State’s No. 3 girls team can’t survive second surge vs New York’s Long Island Lutheran in the top division at nationally prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona. Seven other State TOP 25 squads were in the tourney in different divisions and 34 overall, but the only one to win a title was young, talented Alemany of Mission Hills. Archbishop Mitty’s girls also fared well with a 3-1 record in the top division.
Note: We hope you enjoy this free story on CalHiSports.com. After the preseason, all weekly and final state rankings are available only to our Gold Club members as well as our state stat star of the week honor rolls. To check out getting a Gold Club membership to see all of those rankings plus all of our updated state record lists, totally authentic historical features, and more, CLICK HERE.
La Jolla Country demonstrated it could withstand one significant surge from Long Island Lutheran in the Vincent Cannizzaro Division final at the 25th Nike Tournament of Champions girls basketball tournament.
But just when the Torreys felt like they had finally found their rhythm before halftime Thursday at Bell Bank Park in Mesa, Ariz., Long Island Lutheran opened the third quarter with eight unanswered points and La Jolla Country Day never recovered.
Despite 25 points and seven rebounds from Arizona signee and all-tournament selection Breya Cunningham, the 6-foot-4 senior wasn’t able to conclude her Nike TOC career in the same manner that she began in 2019 by leading No. 3 La Jolla Country Day to victory in the top division final, as Long Island Lutheran triumphed 63-50.
The Crusaders (9-0) became the first New York program to win the highest division at Nike TOC since Christ the King outlasted Piedmont 44-42 in 2004.
“This team is special in many ways, not just as basketball players, but as young ladies and they’re going to do many, many things, and I think this is just the start for them,” Long Island Lutheran coach Christina Raiti said. “I think it’s special because of their love for each other. And I think it’s also special because we get to bring it home to New York and that’s a really cool honor.”
Kayleigh Heckel, a junior point guard, was selected tournament MVP, scoring 17 of her 22 points in the second half for the Crusaders.
“It took a lot of composure. Our team is very good together and we have a lot of team chemistry and we’ve all been very close since the beginning of the season,” Heckel said. “I think the composure we’ve had since the beginning of the season really came out (tonight). I think this told us that we can do anything, as long as we’re together and we move the ball and we use each other to our advantage. ”
La Jolla Country Day (13-1 & No. 3 in the Cal-Hi Sports State TOP 25) was seeking its fifth championship across multiple divisions in the past 13 years at the Nike TOC, including the inaugural title in the Vincent Cannizzaro Division after winning the Joe Smith Division crown three years ago by a 44-43 margin against Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth. Sierra Canyon, California’s No. 1 ranked team, didn’t go to Arizona this year (neither did state No. 2 Etiwanda).
The Torreys fell behind 18-6 after the first quarter and trailed by as many as 14 points in the second, before Arizona commit Jada Williams – an all-tournament selection – scored 10 first-half points to help La Jolla Country Day cut the deficit at the break to 29-27.
“We obviously had to bounce back from that first quarter and we made a comeback before halftime, so we were just hoping to keep that momentum going,” said Cunningham, who finished with 94 points in four tournament games, including 34 points and 10 rebounds in a 62-60 semifinal victory Dec. 21 against Lone Peak High from Utah.
“We had a lot of quick shots and missed box outs, and it was a lot of little things that helped them (build) their lead, so we just need to learn from that and come back better.”
Faced with a 12-point deficit entering the fourth quarter, La Jolla Country Day coach Terri Bamford contemplated switching from the Torreys’ usual aggressive full-court pressure and half-court man-to-man defense into an extended zone in an effort to slow down Long Island Lutheran’s momentum.
But all-tournament selections Shya Hawkins, who had 14 points, and Kate Koval – with eight points and nine rebounds – along with sisters Syla Swords and Savannah Swords demonstrated too much depth down the stretch, as La Jolla Country Day never got closer than eight points in the final quarter.
“I can’t explain it, we had two brilliant quarters and then we had two quarters where we (struggled). But it’s a learning experience and we’ve got to get better,” Bamford said. “I don’t know if (fatigue) was a factor because we can’t make any excuses since they played as many games as we played, but we were running our sets and then we had uncharacteristic turnovers. Credit to their defense, because it was really good and they brought the help side, but we needed to make one extra pass to get an easier and more open shot and we didn’t do that.
“I don’t think we rebounded the way we should have today. We’re usually a really good rebounding team and we had Breya crashing the boards, but we didn’t get much help from anybody else.”
La Jolla Country Day still has January games scheduled against Sidwell Friends School from Washington, D.C. (6-1), which suffered a 63-60 semifinal loss Dec. 21 to Long Island Lutheran, along with California top-ranked Sierra Canyon (10-0) and No. 2 Etiwanda (10-0).
“Our strength of schedule is probably the toughest in the country right now and it only gets tougher, so preparing you for the Open Division playoffs in March, we’ve been put in just about every situation, and all of those experiences are going to help them become a better team,” Bamford said. “But it’s a little disappointing the way we finished here.”
Naomi Panganiban added seven points and Tajianna Avant-Roberts had six points for La Jolla Country Day, which also won the Orange Division title at Nike TOC in 2009, the John Anderson Division in 2011 and the Dan Wiley Division in 2018, as well as the Joe Smith championship in 2019.
“I’m always super proud of my team every time we come out to this tournament, we have a good showcase,” Cunningham said. “Even last year when we lost the first game, we came back harder and better, and we’re going to do the same thing with this game and go through the rest of our games with a different mentality. This really puts our team in perspective and lets us learn what we need to work on, and hopefully we can learn from this loss and come back better.”
Also From the Vincent Cannizzaro Division
Archbishop Mitty of San Jose freshman McKenna Woliczko, St. Mary’s of Stockton junior Jordan Lee and Sage Hill of Newport Beach junior Emily Eadie joined Cunningham and Williams on the Vincent Cannizzaro Division all-tournament team.
Mitty bounced back strongly from its recent upset loss to Piedmont. The Monarchs (9-2 and No. 6 in the state) went 3-1 during the week with their only loss to the tourney champions from New York. They posted wins against Desert Vista of Phoenix, Bishop McNamara of Maryland and Sacred Heart of Kentucky.
St. Mary’s (9-4 and No. 10 in the state) concluded a 2-2 week with a 56-46 win over Sage Hill. The Thunder came into the event at No. 14 in the state.
Dan Wiley Division final
Alemany (Mission Hills) 49, Doherty (Colo.) 45
The only team among the 35 California entries at the event to capture a championship was perhaps the youngest lineup competing in Arizona, as Alemany demonstrated poise and composure beyond its years, despite boasting a roster with eight freshmen.
The Warriors (8-4) scored the last 11 points of the final, shutting down Doherty (6-2) for the final 4:30 to secure their first title at Nike TOC since winning the White Division championship in 2011. Alemany also was unranked entering the week, but made a statement with the title game victory.
Hannah Johnson, an all-state competitor at Alemany and standout member of the lineup that defeated Horizon of Colorado 55-49 in the program’s last appearance in a final in Arizona, is now an assistant coach for the Warriors.
“I give these girls a hard time, but in situations like these, they make us as coaches look good and they did a tremendous job representing us and just fighting through adversity. We showed a lot of character, despite being such a young squad,” Alemany coach Jeff Dosado said. “I couldn’t be prouder of each and everyone of our girls, and our coaching staff. When you’re in those pressure situations, you revert back to your training, and I knew we were well prepared for this moment. This validates why we work a lot on time and score situations back at home, so when situations like this do happen, we’re ready for them.”
Alemany, which edged Grandview of Colorado 42-39 in the Dec. 21 semifinals, faced a seven-point deficit with less than five minutes remaining against Doherty, which received 14 points from Tahlaya Biglow.
But freshman Layla Wright ignited the comeback, returning to the Alemany lineup after missing extensive time with a dislocated knee to score five points during the Warriors’ decisive run.
Alondra Lizama, a senior, led Alemany with 17 points and 11 rebounds as the Warriors won their fifth in a row following a stretch of four consecutive losses in November.
“I’m super proud of them,” Lizama said. “They were really nervous at the beginning of the tournament, but I just told them to relax and play their game, and I just had to keep being a leader for them and staying positive.”
