More Girls BB State Players of Year

State Sophomore of the Year Isuneh “Ice” Brady (left) has already committed to UConn and follows up from a state freshman of the year season. At right is D4 State Player of the Year Celeste Lewis from Sierra Pacific of Hanford. Photos: Erik Boal & Courtesy school.


No one can ever say again that we won’t pick San Diego area players at the top if the evidence points to that as the section also has nabbed the state’s top sophomore and freshman honors along with Ms. Basketball. Northern California girls, meanwhile, did the best for the CIF divisional honors but one of them played in the SoCal regional.

For official writeup on the 2020 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 Mark Tennis except for freshmen (Harold Abend). Stay tuned for the upcoming release of the 41st annual Cal-Hi Sports All-State Teams. Here is a complete list of our girls basketball individual honorees for the 2020 season:

SENIORS/D1/OPEN:
Te-hina Paopao (La Jolla Country Day)

After missing all but the last four games of her freshman season and all of her sophomore season due to two ACL injuries, and then coming back at around 75 percent for her junior season and still being named a finalist for the 2019 Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year, the 5-foot-10 Oregon-bound Paopao, who is listed as a guard, but can play any position on the court if need be, has finally achieved the glory most analysts predicted from the outset of her career and has been named this season’s Ms. Basketball winner. Paopao, who also goes onto the all-time player of the year lists for the Open/D1 and senior categories for 2020, led La Jolla Country Day to a 32-1 record and a CIF Southern Regional Open Division championship. Along the way, she averaged 22.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.3 steals per game, and made 88 three-pointers.

Kiki Iriafen is one of the nation’s top-ranked juniors. Photo: hw.com.


JUNIORS:
Kiki Iriafen
(Harvard-Westlake, Studio City) 6-3 F

If you noticed the Ms. Basketball state finalists that were announced roughly one week after the CIF state finals were supposed to have been played in Sacramento, there were two juniors among the five that were presented. One of them would have to be the State Junior of the Year and that choice has gone to Iriafen. That other player, Santa Ana Mater Dei’s Brooke Demetre, was the State Sophomore of the Year for 2019 and we could be in a back-and-forth situation similar to the careers of Class of 2019 standouts Haley Jones and Charisma Osborne.

Iriafen has been a double-double machine so far throughout her prep career, including 17.0 points and 10.8 rebounds as a freshman and 19.8 points and 13.4 rebounds in her sophomore year. She really stepped it up this past season with 23.5 points and 15.1 rebounds per game and shot 58 percent from the field. She had 27 double-doubles in a 25-9 season that ended in a 59-56 loss on the road in San Diego at Cathedral Catholic in the CIF Southern Regional Division I title game in which Iriafen had her final double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

“This year, she has become more of a complete player,” said Harvard-Westlake head coach Melissa Hearlihy, who is now No. 2 on the all-time state coaching wins list with 762. “I think her motivation has been great since the summer. When we went on that trip to Texas in December, something really clicked. Her confidence in her entire game improved.”

One of her top performances came in the CIF Southern Section Division I title game 55-42 victory over Troy of Fullerton when Iriafen went for 25 points and 17 rebounds. She also had a season-high of 37 points in a 58-56 victory against playoff foe West of Torrance.

Iriafen, who is the first-ever state junior of the year from Harvard-Westlake and is the second in a row from the San Fernando Valley (following Vanessa DeJesus of Sierra Canyon), has dozens of D1 college offers. Hearlihy said the list includes Baylor, Connecticut, Stanford, UCLA and USC with Stanford, UCLA and USC offering her a scholarship. Demetre already has committed to Stanford so it is possible our two leading player of the year candidates from that class could be future teammates.

Last 11 State Juniors of the Year: 2019 Vanessa DeJesus (Chatsworth Sierra Canyon); 2018 Charisma Osborne (Los Angeles Windward); 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).

SOPHOMORES
Isuneh “Ice” Brady (Cathedral Catholic, San Diego) 6-4 C

New England may be losing one Brady from California, but will be getting another one at the University of Connecticut for its 2022 women’s basketball team as Isuneh Brady, who goes by the nickname “Ice,” has already committed to the Huskies.

