After our profile last week of the winningest head coach in California girls basketball history, we’ll continue with a series of preseason-style features on some of the state’s most prominent programs and players for the 2020-21 school year. It’s almost been one year since any of them have played and it may end up being until December of 2021 for some. We hope that isn’t the case, but the work is continuing and it certainly is at a San Jose school that also is led by another of our all-time favorite coaches in any sport.
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There may or may not be a 2021 girls basketball season of any kind in California during the current school year and there may or may not be any kind of preseason state rankings. In order for any games to happen, it probably will require the sport to be moved out of its current status as only allowed in counties that have reached the yellow tier in the state’s four-colored system used for re-opening.
Still, there are teams doing conditioning and some are meeting to practice. It’s still appropriate to analyze these teams and get updated, up-close looks at them. We’re going to begin with a team that would have to be the preseason No. 1 for Northern California.
We already knew the answer before we posed the question to several coaches and analysts as to which team should be the No. 1 girls basketball team in Northern California coming into what may or may not be a season.
The consensus was that it’s Archbishop Mitty of San Jose and everyone else, and why not?
The Monarchs ended last season as the No. 1 team in Northern California and it wasn’t close after head coach Sue Phillips and her girls won their final 19 games following a loss in the semifinals of the Platinum Division of the West Coast Jamboree to Mater Dei of Santa Ana with two of her best players, current seniors Hunter Hernandez and Marley Langi, out of action with injuries.
Langi missed eight games with nagging injuries before returning and Hernandez was only able to return from her knee injury for the final 10 games, but after going undefeated in West Catholic Athletic League play with the closest margin of victory a 22-point win over San Francisco St. Ignatius, Mitty blew past everyone in the playoffs with everyone in the lineup.
After winning the Central Coast Section Open Division title with a 76-44 victory over Pinewood of Los Altos Hills, the Monarchs won their Northern Regional semifinal 64-40 versus Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa, and then in the NorCal Open Division title game, Mitty defeated NorCal No. 2 St. Joseph Notre Dame (Alameda) for the third time with a 69-53 victory that was the closest any team came during the 19-game winning streak.
Phillips and her Monarchs were poised to meet La Jolla Country Day for the CIF Open Division state championship, and with Hernandez and Langi in the lineup unlike when they lost 62-54 to the Torreys in the top division of the Nike TOC, many felt their depth would help them avenge the defeat and deliver Phillips her first Open Division title.
Then, as everyone is keenly aware of, the pandemic ended the basketball season and any hopes for Mitty to even the score with Country Day and claim a seventh state championship for Phillips and her Monarchs.
Almost everyone is back
“It’s been (approximately) 333 days since the Mitty Monarchs has played a game,” Phillips said earlier this week. “Last March, we won the NorCal Championship and we were playing great and really looking forward to competing in the CIF Open Division state finals only to receive a crushing blow. The state finals were going to be cancelled due to COVID. In the grand scheme of things, it was the responsible course of action but nonetheless it was very disappointing.”
Last season’s top player in the Central Coast Section, Ashley Hiraki, has gone off to Santa Clara University, but only one other girl graduated and she was a bench player.
The players Phillips returns are the reason the Monarchs have been tapped as the top team in Northern California and one of the top two teams in the state. Because of that, Phillips had this to say about the outlook for her team if in fact we have some kind of season.
“Archbishop Mitty women’s basketball is loaded with talent, skill, and extreme aspirations to compete and prove ourselves once again. We have tremendous depth, size and versatility, and would relish the opportunity to play. We will be able to light up the scoreboard.”
Besides Hiraki, a girl who helped carry the team through the injuries was Olivia Williams. The UC Irvine-bound 6-foot-1 senior wing was the Prep2Prep CCS Junior of the Year last season, and also a member of the New Zealand U19 National Team. She was second on the team in scoring and rebounding with 12.0 and 4.6 per game averages, respectively.
When asked to give a short synopsis of her players, and because of the team’s depth, we asked Phillips to break the team into three groups, the six returning D1 scholarship players, three of whom are committed to UC Irvine, potential underclass impact returners from last season, and newcomers and others to look for.
Phillips had this to say about Williams: “She has unlimited range, take and make the big shot, and a leader.”
When she returned, “Hundo” as the 5-foot-10 UC Irvine-bound senior Hernandez is affectionately called, had 11 points in the CCS Open title-game win over Pinewood, and 10 points in the CIF NorCal championship triumph against St. Joseph Notre Dame.
