Trying to do a first state ranking with a huge portion of Northern California still not in action, with some still finalizing schedules is difficult to say the least. But we wanted to take a stab at it before two of the top teams in Northern California square off on Wednesday when Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) hosts St. Mary’s of Stockton. So mixing and matching teams that have played as many as a half dozen games or more, with teams that are still 0-0 is a totally inexact science. However, in this pandemic crazed year is there anything ordinary about high school sports?
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The good news for high school girls basketball fans in California is that the season is underway, albeit with stricter protocols than outdoor sports, and it’s been a long wait of over 13 months.
It seems like only yesterday, but in reality it was March 10 of last year when Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) rolled past St. Joseph Notre Dame of Alameda, 69-53, in the CIF Northern Regional Open Division championship, and La Jolla Country Day bested Windward of Los Angeles, 59-48, in the CIF Southern Regional Open title game.
The pandemic forced a shutdown the very next day, and on March 12, a day before the first games were to be played, the CIF understandably pulled the plug on the state championships and no one got a trip to the Golden One Center in Sacramento. The CIF has cancelled this year’s regional and state championships as well in a decision that was made to give programs flexibility to schedule as complete a season as possible. There are rumblings, however, that something could be revived now that most CIF sections have just recently announced that its section playoffs will take place.
It was less than two months ago when things looked pretty dark with respect to any kind of a high school season this year, as basketball was in the yellow and most restrictive tier of the California Department of Public Health guidelines.
Subsequently, a lawsuit headed by the #LetThemPlay organization got a favorable ruling that allowed CIF indoor spots to get started in advance of the color tiers, provided strict testing protocols were adhered to. That allowed the CDPH to create indoor sports guidelines with each individual school district or private school to implement them, and not the state CIF or any of the 10 sections.
As was mentioned in the boys’ preview by Ronnie Flores three weeks ago, many school districts in Southern California were prepared like Moorpark Unified in Ventura County. Their boys played their first game on March 16 and the girls on March 27.
The CIF San Diego Section got going as well and as a result among ranked teams La Jolla Country Day has already played nine games, and was set to play on Tuesday of this week with crosstown arch-rival Bishop’s.
Some teams in the Los Angeles City Section still have not posted schedules, and some have even cancelled spring sports for a variety of reasons, including the inability to fund the CDPH requirements and protocols.
In Northern California, most districts and private schools began practice on April 12 with a first date to play of April 19, and in fact the top game to kick off the NorCal season will be on April 21 when Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) hosts St. Mary’s of Stockton.
Some leagues in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section have already begun play. Among ranked teams, Antelope has already reportedly played at least two games, but some leagues like the Delta League are not going to start until the beginning of May, and many still have not posted schedules. Also, like in Southern California, some leagues have cancelled spring sports for a variety of COVID-related reasons.
The first look at girls hoops in California is based on returning talent and last year’s performance that determined each team’s placement in the final Top 35 expanded state rankings.
One thing that is going to complicate things starting right from these first look rankings, is the high school and club seasons are taking place at the same time. As a result, and with the state CIF temporarily relaxing its bylaws so that student-athletes can play both high school and club at the same time, many of the top underclass players will miss games for their high schools while with their club team. Should the high school teams then drop in the rankings for a loss while missing top players?
Trying to even come up with a No. 1 is difficult since the two teams previously previewed as the top two to start the season have different circumstances. Mater Dei of Santa Ana just played its sixth game and is 6-0 after a 60-27 victory over Anaheim Fairmont Prep in annual Matt Denning Hoops Classic. Archbishop Mitty, as previously mentioned, had yet to hit the hardwood.
With Stanford-bound Brooke Demetre, Nevada Las Vegas-committed Alyssa Durazo-Frescas, Pepperdine-signee Meaali’i Amosa, a fourth senior Ayanna Johnson that could play in college but is going to focus on becoming an architect, plus some of the top underclass talent in the state, including junior Soleil Montrose and sophomore Caia Elisaldez, plus some talented newcomers, means the Monarchs of Mater Dei start out in the top spot.
Mater Dei head coach Kevin Kiernan has already upped his all-time coaching wins mark to 811 career victories heading into a Tuesday match-up with state-ranked Cathedral Catholic on the road in San Diego
Right behind Mater Dei is another set of Monarchs and the defending NorCal Open champs from Archbishop Mitty of San Jose. Head coach Sue Phillips is moving up the all-time coaching wins ladder and with 718 career coaching victories she is now No. 4 behind Kiernan.