Following up her outstanding freshman season in which she averaged 16.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists and was State Freshman of the Year, Brady now tops the sophomores. The last San Diego Section sophomore state honoree was Destiny Littleton of La Jolla Bishop’s in 2015. The only others on the all-time list are Kelsey Plum of La Jolla Country Day (2011) and Terri Mann of Point Loma (1985).

Brady, who is considered one of the top five Class of 2022 college prospects in the nation, posted higher sophomore totals in all categories with 19.9 points, 13.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. In a head-to-head matchup in the CIF SoCal D1 regional playoffs vs. eventual state junior of the year Kiki Iriafen, Brady had 16 points and 10 rebounds in a 59-55 triumph. She only had 12 points in the loss to Rosary of Fullerton in the SoCal D1 final, but had 23 against the Royals in an earlier win.

Some of Brady’s top outings actually came in competitive losses that Cathedral Catholic had to top-ranked opponents. This included 22 points vs. Long Beach Poly, 26 vs. Sierra Canyon and 36 vs. Windward of Los Angeles. For a win, a game that stood out was 41 points and 28 rebounds vs. Bishop’s.

Last 11 State Sophomores of the Year: 2019 Brooke Demetre (Santa Ana Mater Dei); 2018 Rowan Hein (Fresno Clovis North); 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).

La Jolla Country Day’s outside-inside duo of Breya Cunningham’s inside prowess was almost as important for La Jolla Country Day’s mythical national championship season as Te-hina Paopao on the outside. Photo: Erik Boal.


FRESHMEN
Breya Cunningham (La Jolla Country Day) 6-3 C

It seems like every year we say there is a tough decision for one of our major awards but this year may be one of the toughest choices we have ever had to make for State Freshman of the Year since Charisma Osborne edged out Haley Jones for the 2016 honor.

There are those who will argue whatever the choice, but this year it’s the 6-foot-3 post prodigy Cunningham that gets the nod by the slimmest of margins over Windward of Los Angeles sensation Juju Watkins. In the future, these two may continue to battle for post-season awards just like Jones and Osborne did going back and forth three times for individual honors.

“Breya exceeded all expectations we had for her this season,” said La Jolla Country Day head coach Terri Bamford, who last summer predicted Cunningham would be one of the top posts in the country and the best in Torreys’ history.

Cunningham averaged a double-double 17.3 points and 11.8 rebounds with 3.3 blocks per game, and did this on a Cal-Hi Sports No. 1 ranked team where Ms. Basketball Te-hina Paopao had the ball in her hands a lot of the time. Unlike a lot of freshmen that have a hard time converting in the paint Cunningham was smooth after the catch and shot 61 percent from the field.

In 33 games, she had 26 double-doubles, including 19 points and 11 rebounds in a 44-43 victory over Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) in the title game of the top division of the Nike TOC. In the previous game, Cunningham had 20 points and 11 rebounds in a 62-54 semi win against CIF NorCal Open champion Archbishop Mitty of San Jose.

Cunningham had two crucial baskets and four key rebounds in a 14-4 run to close out the game in a 59-48 CIF Southern Regional Open Division title-game victory over Windward in which she had a double-double 16 points and 13 rebounds with four blocks. She was over 30 points three times, including a season high 35 points with 13 rebounds in a win over Mission Hills of San Marcos at the SoCal Holiday Classic, and that was preceded by a 31-point and 12-rebound total with six blocks performance against Clovis West of Fresno, and followed by a win over Rosary Academy of Fullerton where Breya went for 27 points and 16 rebounds. Another amazing fact is a lot of young and even older big girls get called for a lot of fouls, but Cunningham only fouled out twice, but not in the final 27 games of the season.

“She learned to play and guard without fouling,” Bamford remarked. “I feel she is one of the best post players in the country. Breya has great hands, she keeps the ball high and is a very efficient scorer. Her consistency in scoring and rebounding this season was one of the keys to our team’s success this season.”

