The battle to be California’s Open Division state champion was decisive at the Golden 1 Center as state No. 1 Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth earns its first title in the top division with a win against Pinewood of Los Altos Hills. Ashley Chevalier, the daughter of Sierra Canyon boys head coach Andre Chevalier, led the Trailblazers in scoring. We also have recaps and photos of Menlo School showing its cool (and hot shooting) that sparked a win over Rolling Hills Prep for the Division II state title plus Oakland Tech’s triumph in the CIF Division IV final.
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(Cal-Hi Sports Editor Mark Tennis wrote the recap for Menlo-Rolling Hills Prep)
The final words of Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth head coach Alicia Komaki as she left the media room at the end of the press conference after the CIF Open Division state final are those that coaches often say when they talk about rankings.
“I would rather be No. 1 at the end of the season than in the beginning,” said Komaki, who will now know what that feels like for the first time in her career about a team she coached being No. 1 overall for the state of California.
The bottom line is Komaki and her Trailblazers made a couple of mistakes but they were far overshadowed by a truly dominating performance that ended in a 69-51 victory over Pinewood (Los Altos Hills) on Saturday night at the Golden 1 Center.
“We did a few things wrong, and I can always find mistakes, but we didn’t have many tonight,” Komaki said with a smile. “The girls were really locked in. They just wanted to win this game.”
With the victory, Sierra Canyon (33-1) solidified its spot as the top team in California and showed why it is very deserving of being highly ranked in the various national rankings. With the No. 1 ranking to come in the final state rankings, Sierra Canyon will be named the Cal-Hi Sports 2019 State Team of the Year when it is announced next week.
Junior guard Ashley Chevalier, the daughter Andre Chevalier, the head coach of the Sierra Canyon boys team that took the court after the girls and gave the San Fernando Valley school a sweep of the Open Division titles, had a superb game and finished with game-highs of 20 points and seven assists with five rebounds and two steals. The size of the NBA court the Sacramento Kings play on seemed to fit the speedy guard just fine.
“The bigger floor gives me more gaps when we spread it out that I don’t have to create myself, and I was definitely very comfortable playing on it,” Chevalier said.
Fellow junior Vanessa De Jesus came out on fire and had 11 of her 17 points and all three of her three-pointers in the first quarter. She also had five rebounds and three assists but it was her early energy that seemed to ignite Sierra Canyon.
“At the start, I had to let the game come to me,” De Jesus said. “My teammates fed off me and I fed off them.”
Another huge factor was the play of University of San Diego-bound 6-foot-3 senior Amanda Olinger. She finished with 15 points and eight rebounds and her size up front gave Pinewood fits. Olinger has now won back-to-back state championships but last year she also was a member of the Sierra Canyon volleyball team that won the Division II state title. This year, after being a member of both the Trailblazers’ volleyball and basketball teams, where she was a four-year varsity basketball player, Olinger opted to play just basketball.
“I wanted to just play basketball and feel what it would be like to win a state championship,” Olinger said. “I didn’t really have the same feeling when we won the volleyball championship as I’m feeling now, and I just love the feeling.”
After the fast start, Sierra Canyon looked like it was more in control than the scoreboard indicated. The Trailblazers led 17-13 after the first quarter and were up by nine but a three-pointer by Annika Decker (team-high 20 points) cut the lead to 31-25 at halftime.
From there, however, is when Sierra Canyon turned on the afterburners. A basket by Chevalier was followed by two baskets by 6-foot-1 junior Alexis Mark (four points, eight rebounds). Then senior Angela Bacoulis hit back-to-back three pointers and the Trailblazers had a 12-0 run and a 43-25 lead, and at that point Pinewood looked dead in the water.
The Northern Regional champions weren’t quite done yet and went on a 13-2 run of their own to cut it to 50-42 but Sierra Canyon answered with another big 13-3 run and at 65-45 the deal was more than sealed.
“They had us well scouted and they had a terrific game plan they executed very well,” said Pinewood head coach Doc Scheppler, who still ranks among the state leaders with eight state titles won. “They’re just a great team, very talented and with the whole package. They deserved to win.”
Part of that game plan was to keep the ball out of the hands of Stanford-bound Pinewood star Hannah Jump and Yale-bound Klara Astrom.
