We are continuing with a series of girls basketball 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, but after last week’s developments teams are starting to prepare for an upcoming spring season. For this report, we go inside a team that was No. 1 in most final national rankings and without question was the 2020 State Team of the Year.
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In our fourth Insider Report we look at the defending CIF San Diego Section Open Division and CIF Southern Regional Open Division champions from La Jolla Country Day. The Torreys finished 32-1 last season and on top of the final expanded state rankings, and in most of the national rankings they finished in the top spot as well.
Similar to a Windward of Los Angeles team that was just previewed, Country Day doesn’t have the experienced depth of Archbishop Mitty of San Jose or Mater Dei of Santa Ana, the presumed top teams from Northern and Southern California, respectively.
However, despite graduating Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year Te-hina Paopao, head coach and 2012 State Coach of the Year Terri Bamford returns some solid talent, and also some additions that has her optimistic even though last year ended in a bit of disappointment, and before she could claim hers and the school’s first CIF Open Division championship and fifth state title overall.
“Yes, we were disappointed that we did not have a chance to play in the state championship game, but it doesn’t take away for all that last year’s team accomplished,” Bamford said. “I don’t think we have anything to prove. I’m just excited to see how far this young squad can go.”
A young team Country Day certainly is and it starts with 2020 State Freshman of the Year and All State First Team Elite selection Breya Cunningham.
Cunningham, a 6-foot-4 sophomore post who gets a 5-star rating from ESPN, averaged a double-double 17.3 and 11.8 points plus 3.3 blocked shots per game. Along with Juju Watkins of Windward, Cunningham is one of the few freshmen to ever make an All State Elite First Team. They may be the best twosome in any one class that California has ever had.
Cunningham seemed to come up biggest against top teams. She had 30 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks in a win against NorCal No. 1 St. Joseph Notre Dame of Alameda plus 31 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks in a victory over state-ranked Clovis West of Fresno. In the title game of the top division of the Nike TOC, Breya finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds in a 44-43 victory against 2019 CIF Open Division state champion Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth.
In the final two games of the season, a CIF Southern Regional Open Division semifinal 54-44 victory over state-ranked Etiwanda, and a SoCal Open title game 59-48 victory over Windward, it was like a day at the office for Cunningham. Of her 26 double-doubles, the last two came in those final two games when she went for 17 points and 10 rebounds with four blocks against Etiwanda, and 16 points and 13 rebounds with four blocks versus Windward.
Not surprisingly, a ton a major D1 schools, 25 in fact according to Bamford, are already interested in what is looking like the best big girl she has ever had in a coaching career that now spans four decades.
“Breya is a beast on both ends of the floor,” Bamford remarked. “She can run the floor and score in transition, and at 6-4 she knows how to score with her back to the basket. Plus, she’s developed a great mid-range game with the ability to attack the basket.”
The other top returner already has had a moment in her career she will never forget. It wasn’t Paopao or Cunningham that made a layup that went high up off the glass and dropped straight down through the basket just before the buzzer to pull out the win over Sierra Canyon at the TOC; it was Jazzy Anousinh, a point guard who will be the only senior on this year’s team. Last season, Anousinh led the team in assists with 4.8 per game and her 8.2 points per game was third for the Torreys.
“Jazzy is a crafty play-making point guard with a great fundamental skill set and can score at all three levels,” Bamford said. “She has a high basketball IQ and knows how to lead her team as a point guard. She’s tough, competitive and wants the ball when the game is on the line.”
Another returner Bamford is looking to for an increased contribution is Sumayah Sugapong. The sophomore averaged 3.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game.
“Sumayah is a skilled, crafty combo guard who knows how to score at all three levels,” Bamford said. “She has a very high basketball IQ, she’s tough, fearless and brings the defensive intensity needed to win.”
Two other returning juniors are guards Destiny Villareal and Alana Fesili.
“Destiny is combo guard with a high basketball IQ and is an aggressive scorer who can score at all three levels,” Bamford said. “Alana is a combo guard who knows how to score and gives the team size and strength at the guard position.”
Besides the returners Bamford has three newcomers, and five incoming freshmen Bamford says is “a group that looks to make an immediate impact.”
One of the newcomers is crosstown sophomore guard and Bishop’s transfer Aaliyah Stanton. “She’s a tough defender who can score in transition and knock down the three,” Bamford added.
The sister duo of 5-foot-10 junior Gabbi Schmidt and 6-foot sophomore Gracie Schmidt join the Torreys after the family moved to San Diego from Illinois. “Gabbi is a great shooter with a high basketball IQ, and Gracie brings skill and size to the team,” the coach said.
Last but not least are the five “impact” freshmen.
According to Bamford, 5-foot-9 Tajianna “Taj” Avant-Roberts is an “athletic combo guard who can score at all three levels. She is a highly ranked guard from the 2024 class. With her size and skill level at the guard spot Taj will be an impact player for us this season.”
Naomi Panganiban is a point guard who Bamford says “is crafty, shifty, and can score at all three levels. Naomi brings a toughness on both ends of the floor and will be an impact freshman this season.”
The third impact freshman is Alea Tufaga. “She is a 5-7 combo guard who plays hard on every possession,” Bamford said. “She can play all five positions on the floor and gives the team toughness on both ends of the court.”
The last two first year players Bamford wanted to give a shout out to are Taylor Dente, a 5-foot-5 shooting guard, and Ann-Mae DeGuzman, a 5-foot-5 combo guard.
As things start to improve with COVID-109 cases on the decline, there is still a lot to be determined on the indoor sports front, although with the new guidelines allowing indoor sports announced by the state last Friday it’s looking better every day. Ever the optimist, Bamford talked about this season, in which she will enter as the No. 2 all-time winningest coach in CIF San Diego Section history with 626 career victories.
“A new season and new opportunities await,” Bamford said. “With five returning players, and the new additions including the impactful players, the Lady Torreys enter the season with good reason for optimism.”
“Both the players and coaches have positive attitudes about having a 2021 season,” Bamford said in conclusion. “We just look forward to competing this season.”
A whole lot of girls basketball players, coaches, fans and enthusiasts share those same sentiments.
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