There still hasn’t been a back-to-back State Team of the Year or a back-to-back CIF Open Division state champion in girls basketball since the Open Division format began in 2013. It was expected by many that it would happen this season, but Etiwanda had other plans.
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(Associate editor Harold Abend contributed to this article)
There was a time not long ago when it was almost normal for a stellar girls basketball program in California to earn back-to-back final No. 1 state rankings. The age of the Open Division that began in 2013 has definitely helped prevent it, but so has the competition level among the very top level of teams.
From 2000 to 2006, teams at Narbonne of Harbor City, Lynwood and Piedmont all won two straight Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year honors. Then from 2010 to 2012, Mater Dei of Santa Ana gained the top spot for three straight seasons.
It was expected by many that in 2023 there would be the first-ever back-to-back CIF Open Division state champion State Team of the Year crowned. It sure looked that way after the CIF Southern Section Open finals as 2022 champion Sierra Canyon rolled to a 70-57 win over Etiwanda. The Trailblazers also went to the regional playoffs unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the nation.
But playing teams for the second time around proved to be a good situation for Etiwanda. Instead of a coronation of a perfect season and newly crowned Gatorade National Player of the Year Juju Watkins being sent off to the college level with every single possible championship and accolade, the Eagles were not cooperative. They upset the Trailblazers in a rematch last week to win the CIF SoCal Open title and then needed a buzzer-beating put-back by Jada Sanders to nip Archbishop Mitty of San Jose for the state title last Saturday at the Golden 1 Center.
No, it’s not Sierra Canyon that was added to the 2023 line on the all-time state list of State Teams of the Year. It’s Etiwanda and it’s now been done.
“Our staff and players are honored to be the State Team of the Year, as we have worked hard to handle all the elements to improve as a unit, daily throughout the season,” said head coach Stan Delus in a text sent on Tuesday morning. “Our mental toughness evolved with every lesson, to where we were ready for anything & everything, especially in the state championship run.”
This is the second time in three years that a team from the Inland Empire region of the state has been State Team of the Year. The team from 2021 that earned the recognition, however, Centennial of Corona, was not able to win a CIF Open state title due to the state championships not being held and only the SoCal regionals being held due to COVID. Etiwanda is therefore the first team from the Inland Empire to be State Team of the Year AND win a CIF state title since the legendary Cheryl Miller led Riverside Poly to doing it two years in a row in 1981 and 1982.
Etiwanda will now take its crack at going back-to-back and has the returning players next season to greatly enhance those chances. Kennedy Smith, the 2022 State Sophomore of the Year, led the Eagles against Mitty with 30 points, 13 rebounds, six steals and four blocks. Aliyahna “Puff” Morris, the 2022 State Freshman of the Year, had 14 points and four assists. Senior starters Majesty Cade and Sa’La Hemingway will be missed but junior Mykelle Richards and Sanders (who came off the bench in the state final) also will be back.
With those two star players returning and their relentless drive to win when they are on the court, this could be an entirely different State Team of the Year announcement 12 months from now.
Cal-Hi Sports Girls Basketball
State Teams of the Year All-Time List
2023 – Etiwanda (32-3)
2022 – Chatsworth Sierra Canyon (30-2)
2021 – Corona Centennial (25-1)
2020 – La Jolla Country Day (32-1)
2019 – Chatsworth Sierra Canyon (33-1)
2018 – Los Angeles Windward (27-3)
2017 – Fresno Clovis West (34-2)
2016 – West Hills Chaminade (31-4)
2015 – Stockton St. Mary’s (34-1)
2014 – Long Beach Poly (27-3)
2013 – Oakland Bishop O’Dowd (30-3)
2012 – Santa Ana Mater Dei (34-3)
2011 – Santa Ana Mater Dei (34-1)
2010 – Santa Ana Mater Dei (32-1)
2009 – Brea Olinda Brea (33-2)
2008 – S.F. Sacred Heart Cathedral (33-0)
2007 – Long Beach Poly (36-1)
2006 – Fullerton Troy (33-1)
2005 – Piedmont (32-2)
2004 – Piedmont (33-2)
2003 – Lynwood (32-1)
2002 – Lynwood (32-0)
2001 – Harbor City Narbonne (28-3)
2000 – Harbor City Narbonne (34-0)
1999 – San Jose Archbishop Mitty (31-0)
1998 – Harbor City Narbonne (32-1)*
1997 – Berkeley (29-3)
1996 – Irvine Woodbridge (32-2)
1995 – Irvine Woodbridge (33-1)
1994 – Brea Olinda Brea (33-0)
1993 – Lynwood (31-0)
1992 – RH Estates Peninsula (33-0)
1991 – Berkeley (30-2)
1990 – Inglewood Morningside (32-3)
1989 – Inglewood Morningside (33-1)
1988 – Fremont Oakland (28-0)**
1987 – San Diego Point Loma (34-0)
1986 – San Diego Point Loma (31-1)
1985 – Compton (26-0)
1984 – Ventura Buena (31-0)
1983 – Ventura Buena (28-4)
1982 – Riverside Poly (34-0)
1981 – Riverside Poly (29-0)
1980 – Berkeley (29-0)
1979 – Woodland Hills El Camino Real (19-0)
1978 – Huntington Beach (25-2)
1977 – Los Angeles (16-0)
1976 – Ventura (23-0)
1975 – Chula Vista Hilltop (18-0)
1974 – Berkeley (19-1)
1973 – Fresno San Joaquin Memorial (12-0)
1972 – Ventura Buena (8-0)
*Forfeit losses not included. CIF Division I state title vacated due to residency issues.
**Eleven wins forfeited due to use of ineligible player.