To do that, Komaki had Mark on Jump, who has been hobbled by an ankle she sprained in the Panthers’ loss to Archbishop Mitty in the Central Coast Section Open Division title game two weeks ago. Her limited mobility and the length of Mark took its toll on Jump and she only managed seven points while pulling down six rebounds. Astrom struggled with foul trouble and the double-teaming and switching of Komaki’s defense limited her to eight points.
Just like in the first three NorCal Open Division playoff games, Pinewood (27-4) got another solid performance from Kaitlyn Leung. The senior guard finished with 12 points and seven rebounds.
The scene at the press conference was a far cry from the one two weeks ago at Cal Baptist University in Riverside when Sierra Canyon suffered its one and only loss in the CIF Southern Section Open Division title game to Windward of Los Angeles.
Since then, Komaki and her girls were an 18-point winner over Clovis North in the SoCal Open first round, went on the road and avenged the loss to Windward, went on the road again to Clovis West of Fresno and beat the Southern Regional top seed 74-70 in front of a very raucous crowd in Fresno, and then on three days’ rest travelled to the state capital to capture their fourth state championship.
Under the new condensed CIF state playoff format, that amounts to five games in two weeks and a whole lot of travelling to get to Sacramento.
“We prepped for the travel with early season tournaments, and the girls are really tired, but tonight we’re going to celebrate,” Komaki said.
With the state championship this year, Sierra Canyon has now won four state titles on the girls side, but this is the first in the Open Division. Their previous three state crowns were in 2013 when they defeated Pinewood in the Division V title game and in 2014 and 2015 when Komaki guided the Trailblazers to the Division IV state championship.
“When you see all that success around you with boys basketball and football I had personal motivation to get this team an Open Division state championship,” said Komaki, who added that of all her state title teams she felt this one was the only one “deep enough and tough enough to win in the Open Division.”
With Sierra Canyon returning everyone but Olinger and Bacoulis, the No. 1 to end this season is almost assuredly going to be at the top of the California girls basketball pecking order in the 2019-2020 preseason rankings.
Div. II: Menlo, Paye
Return To Title Glory
It was thought entering the CIF Division II state title matchup on Saturday in Sacramento that the more experienced team would have the edge over the one with a number of freshmen and sophomores who hadn’t played in an NBA arena like the Golden 1 Center.
Count this one for the kids. Menlo School’s younger group won the CIF Division II state title with a 70-63 victory over Rolling Hills Prep of San Pedro. The Knights (26-5) won the fourth CIF state title in their history, but the last one was in 1991 as part of a three-year run that saw standout guard Kate Paye (now an assistant coach at Stanford) being coached by older brother John Paye. Rolling Hills Prep was seeking a second straight state title after winning in Division IV last season and losing in the Division V championship in 2017.
Despite several of the Huskies’ players, especially junior guard Alyssa Maxey, having two years experience playing at the Golden 1 Center, it was Menlo that came out with more confidence. The girls made six of their first 15 three-pointers and got out to a 26-9 lead in the second quarter. They led 34-25 at halftime.
“This is a young team and we weren’t expecting to be here, but I can’t say enough about our three captains,” said Paye, who then praised senior Lauren Sun Mi Oh, junior Maeia Makoni and sophomore Avery Lee each individually. “What a great coached team we just played. The four different times I watched them on film, each one they were down and keep coming back.”
Rolling Hills Prep never came back to take the lead, but chipped away at the lead by getting the ball inside to 6-foot-3 sophomore center Clarice Akunwafo and sinking a few three-pointers of its own. The Huskies got it to 49-46 late in the third quarter, but Menlo freshman Sharon Nenad scored a few seconds before the horn and it was 51-46. Rolling Hills Prep then cut to three again to start the fourth quarter, but the Knights answered with a 10-2 run and the closest the Huskies came to them after that was 64-59.
“All the credit goes to our opponent,” said Rolling Hills Prep head coach Richard Masson. “They shot well, defended us well. In the second half, we did a good job in getting to their second shooter. We just didn’t shoot well today.”
Sophomore Coco Layton was Menlo’s hottest shooter. She broke a D2 title game state record by sinking six shots from beyond the arc and ended with a team-high 17 points plus a team high 11 rebounds. Lee has been the team’s floor leader all season and had 15 points to go with nine assists and eight rebounds. Nejad finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Makoni added a double-double 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Paye completed a unique trifecta of CIF state championship experiences with the win. In 1983, he played and won one himself in a victory over Santa Clara of Oxnard at the L.A. Sports Arena for the Division III title. Then from 1989 to 1991, he was the coach of those three in a row that were led by his younger sister. And for this year’s state crown, he was also coaching his daughter Georgia, a sophomore who also starts and had six points.