Cunningham may only be a 14-year-old freshman but not surprisingly colleges are already taking notice of her prowess.

“Breya has a tremendous upside,” Bamford said. “She’s 6-foot-3, athletic, runs the floor, can defend both in the post and on the perimeter, can score on the block and has a good midrange game. She’s working on her perimeter game this off season and that will make her a complete player. Breya has multiple offers already and from power five schools. She may be La Jolla Country Day’s next great.”

This is the second straight year a San Diego Section girl has snared the state frosh of year honor after Isuneh “Ice” Brady from last season. The section also ends with three of the four major player of the year honors for the state.

Last 11 State Freshmen of the Year: 2019 Isuneh “Ice” Brady (San Diego Cathedral Catholic); 2018 Kiki Iriafen (Studio City Harvard-Westlake); 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).

Stephanie Okowi (with netting) celebrates with Oakland Tech teammates after last season’s CIF D4 state final. Photo: Prep2Prep.com.


DIVISION II
Stephanie Okowi (Oakland Tech) 5-11 Sr. F

It’s a matter of having a monster game at the finish that has distinguished Okowi’s career at Oakland Tech.

As a junior last season, she set the CIF D4 title game record and came within one rebound of the all-time state finals record with 24 rebounds plus 16 points in leading the Bulldogs to the state title. That was one reason why she was the D4 State Player of the Year. This season, despite being moved up to D2 and even though there wasn’t a D2 state final, Okowi has captured the D2 honor for a similar reason, which was scoring 28 points with 17 rebounds and five blocks when Tech defeated Clovis 57-41 for the CIF NorCal D2 championship.

The Bulldogs’ state final was supposed to be against CIF L.A. City Open Division champ Palisades, but in the final overall state rankings we had them at No. 33 at 26-8 with the Dolphins at No. 40 at 26-9.

Stephanie was a standout all season for Tech, with solid per game norms of 12.8 points. 9.8 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 2.1 steals per game. She already has been selected on the All-Bay Area News Group first team, ahead of some very good players on second team.

Just like last year when Okowi was the first-ever D4 player of the year from the Oakland Section, she’s also the first-ever for D2. There have been plenty of D2 state players of the year from the East Bay, however, mostly those from Carondelet of Concord, including Jayne Appel three times in a row for 2004, 2005, 2006.

Until competitive equity, Oakland Section teams weren’t in the lower divisions so its best players and teams were all in the same honors mix as D1 schools. That’s why some of Oakland Tech’s previous great players, such as McDonald’s All-Americans Alexis Gray-Lawson and Devenei Hampton from the early 2000s, were never state players of the year.

Last 12 State D2 Players of the Year: 2019 Jadyn Matthews (Redding Enterprise); 2018 Serena Tuitele (Chico Pleasant Valley); 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).

Natalia Ackerman checked the most boxes in a close call for the D3 honor. Photo: Juan Reyes / The Pajaronian.


DIVISION III
Natalia Ackerman (Aptos) 6-1 Sr. F

For the second straight year, a player from the CIF Central Coast Section has snagged the top honor in this category.

It goes to someone who Aptos head coach Bruce Funk called “one of the best players ever from Santa Cruz County,” according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Ackerman also is one of the very few players from below D1 or D2 in the CIF state divisions who had a statistically outstanding season from a top team and who has a D1 college scholarship (in her case to Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo).

Ackerman’s season and her team’s ended in a NorCal D3 regional semifinal loss to Woodside Priory of Portola Valley. She still had 18 points and 13 rebounds in that game against a Woodside Priory club (also from the CCS) that last year had senior Ila Lane, last year’s honoree for this division.

In leading Aptos to a 27-5 record, Natalia netted 19.1 points per game. She also snared 10.5 rebounds with 2.6 assists, 3.1 steals and 2.2 blocks. She ended with 18 double-doubles, became her school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,782 points and had more than 1,100 career rebounds.