Freshmen Amirah Ammihammad and Leila Boykin combined to make five free throws in the final 2:15 to help Alemany complete the comeback.
Ammihammad had 13 points, including 11 in the second half, and Boykin added 12 points and 12 rebounds, finishing as the team leader with 52 points overall at the event. Alemany returns to competition Dec. 28 against Crescent Valley from Oregon, as part of the West Coast Jamboree.
“I felt like we handled it well. We weren’t excited or nervous, and I was really confident in my team,” Lizama said. “They know that the job is not done and we’ve just got to keep working.”
Joe Smith Division final
Perry (Ariz.) 51, Folsom 44
The Bulldogs had already demonstrated they could rebound after losing sophomore guard Ava Rawlins to a season-ending ACL injury, winning six in a row to reach their division final in Mesa.
But Folsom (No. 8 in the state) struggled to regroup when sophomore point guard Jada Tupou went down with an injured right foot with five minutes remaining in the second quarter of Thursday’s championship game.
Folsom, which started the game on a 10-0 run, couldn’t maintain the momentum with Tupou sidelined and Perry relied on Vanderbilt commit and division MVP Khamil Pierre to take over in the second half.
“It’s energy, defensive tenacity, confidence, it’s all that you want,” Folsom coach Lynn Wolking said of Tupou’s presence. “She’s got that moxie and athleticism, so from an emotional standpoint, it’s pretty big, because she kind of dictates our whole mentality, defensive-wise.”
Pierre had 21 points and 14 rebounds in the final, finishing the four-game schedule with 95 points and 55 rebounds. Lauren Crocker added eight points and 11 rebounds for the Pumas (12-2).
“I liked what we were doing, but then we really had to peel back when Jada went out,” Wolking said. “They’re patient on offense and they’re poised and they get good shots and they’re well coached. They outrebounded us because they’ve got the size advantage and we were in foul trouble.”
Ella Uriarte scored all 11 of her points in the second half for Folsom, which twice cut the deficit to one point, but never regained the advantage. Uriarte, an all-tournament selection, had 24 points in four games.
Tupou was still chosen as an all-tournament honoree, scoring five points before suffering the injury and finishing the event with 40 points overall.
Sophia Mindermann added nine points and Charlotte Climenhage contributed seven points in the final for Folsom.
“To have a chance to play on a featured court in a featured game here is pretty cool,” Wolking said. “I think there were some nerves at different points throughout the week, but we feel good about where we are. Obviously, we would have liked to win, but we competed and the experience was good for us.”
Salesian College Prep of Richmond senior Makiah Asidanya, Oakland Tech senior Sophia Askew-Goncalves, Rosary Academy of Fullerton senior Ava Dominguez, Lynwood junior Kimiko Kennedy and Buena Park freshman Sydnie Lendsey-Van joined Tupou and Uriarte on the Joe Smith Division all-tournament team. Salesian was No. 9 in the state coming into the TOC while Oakland Tech was No. 16.
John Anderson Division final
Las Vegas Centennial 60, Carondelet (Concord) 36
After winning the Mike Desper Division final in thrilling fashion with a one-point victory last year against St. Ignatius of San Francisco, Carondelet (13-2 and No. 11 in the state) fell behind by 12 points in the first quarter against an athletic and deep Centennial lineup and never recovered.
Carondelet outlasted Cookeville of Tennessee 62-59 in double overtime in the Dec. 21 semifinals, but weren’t able to carry over that momentum against the top program in Nevada.
Saroiya Ajomale had 19 points and nine rebounds, Danae Powell added 15 points and seven rebounds, with Kaniya Boyd contributing 11 points and seven rebounds for Centennial (5-1).
Allie Cummins led Carondelet with 11 points, finishing the four-game schedule with 70 points overall. Keisha Vitalicio added 10 points and concluded the tournament with 52 points.
Erik Boal has covered high school sports in California for 25 years, formerly serving as editor at the Glendale News-Press and Los Angeles Daily News. He is currently the editor for DyeStat.com and RunnerSpace.com, which focus on track and field, cross country and road racing, but has been a regular attendee at major Southern California high school sports events since the early 2000s.