contributors but juniors Evanne Turner (17.8 ppg, four assists) and Kimora Sykes (nine point and rebounds per game) return. Other Eagles girls to look for are junior post Nnenna Orji, point guard Joy Campbell, and forward Karol Nelson, a transfer from Miller of Fontana. “This potentially will be our fourth year of Open Division competition and three of our five starters have Open Division experience,” Delus said. “The girls are looking to get better every day and the goal is to get over the hump and into a (CIFSS) Open division final.” Delus has not scheduled easy. The Eagles will be in the Battle at the Beach tournament, the Troy Classic Shootout, they travel to La Jolla Country Day and then after Christmas they come to Northern California where Delus and his girls will be the No. 2 seed behind Pinewood in the Platinum Division of the West Coast Jamboree.
6. (7) Salesian (Richmond) 27-6
The Pride is another one of the teams that is loaded with talent this year. USC-committed 6-foot-5 post Angel Jackson, who turned some heads this summer before committing to Southern California, and Hawaii-bound power forward MaKayla Edwards are seniors. Three senior contributors have graduated but besides Jackson (14.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.6 blocks a game) and Edwards (9.0 points, 4.9 rebounds a game), other returning solid contributors include senior Anjel Galbraith (7.4 ppg) and Nia Chinn (6.4 ppg). Head coach Stephen Pezzola has some other promising bright young players, including sophomore guard Alex Alvarado. “Together with Angel and Makayla the guard play of those three, Galbraith, Chinn and Alvarado is the big key for us this year. They’ve really shown improvement,” Pezzola said. “I think we’re a better team than last year. The girls have grown and matured and the chemistry is good.” Pezzola also has two transfers that will be eligible on December 19 and just before the Pride play in the Nike TOC and then go to the West Coast Jamboree Platinum Division as the No. 3 seed. As predicted in the final rankings last season, the Pride could be higher than they finished and that is exactly the case.
7. (14) Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 23-9
After an up and down season last year, everyone queried agreed the Trailblazers are loaded for 2018-19. They all had head coach Alicia Komaki and her girls as the No. 3 team from south of Fresno to start the season. Leading scorer Ryann Payne has graduated but Komaki returns three girls who all averaged around 12 points per game last season, flashy junior guard Vanessa De Jesus, fellow junior guard Ashley Chevalier, and senior forward Amanda Olinger, who opted not to play volleyball this year and concentrate on basketball. Komaki also has a junior transfer from Ribet Academy that will be eligible after Christmas, Rosemary Odebunmi. Sierra Canyon opens on Monday in the Mark Keppel tournament against Fairmont Prep and will also face Rosary Academy. From there, the team hosts its own Sierra Canyon Invitational with a match-up with Serra (Gardena) included. That’s followed by their Super Showcase match-up with Granada Hills Charter. Prior to Gold Coast League play, the Trailblazers travel to Las Vegas for the Tarkanian Classic and then to Portland for the Interstate Shootout. “On paper, we look really good but we’ve had some injuries and girls sick so we’re light on practices,” Komaki said. “But I’m excited to see how we look on Monday.”
8. (12) Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 23-6
Despite losing Emma Torbert to graduation and the transfer of Khylee Pepe to Bishop Montgomery, the Monarchs start out higher than they finished last season. A big part of the reason is 6-foot-3 sophomore sensation Brooke Demetre, who was barely edged out as the State Freshman of the Year by Kiki Iriafen of Harvard-Westlake. Demetre, a wing who was the subject of the attention of a lot of college coaches during the NCAA summer viewing period, averaged 15.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season. Another top returner is Cal-committed guard Cailyn Crocker, and head coach Kevin Kiernan is looking for big things from sophomore Alyssa Frescas. Two other seniors that signed letters of intent this week are guard Katie Fitzgerald (Cal-State-Monterey Bay) and Concordia-committed Destiny Sambrano. “I really love this team,” said Kiernan, who is currently laid up recovering from hip replacement surgery. “We have great chemistry and great kids. We may have had more talent level in the past but I think this team can overachieve because of our chemistry.” Kiernan will come into next season with 747 career wins so if Mater Dei has a similar start to this coming season Kiernan should become the all-time winningest coach in state history and pass the 761 victories of Joe Vaughan of Ventura Buena (1976-2007) sometime in mid January. “I’m just thinking about walking again,” Kiernan responded cheerfully when asked about getting potential win No. 742. “I’m hoping not to miss any games but we’ll see how realistic that is.” The Orange County top-ranked Monarchs open at home on Tuesday with Downey St. Pius X-St. Matthias.
9. (20) Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) 21-10
Third-year head coach and former Knights’ star Noelle Quinn, who went on to star at UCLA and just won a WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm, is building back up the tradition at her alma mater. Bishop Montgomery has won six state championships, including four straight from 2000-03 with two coming when Quinn was the star, but the last time they snagged a state title was in 2003 (the senior season for Quinn). With the addition of Kylee Pepe, who averaged 11.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.9 steals and 3.6 assists per game at Mater Dei, and who will be eligible after Christmas, the Knights make a big jump into the top 10 for the preseason rankings. The top returner for Quinn is Penn-committed Kayla Padilla. The senior guard led the team with 18 points per game last season. Other players to look for are UC Irvine committed senior point guard Kayla Williams, junior guard Nicole Hayase, and junior forward Cyan Dyke. “I’m excited about this year,” Quinn said. “I didn’t think we were an Open Division (CIFSS) team last season but having made it gave us experience and showed even though we started a little slow we can peak at the right time.” Quinn and her girls are in the Battle of the Beaches next week and then face Windward before heading to the Troy Classic where Etiwanda is on the schedule.