“Winning this one means a lot,” said Paye, who also is on the all-time list for Mr. Football State Players of the Year (1982) and is a former Stanford and San Francisco 49ers quarterback. “It’s most meaningful because in all of the years since the others I now know how hard it is.”
Paye admitted that he had originally scheduled a trip on this Saturday to spring training in Arizona with special needs son Jack that included a meeting with San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy. Instead, Jack went to the game and to meet Bochy with John’s father (also named Jack).
Akunwafo topped the Huskies in scoring with 17 points. Maxey was right behind with 14 and also brought down 14 rebounds. Junior Naya Stroud chipped in with 10 points and 10 rebounds. The team played virtually the entire season without last year’s CIF Southern Section Division III Player of the Year, Macy Pakele, due to a knee injury, and in recent weeks has had to deal with the sudden heart attack-related death of the father of junior guard Madison Yamada.
“Yes, absolutely, the competition was tougher (than in D4 or D5),” Masson said. “But we rose to the occasion. Playing on Saturday in the section finals, and then back-to-back-to-back-to-back is tough. It’s survival of the fittest. We just didn’t survive.”
Tech Makes It 2-for-2 For
Oakland Athletic League
It had been 14 years since a girls team from the CIF Oakland Section/Oakland Athletic League won a CIF state championship, but now after Oakland Tech defeated Northview of Covina 55-27 in the Division IV title game on Saturday morning at the Golden 1 Center, the girls from Oakland have now won two in the same season.
The win by Tech (30-6) comes on the heels of the Division III state title game win by Oakland on Friday.
“We’re doing good things in Oakland. It’s not all bad,” Oakland Tech head coach Leroy Hurt remarked. “Us and Oakland High are bright spots, and even though they beat us three times this season we were here last night. We had to come and watch Oakland High because if they had a number one fan it was us.”
The term “a star is born” couldn’t have been more appropriate than in describing the outing of Stephanie Okowi. The 6-0 junior had a double-double 16 points and 24 rebounds with seven blocked shots.
The 24 rebounds is a new CIF Division IV state championship game record and breaks the previous record of 21 rebounds set by Tracy Morris from Campolindo of Moraga in the 1996 title game. It’s also the No. 2 mark all time for any division behind the 25 rebounds by two previous Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year winners. Two-time Ms. Basketball winner Terri Mann of Point Loma (San Diego) did it in her senior year in Division I in 1987, and Erin Buescher of Rincon Valley Christian (Santa Rosa) accomplished the feat in 1997 when she was the Ms. Basketball winner.
Tech got 19 points from Jordan Smith and Tiffany Siu only had six points after struggling from the field but she had 11 rebounds and four assists.
The Northern Regional D4 champion Bulldogs left little doubt as to the outcome early on after jumping out to an 11-2 lead and never looking back. Northview actually outscored Tech by a point in the second quarter to close to 27-16, but from there the Bulldogs really put it away by only giving the Southern Regional champion Vikings a lone basket in the third quarter and it was 43-18 entering the final period.
“We had a game plan and the kids executed it perfectly,” Hurt said.
Just like Oakland High, the teacher’s strike almost put a damper on the season.
“We were worried about the strike,” Hurt said. “We had a situation where we might not be able to participate. I’m thankful and the girls are thankful to the district and the commissioner and the girls took advantage of the opportunity.”
Northview (30-6) got 11 points from Giselle Garcia but only three other girls scored.
“We were a little nervous in the beginning and we didn’t come out like we were supposed to. We just didn’t get it done,” Northview head coach Danny Silva said.
With the state championship, Oakland Tech has now won three state championships in three appearances with the two previous titles in 2004 and 2005. Tech also becomes the first Oakland Section/OAL team boys or girls to win three titles and only the second team besides the McClymonds boys to make three appearances.
“Oakland Tech is now 3-0 and state championship games and I didn’t want to be the first one to lose,” Hurt mused.
But what about getting another shot at an Oakland team that beat them by 12 points in their first matchup and then edged them by one-point and two points in the next two meetings.
“Of course we would love to play them one more time,” said senior Tiffany Siu. “We were neck and neck with them the last two games. Can we have a Division IV against Division III?”
The Bulldogs can’t get that opportunity this year but with Okowi and all their other top scorers except Siu returning they will get their chances next year when both will be defending state champions.
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