Phillips has six seniors that will play at the next level. Three are going to UC Irvine, Olivia Williams, Hunter Hernandez, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, and Amelia Scharpf. Standout Marley Langi will be attending UC Davis, Sydney Bourland has committed to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Phillips’ top player in the paint, Katie Springs, has signed with UC San Diego.
Some CIF sections like the Southern Section in the south and the Central Coast Section in the north, are going to have playoffs, but the two top teams from each of those divisions respectively, Mater Dei and Mitty, as of now will not be able to meet for a CIF Open Division title, so with that factor and the club situation muddying the waters, we’ll just have to see how things play out in a shortened seasoned.
Some teams are opting out of playing period for a variety of reasons, and while we don’t know who all of them are, one of them is the No. 11 team in last year’s final expanded rankings, Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa. The Cardinals’ circumstances are that they just can’t find enough quality teams to play to make it a worthwhile season.
CAL-HI SPORTS FIRST LOOK
STATE TOP 25 RANKINGS
(last year’s final record listed in parentheses; record for those teams that have played are for reported games as of Saturday, April 17)
1. (5) Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 6-0
Besides their Trinity League opponents, the Monarchs have scheduled as tough as they could with Cathedral Catholic this week, Long Beach Poly in two weeks, two games against upstart Orangewood Academy, and a regular season finale with La Jolla Country Day. Plus, with the Southern Section having playoffs, head coach Kevin Kiernan and his girls will have to prove themselves to hold onto this spot.
2. (2) Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 0-0
Like their Monarchs counterparts in the Southland, Mitty head coach Sue Phillips has scheduled as tough as she could under the circumstances and after opening on Wednesday hosting St. Mary’s of Stockton they also have Bishop O’Dowd on the schedule in three weeks in Oakland. The Central Coast Section has playoffs but the NorCal Monarchs won’t have quite as difficult a road to a section final as Mater Dei.
3. (3) Windward (Los Angeles) 1-0
The Wildcats are by no means a one-girl team but that one girl is Juju Watkins and every major analyst has her not only as the top girl in the nation in the sophomore class, just about all the scouts feel she may be the best player in the state period. Also, with Vanessa Nygaard taking a job with the Las Vegas Aces, Windward has a new coach, Ebony Hoffman, who was an All State selection on the 2000 Narbonne (Harbor City) team that went 34-0 and was No. 1 in the nation. She then starred at USC and played several years in the WNBA.
4. (8) Centennial (Corona) 2-0
The Huskies were already loaded before UCLA-verbally committed junior Londynn Jones transferred in. They already have a big win, 58-45 winner at home over the Orangewood Academy team that beat Long Beach Poly. Besides Jones, head coach Martin Woods has a ton of talent, including State Junior of the Year candidate and flashy senior guard Jayda Curry and sophomore phenom Sydni Summers. Like a lot of teams with underclass talent, Centennial will be missing starters in several games due to the club conflict.
5. (1) La Jolla Country Day (La Jolla) 8-1
The highest ranked team with a loss has also played the second most games in the rankings, and this is where the relaxation of the CIF bylaws that allow players to play club and high school at the same time has had an impact. In the one game the Torreys lost, State Freshman of the Year Breya Cunningham, who according to head coach Terri Bamford has 35 D1 offers, was playing with the Cal Stars when Country Day went down 61-46 to Bonita Vista, but in the other game against Bonita Vista the 6-foot-4 sophomore had a double-double 26 points and 19 rebounds with five blocked shots in a decisive 67-42 victory. An upcoming game to look for is a May 7 date with No. 4 Centennial.
6. (6) Etiwanda 2-0
Head coach Stan Delus and his Eagles have a blowout of Glendora and a convincing 66-42 win on the road at Rosary. Etiwanda seems to re-tool every year despite always graduating talent, and this year the team will be built around junior 6-foot-3 post Jessica Peterson. She averaged a double-double 15 points and 11 rebounds with two blocks per game. Some may feel this is a bit high to start but we’ll find out this week when they play Harvard-Westlake and in two weeks when they face Bonita Vista.
7. (12) St. Mary’s (Stockton) 0-0
Trying to decide between the Rams and Bishop O’Dowd for the NorCal No. 2 spot behind Mitty was a difficult one, but since both play the Monarchs it will inevitably be decided on the court. Initially, the deciding factor was St. Mary’s was an Open Division team last year and returns probably the best backcourt in Northern California. First year head coach and former Rams’ star Alle Moreno is very high on the guard trio of sophomores Brooklyn Perry and Nia Anderson, and junior Tai Sherman. As for size, junior Tiairra Hill-Brown has grown to 6-foot-3 and is getting some college interest.