10. (4) St. Mary’s (Stockton) 27-3
The Rams lost one of the top players in the nation in Aquira DeCosta, plus other college level talent in Ariel Johnson and Neenah Young, but they are still a top 10 team with what they return. The top returners are senior Grand Canyon-committed wing Jada Moss (nine points per game last season), UNLV-bound 6-foot-1 senior post Anna Blount (6.0 points, 5.3 rebounds a game) and Neenah’s little sister, Nicole, who will join big sis at Princeton next year. A girl who could be a huge factor is Amaya Oliver. After averaging 8.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game as a freshman the 6-foot-2 junior wing missed her entire sophomore season with a knee injury. She still is not cleared to play but head coach Tom Gonsalves doesn’t think it will be long before she’s in action. Another girl Gonsalves is patiently looking at starting to develop is 6-foot-5 incoming freshman Ashley Lewis. “Huge upside, wants to be the best,” Gonsalves said. He also has a transfer whose family moved from New Orleans, Tai Sherman. In Louisiana, eighth-graders can play in high school and the current ninth-grader started at point guard for Louisiana Division II state champion Ursuline where she averaged six points per game. “I like this team. They’re fun to be around,” Gonsalves remarked. “Amaya was Top 25 by Dan Olson of ESPN as a freshman and I think we’re going to surprise some people especially when she she’s back.” St. Mary’s is playing in both the Nike TOC and the Platinum Division of the West Coast Jamboree.
11. (17) Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 19-11
The Dragons played as tough a non-league schedule as anyone last season and in it was a 77-71 overtime loss to Windward at their first annual MLK event. Two weeks later, they lost to Salesian for a second time but from that point head coach Malik McCord led O’Dowd on a 10-game winning streak that included a CIF North Coast Section Division II championship before bowing out to Archbishop Mitty in the CIF Northern Regional Open Division playoffs. The top returner for McCord is Jada Holland. The always hustling senior guard averaged 15.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 steals, 3.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game last season. Another player McCord thinks could have a breakout season is sophomore forward Kennedy Johnson. She averaged 8.7 points and 8.2 rebounds last season. Two other returners to look for are senior Lexi Love and junior Kayla Hankins. A newcomer that McCord really likes and has drawn raves from analysts is freshman wing Amaya Bonner. “Super legit. Expecting big things,” said McCord about Bonner.
12. (16) Carondelet (Concord) 22-8
We had projected the Cougars to start out higher then where they finished last season and that’s the case as they move up four spots. After their season ended last year when the school pulled them out of the Open NorCals as a result of school-determined violations of disciplinary rules, the Cougars are looking to re-group with a fresh start and will have first year head coach Michael Morris at the helm after he come to Carondelet after a year at Vacaville Christian of Vacaville. Washington-committed 6-foot-3 senior post Ali Bamberger comes into the season as one of the top big girls in the state and she is joined by fellow senior returners Erica Miller, Emily Howie, Tatyana Modawar, plus others.
13. (11) Clovis North (Fresno) 26-6
Head coach Heather Long put the Broncos on the California girls high school basketball map and they won’t be off the radar screen for at least the next few years as they have a ton of talent returning led by 5-foot-10 junior wing and reigning State Sophomore of the Year Rowan Hein. Two other players to look for that had outstanding seasons are junior Savannah Tucker and senior Taylor Pilot. The Broncos could not end the stranglehold of Tri-Rivers League arch rival Clovis West last season in two losses but next year could be a horse, or a Bronco of a different color. Long and her girls start out a little lower than they finished but will have plenty of opportunities to move up. They play in the Nike California Central Valley Showcase, the Ventura tourney and in the Gold Division of the West Coast Jamboree.
14. (NR) Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) 21-12
We were a little reluctant to make the Dons the top team from the CIF San Diego Section, but after what other top coaches that played them in fall ball said about their prowess, and after seeing them at the San Diego Classic, albeit in the 2A and not the 3A Division that Pinewood won, there is no question this is a team that is going to be very good. It’s just a new kid on the block in San Diego and unproven. Fifth-year head coach Jackie Turpin, who starred at Santana of Santee, led the Dons to a solid season last year after upsetting Lynwood and Downey before bowing out to San Marcos in the SoCal Division II playoffs. Turpin returns all her top talent and then some. The top two returners are 6-foot-2 wing Mazatlan Harris (13.7 points, 11.3 rebounds) and senior 5-foot-11 forward Kaylee Stiffler (13.5 points, 7.7 rebounds). The three freshmen coaches in the Southland are raving about are led by 6-foot-4 post Isenuh Brady along with forward Taryn Johnson and guard Itzel Navarro. “It’s been a fun ride and we’re moving in the right direction,” Turpin said. “Right now we’re unproven but this year we’re here to prove something.” Turpin has scheduled like she has something to prove. The Dons are in the Battle at the Beach, they meet CIFSDS defending Open champion Mount Miguel in the Westview Tip-Off Classic, and they will be in the top division of the SoCal Holiday Classic.
15. (29) Mission Hills (San Marcos) 24-9
Last year, the Grizzlies were No. 32 in the preseason rankings but will start out this year a lot higher than they ended in the final since head coach Christopher Kroesch returns just about all his top talent plus some strong additions. Based on input from several sources they will start as the No. 2 team in the CIF San Diego Section by the slimmest of margins, but after all is said and done they may very well be the top among teams from the far southern part of the state. Mission Hills is led by Cal State Fullerton-bound 6-foot senior wing Kathryn Neff. Two seniors that Kroesch is looking for big things from who both missed last season with injuries are Catherine Beus and Cali Southwell. Senior forward Auren Isaacson, who transferred from Chula Vista Eastlake, is looking good and Kroesch really likes his starting post, 6-foot-2 freshman Amber Schmidt.
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