A first-ever state player of the year honoree from Santa Cruz County, another outing for Natalia that was impressive was 34 points and 15 rebounds in a NorCal D3 playoff win vs. Lick-Wilmerding of San Francisco. Ackerman also was a four-year all-league pick and helped the Mariners win three straight league titles.

Last 13 State D3 Players of the Year: 2019 Ila Lane (Portola Valley Woodside Priory); 2018 Nia Johnson (Sacramento West Campus); 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).

DIVISION IV
Celeste Lewis (Sierra Pacific, Hanford) 5-8 Sr. G

Two years ago when the Golden Bears won the CIF D5 state title, head coach Amy Bush was the D5 state coach of the year. This season, they weren’t able to win another one but did reach the D4 state final and they have the D4 state player of the year.

Lewis was a starting point guard from that state title team and looked good as a sophomore in that state final with 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists. She’s gone on to display that type of versatility for the rest of her prep career, plus she’s added the flair of handing out no-look passes for baskets in just about every game.

For this season, Lewis averaged 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 4.0 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. She became the school’s top career scorer with 1,832 points and finished with more than 600 assists and more than 600 rebounds.

Historically, Celeste is the first state player of the year from a Hanford school, but it should be noted that some of the great players at Hanford High were usually in D1 or D2. She’s the first Central Section D4 State Player of the Year since Marsheela Harriston of Wasco won it twice for 1988 and 1989. The only other from the section on the all-time list is Irene Robles of Woodlake for 1985.

Lewis had 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists when Sierra Pacific went on the road and beat top seed Colfax 52-39 to win the NorCal D4 title. Colfax’s Grace Bliss also was seriously considered for this category so that game was big for Lewis in getting it. State scoring leader Chloe Briggs of Ontario Christian and the leading player for the team that beat Ontario Christian in the SoCal D4 final, Lancaster High junior Rayshanti McNeal-Price, also were on our short list.

Some other individual outings for Celeste that helped make her best included 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in a loss to Sac-Joaquin Section D1 finalist Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) plus 37 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in a win over Strathmore. A line of 19 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists vs. NorCal D2 playoff team San Joaquin Memorial also was hard to miss.

Last 12 State D4 Players of the Year: 2019 Stephanie Okowi (Oakland Tech); 2018 Destiny McAllister (Los Angeles Brentwood); 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).

Soto is presented a ball from Strathmore head coach Richard Miranda recognizing her for 2,000 career points. Photo: Charles Whisnand / recorderonline.com.


DIVISION V
Jazmine Soto (Strathmore) 5-6 Jr. G

Despite the Spartans not going far in the CIF SoCal D5 bracket, Soto’s individual accomplishments proved to be too overwhelming compared to others checked out for this honor, including those from CIF state finalists East Bakersfield and Branson of Ross.

East Bakersfield also was the team that Strathmore played in the CIF Central Section D5 final in which Soto pumped in 29 points in a competitive loss. She then had 27 in a regional playoff loss to Marshall of Pasadena.

For the season, Soto ranked among the best in the nation and was second in the state with 29.1 ppg. She should easily surpass 3,000 career points next year and already is the all-time leader for Tulare County, according to CIF Central Section historian Bob Barnett, with 2,498 points. Barnett also has reported that Jazmine set a section record this season with 989 points. She had a season high of 43 points against Lindsay with additional season bests of 13 rebounds and 10 steals (twice). Another outing that stood out was collecting 34 points in a loss to D4 NorCal champion Sierra Pacific and eventual D4 state player of the year Celeste Lewis.

Soto, who was recently named Orange Belt Player of the Year by Porterville Recorder, shot 49 percent from the field and also had averages of 5.2 rebounds and 5.0 steals per game. She is the second straight D5 State Player of the Year from the CIF Central Section following Serena Ybarra of Coalinga for 2019.

Last 11 State D5 Players of the Year: 2019 Serena Ybarra (Coalinga); 2018 Vanessa Smart (Oxnard Hueneme); 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).

Mark Tennis is the editor and publisher of Cal-Hi Sports. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports


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