8. (13) Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 0-0
Head coach Malik McCord has a lot of returning talent led by UC Santa Barbara-committed wing Kennedy Johnson and junior standout wing Amaya Bonner. Other returners to look for are senior guards Alanis Brewer and Tyra Hamilton, plus others. The West Alameda County Conference doesn’t begin play until next week and O’Dowd opens with Berkeley and then St. Joseph Notre Dame. In between is a match-up with Salesian of Richmond and in three weeks the Dragons host Mitty.
9. (21) Orangewood Academy (Garden Grove) 1-1
In the final rankings last season, we had said that head coach Leslie Aragon and his girls could be moving up based on who they return, and although the second-highest ranked team in these first look rankings that has a loss, the defeat was a respectable 58-45 defeat to a loaded team No. 4 Centennial. On the other hand, the Spartans have a 60-54 win at home over Long Beach Poly.
10. (4) Long Beach Poly 2-1
The Jackrabbits have to fall in behind the Orangewood Academy team in these rankings that bested them 60-54 in a game that was close throughout. Senior Lily Buggs (no relation to head coach Carl Buggs) has emerged as the leading scorer. She had 23 points in the Orangewood loss and is averaging 19.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Other returning standouts include seniors Kalaya Buggs, the coach’s daughter, and Simone Morris. Poly plays a Moore League schedule but will have a chance to make a statement on May 1 when it travels to Mater Dei.
11. (9) St. Joseph Notre Dame (Alameda) 0-0
Despite graduation, the Pilots still have a lot of returners that can play led by junior guard Talana Lepolo, who many consider one of the state’s top defenders, smooth senior lefty Makena Mastora, who down the stretch last year in a NorCal Open runner-up finish became the team’s leading scorer, plus flashy junior Randi Harding and sophomore post Eva Levingston. The Pilots have a new head coach and she’s a familiar face to Bay Area girls basketball fans, Alexis Gray-Lawson, who won two CIF state championships at Oakland Tech before starring at Cal and then playing professionally.
12. (10) Clovis West (Fresno) 2-0
Just like in the final expanded rankings last season, the Golden Eagles fall in behind St. Joseph Notre Dame for these first look rankings. Head coach Craig Campbell and his girls have notched two wins but one of them was 96-6 and the other one was a 67-point win. UC Irvine-bound Nikki Tom is the team’s top returner. A guard, she’ll be complemented nicely by 6-foot-3 sophomore Etoyah Montgomery in the middle. A rebuilding Clovis North is upcoming in Tri-Rivers Conference action but the real test will be May 3 when they host St. Mary’s of Stockton.
13. (14) Salesian (Richmond) 0-0
The Pride returns most everyone, including 6-foot-1 junior Silivia Fonongaloa and senior guard Alexsandra Alvarado (the top two scorers). Although they get a one-spot bump from their final expanded rankings position from last year, they still have to fall in behind Clovis West based on being a D1 playoff team last year that lost by 2-points to Bishop O’Dowd.
14. (25) West (Torrance) 3-0
As we said in the expanded final rankings last season, head coach Riki Murakami would have a solid group to start the season with 10 girls on the team’s 13-player roster returning, and the depth paid off in a 64-62 victory over Harvard-Westlake. That clearly pushes the Warriors much higher in these rankings. West plays Rolling Hills Prep with USC-bound McDonald’s All American Clarice Akunwafo, but the game to really circle is a May 15 game at No. 4 Centennial.
15. (17) Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood) 6-1
After talking to the state’s No. 2 all time winningest head coach Melisa Hearlihy prior to the season, we knew others besides State Junior of the Year and McDonald’s All American Kiki Iriafen, would have to step up if the Wolverines were going to make some noise this year. Iriafen had 24 points and 10 rebounds but it wasn’t enough in a 64-62 loss to the West team they fall in behind. The scoring was more balanced in a 58-48 victory over Sierra Canyon, but double-double machine Iriafen still had 17 points and 15 rebounds.
16. (15) Rosary Academy (Fullerton) 5-2
The Royals got beat by 24 points by Etiwanda but they only lost 48-44 to the Harvard-Westlake team they fall in behind in these rankings. Head coach Richard Yoon has scheduled tough as always and in the mix is a 58-55 win over Sierra Canyon that came just prior to the Etiwanda loss. Rosary has two Trinity League games with Mater Dei with the first one next Wednesday.
17. (7) Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 3-2
This is where the Trailblazers land for these first look rankings after they lost 58-48 at home to Harvard-Westlake and to 58-55 to the Rosary team right above them as well. Don’t count out Sierra Canyon as head coach Alicia Komaki, the 2019 State Coach of the Year, has proven she can build winners. Circle a Gold Coast League match-up on May 4 with Windward. Two freshmen to watch who are daughters of former NBA players are MacKenly Randolph and Izela Arenas.
18. (20) Lynwood 0-0
The Knights return one of the top all-around players in Southern California in 6-foot-3 USC-bound McDonald’s All American Rayah Marshall. Head coach Ellis Barfield and his girls open Wednesday at Paramount with Barfield looking to add to his 609 career coaching victories. The schedule Lynwood has posted doesn’t look very tough with mostly San Gabriel Valley League teams, so we may not know how good the Knights are until the Southern Section playoffs.
19. (35) Bonita Vista (Chula Vista) 9-1
Head coach Tristan Lamb returns talented senior Sylena Peterson and fellow senior and leading scorer Julia Cosalan, plus every other major contributor including budding sophomore forward Madison Canon. But so far this season incoming freshman guard Mahliya Wilson leads the team in scoring at 14.0 points a game. The Barons get credit for their win over La Jolla Country Day without Breya Cunningham, but they could be higher if the loss to the Torreys was by less than 25 points. The real reason Bonita Vista comes in 16 spots higher than its finish last season is two wins over Cathedral Catholic of San Diego, 69-58 at home and 75-70 on the road.
20. (16) Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) 4-2
The Dons have to drop four spots from last season’s finish and fall in behind the Bonita Vista team that dealt them both of their losses. Junior post and both State Freshman and State Sophomore of the Year Isuneh “Ice” Brady (16.0 ppg, 14.8 rpg) isn’t even the leading scorer. Junior Itzel Navarro (17.6 ppg) has that honor. Brady and Navarro and all the other Dons will need a maximum effort this Tuesday when No. 1 Mater Dei comes to town.
21. (23) Pinewood (Los Altos Hills) 0-0
Some preseason rankings had the Panthers as the No. 2 team in Northern California behind Mitty, and while head coach Doc Scheppler returns everyone on his 13-girl roster, including seniors Annika Decker, Courtni Thompson, Una Jovanovich, and two-sport star Maia Garcia, plus junior Valentina Saric, we’re only starting Pinewood two spots higher since their posted schedule until the Central Coast Section playoffs should not really test them.
22. (34) Antelope 2-0
The top team from the Sacramento metro area and the No. 2 team from the Sac-Joaquin Section already has two easy wins under its belt, but that’s not the reason head coach Sean Chambers and his girls come in 12 spots higher than their final finish last season. The reason is the Titans have one of the top players in Northern California if not the top NorCal player in Stanford-bound Jzaniya Harriel, plus others including senior Kaiija Lesane. Harriel already went for a near triple-double with 38 points and 10 rebounds with nine steals and six assists in a win over Roseville.
23. (18) M.L. King (Riverside) 5-0
Despite winning their first five games, the Wolves lose five spots from their finish in last year’s final expanded rankings since the competitive equity of their schedule so far is not very good. That all changes on Tuesday when a No. 4 Centennial team they split with last season comes to town.
24. (19) Clovis North (Fresno) 3-0
The Broncos have a new head coach after Heather Long stepped aside to devote more time to her family. First year Coach Rob Streeter has Clovis North off to a good start but the Broncos haven’t really been tested. A decent crosstown San Joaquin Memorial is up next and Clovis West looms a week from Wednesday.
25. (24) Heritage (Brentwood) 0-0
The final spot goes to head coach Rob Ocon and his girls who land behind the Clovis North team that handed them a heartbreaking 54-52 loss in the NorCal D1 quarterfinals. Two-sport star and 6-foot-3 sophomore post Amanda Muse (water polo) will be the centerpiece for Ocon but senior point guard Julie Ramirez is back, senior point guard Milan Tuttle is fully recovered from an injury last season, senior Ella Roberts returns, and the Patriots add St. Patrick St. Vincent of Vallejo transfer Zeni Purge.
Teams On The Bubble:
American (Fremont) 0-0
Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) 0-1
Buchanan (Clovis) 3-0
Carondelet (Concord) 0-0
Chaminade (West Hills) 2-0
Del Oro (Loomis) 0-0
La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad) 5-1
Laguna Creek (Elk Grove) 0-0
McClatchy (Sacramento) 0-0
Menlo (Atherton) 0-0
Miramonte (Orinda) 0-0
North (Torrance) 2-0
Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) 1-0
Oakland Tech (Oakland) 0-0
Palisades (Pacific Palisades) 0-0
Rolling Hills Prep (San Pedro) 0-0
Roosevelt (Eastvale) 3-0
Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco) 0-0
San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno) 0-0
San Leandro 0-0
Santa Monica 0-0
Troy (Fullerton) 5-4
Westview (San Diego) 6-1
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