“Tough and a leader that rises to every big occasion with scoring and rebounding, and will do whatever it takes to win the game,” Phillips said regarding Hernandez.
Next was Langi, a 6-foot UC Davis-bound senior wing who averaged 6.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game, and although on the surface it might not seem so, those are solid numbers for a nationally-ranked team that had eight players average over five points per game.
“She presents mismatch problems for opposing teams,” Phillips said. “She can knock down the three or post up around the rim.”
Sydney Bourland, a 5-foot-10 senior wing who has committed to Cal Poly SLO, has shown steady improvement since we saw her the summer before her freshman season. Last year she averaged 9.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
“She’s terrific in rebound and run situations, getting downhill to attack the rim or finding an open shooter on the perimeter,” was Phillips’ assessment of Bourland.
Katie Springs, a 6-foot-1 UC San Diego-committed senior who plays power forward or center, has developed into one of the top inside players in the Central Coast Section. She averaged 8.1 points per game and a team-high 7.3 rebounds per contest.
“She’s a rebounding machine with paint presence, physical and a leader,” said Phillips about Springs.
Amelia Scharpf, a 6-foot UC-Irvine-bound wing, has quietly developed her game over her three-year varsity career and could have a breakout season if we have one. Last year she had solid numbers and averaged 7.6 point per game, was second in rebounds at 5.0 per contest, plus she added 2.0 steals and 1.7 assists a game as well.
Phillips likes her versatility and said. “She plays 3, 4 and 5 offensively and can guard positions 1 through 5. She’s a slasher and has a relentless motor.”
Just those six would likely be enough to put Mitty in the Northern California catbird seat but Phillips has a lot more talent at her disposal should she and her Monarchs get the chance to play.
An unsigned senior Phillips wanted to give a shout out to is 5-foot-10 guard Anika Chinthakunta who she says “gives us a great boost with instant offense off the bench.”
Two other underclass players from last year who are still underclass and could be significant contributors are the sophomore duo of 5-foot-6 shooting guards Noemie Bariteau and Siena Guttadauro.
“Noemi is a smart play-making guard that can knock down the three or attack the hoop,” Phillips said and continued. “Siena has already been offered a full ride by San Jose State and is a crafty scorer and facilitator.”
Four other underclass players from last year who will be vying for playing time if we have any are junior 6-foot wing Makayla Moore, sophomore 6-foot wing Elle Hanson, 6-foot sophomore power forward/center Jamaya Perry, and 6-foot junior wing Natalie Anderson.
But wait, there’s more
Topping the newcomers list is Morgan Chelli, an incoming 6-foot-1 freshman point guard that already been offered by (where else) UC Irvine.
Two other newcomers to look for are Hundo’s twin sophomore sisters, 6-foot Maya Hernandez, who was brought up from JV for four games last season and who Phillips says has a “knack for scoring with a scorer’s mentality,” and 5-foot-10 Haley Hernandez, who Phillips calls a “defensive specialist.”
It’s pretty obvious that if there is any kind of season, Mitty is going to be hard to beat at any level of play.
When asked what kind of attitude the girls had at this point on playing and possibly not playing Phillips and the girls are optimistic.
“Delayed, not denied. We will play again,” Phillips remarked. “They won’t let COVID or these guidelines prevent them from strengthening their friendships or improving as basketball players.”
“As for the coaches, we are optimists at heart,” Phillips continued. “We are a resilient group and we never underestimate the power of the human spirit.”
We asked Williams to speak for the players on how they felt about not playing or playing.
“I think we are all optimistic of the possibility of playing this season,” Williams said. “The team continues to share the common goal of going back to the state championship and although that may look different this year we still have the same drive to do great things when we can get back in the gym and play games again.”
“We have been able to have zoom workouts as well as practice outdoors while adhering to the COVID guidelines and through these practices, we have been able to understand the importance of each moment,” Williams continued. “Each practice allows us to get better, get ahead, and come together as a team. We have continued to push ourselves and each other to stay prepared and most importantly ready.”
Would Phillips be satisfied with anywhere from an eight to 12 game season? And with current travel restrictions, the Monarchs (based in Santa Clara County) wouldn’t even be able to play some its usual opponents in the West Catholic Athletic League (those schools in San Francisco). They could only play schools from counties that share a common border with Santa Clara (examples include Alameda County and Santa Cruz County).
“We want to play and will continue to speak it into existence,” Phillips said. “We will take the floor as a team, play/coach the game we love, and give our best for the person next to us.”
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend