Two of these honorees were among those written up after the 2020 season as Isuneh “Ice” Brady of San Diego Cathedral Catholic and Jazmine Soto of Strathmore were given the accolades for sophomores and for CIF Division V, respectively. Brady is now on top for juniors while Soto has repeated for her division. Both the CIF San Diego Section and CIF Central Section have another player honored among this group of seven. Sophomores, freshmen and four other divisional MVPs also named.
For official writeup on the 2021 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 (D2, D3, D4, D5) and Harold Abend (Jr, Soph, Fr). Note that Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year Jayda Curry also would be considered the senior player of the year and the player of the year for those teams that were Open Division or Division I in the final state rankings. Stay tuned for the upcoming release of the 42nd annual Cal-Hi Sports All-State Teams. Here is a complete list of our other girls basketball individual players of the year for the 2021 season:
JUNIORS: Isuneh “Ice” Brady
(Cathedral Catholic, San Diego) 6-4 C
This fairly clear cut winner of the Cal-Hi Sports State Freshman of the Year and State Sophomore of the Years honors got a real run from UCLA-committed Londynn Jones of top-ranked Corona Centennial, and also from Orangewood Academy star Hannah Stiles.
However, with the formula we use at Cal-Hi Sports for determining how to decide individual player honors, Brady makes it a trifecta.
Who recruits you is not a factor in the Cal-Hi Sports criteria, but there is a reason Brady, a 6-foot-3 post player who is the ESPNW No. 2 ranked center and No. 5 overall player from the Class of 2022, was offered by and verbally committed to Connecticut.
Brady, who played a huge role in a 20-4 season and No. 4 spot in the final expanded state rankings, actually wasn’t the leading scorer for the Dons. That honor went to Itzel “Izzy” Navarro, but Ice was right behind her at 16.3 points per game. Ice did lead Cathedral Catholic with 12.7 rebounds per game and added 2.7 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.1 steals per game as well. For a big girl, Brady showed she can shoot as well and made 21 three-pointers last season.
Ice wasn’t always called on to score with Navarro and other Dons sharing that burden, but Cathedral Catholic head coach Jackie Turpin needed her to rebound. Brady finished with 14 double-doubles in 24 games, including five of the final seven games, but she was in double-digits for rebounds 18 times, was over 15 seven times, and had a high of 21 in a big win over Mount Miguel of Spring Valley.
In the game prior to the season-ending loss to Mater Dei, and in a game where Ice was matched up against another Stanford-bound McDonald’s All-American, Kiki Iriafen of Harvard-Westlake of Studio City, Brady more than held her own. Both Brady and Iriafen had 16 points, and although she lost the rebounding battle to Iriafen 21 to six, Ice helped lead a total team effort in a 59-53 victory over the eventual final No. 5-ranked Wolverines.
In a 57-49 victory over rival La Jolla Country Day, Ice won the battle with Torreys sophomore post Breya Cunningham, 19 points to eight points, and she had a 13 to 10 rebounding advantage.
Brady also had a solid performance in a 55-49 victory over eventual final No. 8-ranked Bonita Vista of Chula Vista and finished with a double-double 16 points and 10 rebounds with five assists.
Brady only had one 30-point game, a 31-point effort with 18 rebounds in a rout of San Diego Scripps Ranch, but consistency is her game and her strength, and the reason UConn wanted her combined with her size and solid frame.
With Brady, Navarro and others like junior Taryn Johnson returning, look for Ice and her teammates to be pretty high up in the preseason rankings this fall.
Recent State Juniors of the Year: 2020 Kiki Iriafen (Studio City Harvard-Westlake); 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: Juju Watkins
(Windward, Los Angeles) 5-11 G
The circumstances for Judea “Juju” Watkins of Windward (Los Angeles) this past season in many ways epitomizes the challenges several of the top players from California faced in this pandemic-crazed year of high school sports. Her games were limited by several factors, and in the end no one felt the mix of commitments and adversity crammed into a season that began after it should have ended more than Watkins.
Juju missed a few games nursing a tender ankle she was trying to nurture through her high school season, an AAU season going on at the same time that saw her compete at the highest levels with West Coast Elite, including the prestigious Boo Williams Invitational in Virginia, and ultimately a shot at a spot on the USA U16 Team she tried out for in June.
Now, after getting edged out last year for State Freshman of the Year by Breya Cunningham of La Jolla Country Day in an ultra-tough decision, Watkins gets the nod this year in another difficult call.
Part of the history of our Player of the Year honors for girls basketball has seen girls go back and forth in each of their four seasons of competition, and that’s exactly what is happening with Watkins and Cunningham. The most recent example was current Stanford star Haley Jones when she was at Archbishop Mitty of San Jose and UCLA standout Charisma Osborne when she was at Windward. They traded class player awards and eventually exchanged the Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year honors with Osborne getting it her junior year and Jones as a senior.
The same thing may end up happening with Watkins and Cunningham, and it conceivably could include the Ms. Basketball honor, but only time will tell. For now, it’s Watkins, and other than a short number of games, it’s hard to argue with the decision.
We can’t say for a fact what exactly turned the tide in Juju’s favor, but when we observed her in person on May 4 at home against a very talented Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth, Watkins performance for the Wildcats, who finished No. 13 in the final state rankings, against the No. 21 ranked Trailblazers, was nothing short of phenomenal.
After missing some games to compete at the Boo Williams event, plus playing on a sore ankle, Watkins took charge in a 66-61 comeback victory over Sierra Canyon in a game it trailed by as many as seven points late in the third quarter and by five with four minutes left before Juju turned it up a notch. Despite not being 100 percent, Watkins turned in a gargantuan double-double after going for 44 points and 22 rebounds with five steals.
Other than the Sierra Canyon win, we knew about her other top performances but not in complete details. Getting her official stats from first-year head coach Ebony Hoffman took a few days since Hoffman was in Africa coaching the South Sudan National Team. Once in hand, they told the story. On the season, Watkins averaged a double-double 24.9 points and 11.4 rebounds per game, and what makes it even more impressive is although the 6-foot Watkins can play any position on the floor, she was usually on the perimeter on offense and defense.
Watkins, who grew up and lives in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, and often practices at the gym named after her late great-grandfather, Ted Watkins, an activist who founded the Watts Labor Community Action Committee to provide jobs and social services after the 1965 riots in Watts, may have sealed the deal in a game the Wildcats lost. Juju went for 35 points and nine rebounds in a 97-71 loss to No. 1 Centennial (Corona) in CIF Southern Section Open Division Pool play.
The Centennial game turned out to be the last game of her sophomore season. Because of the sore ankle, her parents, Sari and Robert Neal-Watkins, decided to hold her out of the final Pool play game, a win over Torrance West, so as not to jeopardize her chances to make the USA U16 team.
Although Windward qualified for the CIF Southern Regional playoffs and likely would have been in the Open Division, Windward, like several other teams decided not to advance without Watkins.
Meanwhile at the USA U16 tryouts, Watkins, who was considered somewhat of a slam dunk to make the team, showed just why she is the No. 1 rated player from the Class of 2023 by all scouting services.
When the team was announced on June 18, Watkins name was at the top of the list of players selected to represent the United States in the 2021 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Santiago, Chile, from Aug. 16-22.
When contacted shortly after the announcement of the selections to see what she thought of Watkins, Sue Phillips, the USA U16 head coach and head coach at Archbishop Mitty of San Jose, was short, sweet and to the point.
“She was hands down the best player on the court,” Phillips remarked.
The back and forth friendly rivalry with Cunningham will continue, as the 6-foot-4 Cunningham, who is the top rated post player from the Class of 2023 and No. 4 overall, was also an easy selection and will join Juju in Chile next month.
Recent State Sophomores of the Year: 2020 Isuneh “Ice” Brady (San Diego Cathedral Catholic); 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).
Kennedy Smith (Etiwanda)6-1 F
For this choice, the disparity between Northern and Southern California in the number of games played by the three teams that had leading contenders made it especially difficult. One team played 25 games, another played nine, and our winner’s team played 23 games and finished 18-5.After all was said and done, and stats gathered from two of the teams that didn’t report them publicly, the body of work under some extreme circumstances has made Etiwanda’s Smith the 2021 honoree. Those other two contenders, by the way, were Mackenly Randolph from Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth and Jordan Lee from St. Mary’s of Stockton.
Smith was under consideration from the start of the season, but in late May with Etiwanda at 13-0 and rolling as the No. 3 team in the state rankings, adversity hit the Eagles.
Head coach Stan Delus lost two starters, sophomore wing Majesty Cade and budding freshman wing Destiny Agubata, due to concussion protocols, and then he lost 3-year starting junior Daisia Mitchell to a broken leg, and if that wasn’t enough, two-year starting post senior Jessica Peterson decided to leave the team.
That left Smith as one of only two starters. Etiwanda, which ended up No. 12 in the final expanded rankings, then lost twice that week, although they did close out Baseline League play with two wins to go 10-0 for a 21st straight league championship.
With the team in what Delus called “disarray,” the first loss came to No. 16 Orangewood Academy, 55-43, in Garden Grove. Smith had a double-double 12 points and 13 rebounds. The Eagles then hosted Lynwood in what would be the first of three meetings. In that game the 6-foot-1 Smith was matched up with USC-bound McDonald’s All-American and Ms. Basketball contender Rayah Marshall. Shorthanded Etiwanda lost 67-50, but Smith made a statement and more than held her own against Marshall after finishing with a solid double-double 25 points (three 3-pointers) and 14 rebounds plus four steals.
In the second meeting with Lynwood in the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs (pool play), and with Agubata back and playing a big part down the stretch of a 72-71 overtime win on the road, Smith held her own against Marshall once again and finished with 24 points, nine rebounds and three assists.
The Eagles were only awarded the No. 6 seed in the CIF Southern Regional 1-AA playoffs and travelled to Clovis where they won handily, 59-41, behind 20 points and eight rebounds by Smith. Next was a semifinal matchup with a second-seeded and host Torrance West team that ended up No. 15 in the final state rankings. Kennedy came through again with another double-double after registering 22 points and 14 rebounds in a 63-53 road win that sen Smith and her teammates to the championship.
Despite the seedings, and to very few analysts surprise, the opponent was Lynwood, who as the No. 8 seed had beaten top-seeded San Marcos Mission Hills and No. 4 seed Orangewood Academy to get to the title game at Etiwanda. Matched up for a third time against Marshall, Smith had a solid game with 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists, but the Eagles fell to Lynwood, 58-47.
Earlier in the season when the team was at full strength, Smith had 19 points, eight rebounds, four steals and three assists in a 59-36 rout of eventual final No. 20-ranked Fairmont Prep of Anaheim. Kennedy also had a very solid game in an impressive 63-41 road win over final No. 8-ranked Bonita Vista of Chula Vista. In that victory, she registered 20 points with seven rebounds, four assists and two steals.
After all was said and done, Smith had an outstanding season with per game averages of 22.4 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.8 rebounds, and she did it against the state’s toughest teams with the Eagles’ fifth loss coming to final No. 2 Mater Dei Santa Ana.
Smith, who will return along with Agubata, already has Pac-12 interest from Arizona State, Cal and UCLA, plus others. According to Delus, she also has interest from schools in the Big 10, West Coast Conference, Big West Conference and Mountain West Conference.
Recent State Freshmen of the Year: 2020 Breya Cunningham (La Jolla Country Day); 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).
DIVISION II: Kayanna Spriggs
(Mater Dei Catholic, Chula Vista) 6-3 Sr. C
While Mater Dei Catholic played in the CIF San Diego Section Open Division, the Crusaders went to the CIF SoCal D2-AA regional playoffs and won three times to take the title. That not only made the Crusaders eligible for the D2 state rankings, but their most outstanding player has come up big and now gets to be the D2 state player of the year.
Spriggs only had seven points in Mater Dei Catholic’s win over Alemany of Mission Hills in the D2-AA regional final, but she had 11 rebounds and was the team’s leading scorer (13.9 ppg) and leading rebounder (9.7 rpg) for the season. Kayanna had other outings that were certainly indicative of a D2 state POY. Those included 21 points and 11 rebounds in a regional playoff win vs. Cajon of San Bernardino, 28 points in a two-point loss to SD Open team Bishop’s of La Jolla; 28 points and 19 rebounds in a win vs. Christian of El Cajon; and 11 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists in a loss to state top 10 Bonita Vista of Chula Vista.
It’s been awhile for a CIF San Diego Section girl to be tops in this division. The last one was Tyeast Brown of Point Loma in 1990. Point Loma’s legendary Terri Mann was the pick before that in 1984.
Spriggs came to Mater Dei Catholic after spending her freshman year at Montgomery (San Diego). Playing under highly respected head coach David Monroe (who was a divisional state coach of the year previously when he was at a different school), Spriggs posted career averages over the past three seasons of 13.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. She will play next at Cal State Northridge.
“People think of giants and are fearful,” Monroe told our friend Steve Brand of the San Diego Union-Tribune earlier this spring in a feature story about Spriggs. “But she’s just a friendly giant.”
Recent State D2 Players of the Year: 2020 Stephanie Okowi (Oakland Tech); 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).
D’Arrah Allen (Leuzinger, Lawndale) 5-7 Sr. G
This was an extremely hard one to call since the top teams in the final D3 state rankings were all extremely balanced and tough to extract one player above others on those same teams. Leuzinger finished 13-3 and was considered for the D3 final rankings, but lost in the CIF SoCal D3-A playoffs to Del Norte of San Diego. It’s what happened in that game, though, that buoyed Allen up the charts.
A 5-foot-7 point guard who was called a “human highlight reel” in her sophomore season by the South Bay Daily Breeze (kind of like Leuzinger’s Russell Westbrook in the NBA today), Allen exploded for 39 points in that D3 regional game, her career high by one point. It wasn’t enough for a win, but because of the season and career she had for the Olympians she got the nod for this division.
For the season, D’Arrah made the home fans go hurrah by scoring 22.9 points with 3.3 assists, 3.3 steals and 2.2 rebounds per game. She had other outings of 32 points vs. Beverly Hills, 28 vs. Orange Lutheran in a CIFSS D2AA playoff game plus 30 and 28 in two others. Allen also handed out 10 assists in a game twice.
For her career, Allen averaged 15.8 ppg in 100 reported games. Her high game as a junior was 38 points vs. Hawthorne. As a sophomore, D’Arrah delivered with 28 points in a CIFSS D2AA playoff win.
Yes, she was D2AA for the Southern Section, but for all-state and state divisions Leuzinger and her go D3 since that was the state/regional division that the team was placed. When competitive equity seeding is putting teams into different section and state divisions, the state division placement is obviously what we will be using.
One other cool note about Allen’s D3 State POY pick is that she’s the first from the South Bay of L.A. since Noelle Quinn of Torrance Bishop Montgomery was back-to-back State POY for the division for 2002 and 2003. Quinn is now head coach of the Seattle Storm in the WNBA.
Recent State D3 Players of the Year: 2020 Natalia Ackerman (Aptos); 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).
Dami Sule (Bakersfield Christian) 5-10 Sr. F
What a pair of bookend games that Sule had for her senior season. In the first contest, she netted 34 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in a win against Paso Robles. In the last one, Dami broke the dam with 34 points and a whopping 25 rebounds in leading the Eagles past Our Lady of Peace (San Diego), 60-45, in the CIF SoCal D4-A regional championship.
For the season, Sule soared with 20.5 points, 16.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game for the 18-6 Eagles. She also had 38 points in a loss to St. Joseph of Santa Maria, 27 rebounds in a loss to Orcutt Academy plus 22 points and 25 rebounds in a win over McFarland. Based on her totals from her sophomore and junior season (which were solid but not spectacular), Sule was one of the most improved players in the CIF Central Section regardless of division.
Leading a team to a major championship also is not something unusual for a Sule family member. Dami’s older sister, Temi, led Bakersfield Christian to the CIF Central Section D2 title just two years ago.
This is the second straight year the section has had the D4 State POY following Celeste Lewis from Sierra Pacific of Hanford last season. You have to go back to Marsheela Harriston of Wasco in 1988 for the previous one before that, though. Players from Morro Bay and Santa Maria St. Joseph were in the CIF Southern Section when they were chosen for 2001 and 1991.
Recent State D4 Players of the Year: 2020 Celeste Lewis (Hanford Sierra Pacific); 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).
Jazmine Soto (Strathmore) 5-6 Sr. G
Of all of our girls hoops state player of the year selections for 2021, this one was by far the easiest. Not only was Soto the D5 player of the year as a junior, but she led Strathmore to the CIF SoCal D5-AA regional title and she ended her four-year career in a tie for sixth on the all-time state scoring list (which we have compiled for many years).
There have been several repeaters as D5 state player of the year, including two (Kayla Tahaafe and Haillie Eackles in just the last 11 years), but the 2012 honoree, Michelle Miller of Pasadena Poly, is the one who will always be connected to Soto. Miller ended her career with 3,331 points, which nine years later is the exact total that Soto finished with.
Jazmine pumped in 30.9 ppg with 5.3 rebounds and 5.6 steals this year. She had some of her biggest games against the Spartans’ strongest opponents. Her season high of 52 points came in a 78-67 victory over McFarland. Soto also had 42 points in a win vs. Corcoran that was in the CIF Central Section D5 championship. Then in the CIF SoCal D5-AA regional final vs. Fallbrook (a school with more than five times the enrollment of Strathmore), Jazmine wrapped up her career with 42 points, nine rebounds and three assists.
Prior to this season, Soto posted per game scoring averages of 29.1 (junior), 25.7 (sophomore) and 23.7 (frosh) points per game. She has signed a letter of intent to continue playing at Holy Names of Oakland (a D2 college).
Last 11 State D5 Players of the Year: 2020 Jazmine Soto (Strathmore); 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 email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports