CIF Open Division state champion Etiwanda already had the State Coach of the Year and now there are two state player of the year honors headed to the Inland Empire as well. Junior Kennedy Smith and sophomore Ahlayana “Puff” Morris were just too tough for the Eagles in their final games. The freshman honoree also shouldn’t be a surprise but a couple of the CIF divisional winners might be.
For official writeup on the 2023 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, Frosh). Stay tuned for the upcoming release of the 44th annual Cal-Hi Sports All-State Teams. Here is a complete list of all of our girls basketball individual players of the year for the 2023 season:
SENIORS & OPEN DIVISION/DIVISION 1
Juju Watkins (Sierra Canyon, Chatsworth) 6-1 Sr.
When Juju was selected Ms. Basketball after her junior year, that required us to select a senior of the year instead of leaving it blank and just repeating Watkins for the juniors. This time, there is no senior of the year because it’s the same as Ms. Basketball. That’s the way it usually works. Juju obviously should have a big impact at USC, especially since another of the top national recruits, Malia Samuels from Washington, is joining her. Watkins not only has all of these national and state honors following her, but also scoring 25 points in the McDonald’s All-American Game. All of the increased attention on the NCAA Final Four with Caitlin Clark of Iowa and Angel Reese of LSU is all great for Juju as well. Even more folks around the nation will get to see her and will see all that she can do.
STATE JUNIOR OF THE YEAR:
Kennedy Smith (Etiwanda) 6-1 F
Winning one Cal-Hi Sports state player of the year award for any one of the four classes is a phenomenal feat. Repeating as the State Sophomore of the Year after winning the State Freshman of the Year honor is even more remarkable and has been done several times. However, winning three times in a player’s first three years
is getting into seldom chartered waters, but that’s exactly where Kennedy Smith of Etiwanda is sailing.
The only two other players in the past 15 years to win in their first three years were Katie Lou Samuelson, at Edison (Huntington Beach) in 2012 as a freshman, and at Mater Dei of Santa Ana in her sophomore and junior years of 2013 and 2014, and all-time leading scorer Destiny Littleton from 2014-2016 at Bishop’s of La Jolla. Not even two-time Ms. Basketball Juju Watkins did that since as a freshman at Windward (Los Angeles) she was edged by La Jolla Country Day’s Breya Cunningham.
“Thank you. I really appreciate it,” said Smith when informed she was being honored once again. “Being named the top freshman, sophomore and now junior in California is honestly a blessing.
“It just goes to show that all the hard work I’ve been putting in since my freshman year is finally coming to light, Smith continued. “But I never let these things get to my head and just stay the course.”
The course this season led to Smith helping Etiwanda win its first ever state championship when the Eagles tripped Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) at the buzzer, 69-67, in the CIF Open Division state championship game last month at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. It was also the first state championship for the Inland Empire in the top division of the CIF since legendary Cheryl Miller led Riverside Poly to the 1982 Division I state title, and the first state championship period for the Inland Empire since Cajon of San Bernardino won the 2016 Division II crown.
Smith finished with a huge double-double and game highs of 30 points and 13 rebounds, and a game-high six steals against Mitty. Plus, she was 9-of-9 from the free-throw line, and the one three-pointer she made was with her foot on the NBA three-point arc.
On the season, Kennedy averaged 24.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 3.5 steals and 2.2 blocks per game.
“What makes Kennedy so special is the way she has evolved her game each year,” said head coach Stan Delus. “Whatever she wasn’t good at she would work on it and make sure it translated to the game, creating another dimension to help her team in any way.
“Her best assets are her ability to score at all three levels, defend all positions, and still rebound and assist teammates at a high clip,” continued Delus, himself honored as the 2023 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year. “An area of improvement is to be a more vocal leader.”
Smith, an ESPN 5-Star recruit already has a plethora of offers. Among the top schools that have offered are South Carolina, UCLA, USC, Arizona State, Cal, Duke and Louisville.
“All the offers and accolades feels great as it builds my confidence,” Smith said. “I just continue to stay humble throughout this whole process.”
Littleton went on to be the last player to get the four-for-four run of being player of the year when she was named the 2017 Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year, and Samuelson was right before her after capping her four honors with the 2015 Ms. Basketball award. Smith would have to be considered a front-runner at this point, but for now the queen of the Inland Empire can bask in the glory of a three-peat after capturing the 2023 Cal-Hi Sports State Junior of the Year award.
Recent State Juniors of the Year: 2022 Juju Watkins (Corona Centennial); 2021 Isuneh “Ice” Brady (San Diego Cathedral Catholic); 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).
STATE SOPHOMORE OF THE YEAR
Aliyahna “Puff” Morris (Etiwanda) 5-5 G
For the second straight year, there can’t be much of an argument made against Etiwanda not sweeping two of the state’s three underclass player of the awards.
The end result is after being named last year’s top freshman in the state, Etiwanda guard Aliyahna “Puff” Morris is being crowned as the Cal-Hi Sports State Sophomore of the Year.
Morris now follows in the footsteps of Etiwanda teammate Kennedy Smith, the 2023 State Junior of the Year after winning the 2022 freshman award.
“It’s such an honor to be recognized as the California freshman and now sophomore of the year,” Morris said when told she was a repeat winner. “I would like to thank Cal-Hi Sports for recognizing me. I know these decisions don’t come easy so thank you so much. I’m happy and grateful to be selected two years in a row but I will never let an award define me. This is just another opportunity for me to grow for next year.”
Prior to Morris being crowned twice, and Smith winning two straight years as a freshman and sophomore, the last player to have done both was in 2019-2020 when current Connecticut freshman forward Isuneh “Ice” Brady of San Diego Cathedral Catholic was the winner.
There were a lot of sophomores who had bigger numbers than Puff, but only one other sophomore was even considered seriously, and that was Addison Deal of Mater Dei. She was the runner-up to Morris last year as well.
Morris, the Eagles’ 5-foot-5 point guard, was still the second-leading scorer on the team behind Smith, and on a team with four scorers averaging 10 points a game or better that finished 32-3 and won the CIF Open Division state championship.
Morris averaged 17.3 points, 4.7 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game, and led the team with 4.7 assists and 2.6 steals a game as well. Puff had 14 points, six rebounds and four assists in the buzzer-beating 69-67 state title-game victory over Archbishop Mitty of San Jose, but in that game just like all season, Morris was the Etiwanda floor general on offense and a solid defender who was instrumental in the various presses head coach Stan Delus likes to employ.
“What makes Puff so special is her ability to put so much pressure on defenses in transition and in the half court,” Delus said. “Her pull-up mid-range jumper is one of the best, and with that creates opportunities because of her great vision.”
Morris currently doesn’t have any offers but there is interest.
“I have no solid offers,” Puff said. “But I do have plenty of interest from a lot of schools, including USC, Arizona State, Arizona, Louisville, Cal and Duke.”
Teammate Smith now has won a player of the year class award in all three of her years, and Puff will be looking to continue to follow her teammate next season. A two-peat is a good start and not too shabby indeed.
Recent State Sophomores of the Year: 2022 Kennedy Smith (Etiwanda); 2021 Juju Watkins (Los Angeles Windward); 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).
STATE FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR:
McKenna Woliczko (Archbishop Mitty, San Jose) 6-2 C
We had heard about the exploits of McKenna Woliczko prior to the spring of 2022 when she was an eighth-grader, but after we actually saw her at the NorCal Sports TV All NorCal Games in April of last year, she was without a doubt the top incoming freshman in Northern California.
Because she split her time between basketball and softball during the summer, we missed her at the one NCAA viewing event we covered, but some analysts we trust that saw her felt she was considerably better by fall than she was in the spring, and in the Girls of Summer Caravan feature last July it was penned that the thought of that was “scary.”
Now, after being a monumental force in the Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) drive to a second straight CIF Northern Regional Open Division championship, and a runner-up finish in the Open state title game, the 6-foot-2 Woliczko, who can jump out of the gym and is close to being able to dunk, has been named the Cal-Hi Sports 2023 State Freshman of the Year. There were other top-notch freshmen in the state, but the choice was pretty obvious, and opponents now know how scary it is to face McKenna.
“That’s crazy. Thank you so much,” said Woliczko when told the last three winners were two of the girls she faced in the Open Division state championship, sophomore Aliyahna Morris and junior Kennedy Smith of Etiwanda, and the third being Arizona-committed La Jolla Country Day senior Breya Cunningham.
On the season, Woliczko averaged 20.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. She shot 62 percent from the field, and part of that is unlike a lot of girls nowadays, McKenna is adept at using the glass. Her numbers came on a team that finished 28-3 and included playing in one of the toughest leagues in the state, and nationally-ranked competition at the Nike TOC where she was named All Tournament. In her final two games, an 86-49 victory over Salesian (Richmond) in the CIF Northern Regional Open Division title game, and a buzzer-beating heartbreaking 69-67 loss to Etiwanda in the Open Division state championship, Woliczko had a two double-doubles, 29 points and 21 rebounds, and 18 points and 11 rebounds, respectively.
With Connecticut-committed junior standout Morgan Cheli missing 17 games for Mitty last season, a lot of the load fell on Woliczko and she played with poise beyond her years.
“It’s incredible that McKenna is the Cal-Hi Sports freshman of the year, but she’s so deserving of the honor,” said Mitty head coach Sue Phillips, herself honored by Cal-Hi Sports as the 1999 State Coach of the Year. “Averaging a double-double on a team that was the NorCal Open Division champions is a testament to both McKenna’s importance to our team and consistent effectiveness.”
Besides winning the state’s top honor for freshmen, Woliczko is the most honored freshman girls basketball player in San Francisco Bay Area history, and quite possibly the entire state. Among several of her additional accolades, not including tournaments, McKenna has garnered the following from a list too long to mention them all.
The other top honors include; San Francisco Chronicle All-Metro Player of the Year, first ever for a freshman; Bay Area News Group Player of the Year, also a first for a freshman; MaxPreps Co-National Freshman of the Year; NorCal Preps Player of the Year; West Catholic Athletic League Player of the Year and 49er Cal-Hi Sports CCS Girls Basketball Player of the Year, plus several others.
“We had an amazing year at Mitty and without the success of my team I would not have had an opportunity for all the accolades,” Woliczko said. “I’m very thankful for this award and all these amazing awards.”
On top of that we don’t believe we are aware of a freshman that has ever already received as many college offers as McKenna, and they’re not just run of the mill offers. In fact, Woliczko has two more offers than her No. 20 jersey. The list is headed by Stanford, and South Carolina, and then in no particular order its USC, Tennessee, Ohio State, UCLA, California, Arizona and Arizona State, Gonzaga, Florida, Utah, Colorado, BYU, Univ. of Central Florida, Vanderbilt, Portland, San Diego, Southern Utah, UC Irvine, Portland, and finally Pacific, the alma mater of her parents.
Woliczko sees areas of improvement as well as some assets.
“I’ve been working on the development of my perimeter skills like ball handling and three-point shooting,” Woliczko said. “I also look forward to continuing to learn the game and improve my defense.”
The old expression they say it’s in the blood couldn’t be more applicable than it is to Woliczko.
Her mother, Erica, was a standout softball player at Capuchino (San Bruno) who went on to star at Pacific. Her father, Aaron, currently the West Coast Conference Senior Associate Commissioner, Men’s Basketball & Sport Administration, played basketball for Pete Newell Jr. at Santa Cruz and then went on to Pacific.
As good as she is at basketball, and in fact recently decided to concentrate on a career on the hardwood, Woliczko is a two-sport standout and is just about equally proficient at softball. She plays shortstop and is one of the top players on a Monarchs team that is currently ranked No. 17 in the Cal-Hi Sports rankings.
Recent State Freshmen of the Year: 2022 Aliyahna “Puff” Morris (Etiwanda); 2021 Kennedy Smith (Etiwanda); 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).
Talia Maxwell (Central, Fresno) 6-1 F Sr.
With 24 points and a near all-time CIF championship game record of 24 rebounds in the Panthers’ 52-41 win over Bonita Vista of Chula Vista in the state finals, Maxwell was a rather easy choice for this division. It wasn’t a one-time performance, though. Some of her other outings were equally if not more impressive.
Maxwell, for example, scored 40 points in a loss to CIF D1 state champion Oakland Tech. She had 40 against CIF D3 NorCal finalist Caruthers, 41 vs Hanford and a season-high 42 in the NorCal semifinals vs Moreau Catholic of Hayward. Her rebound high was the one against Bonita Vista. It set a record for the D2 state finals and was within one of the all-time record of 25 first set in 1987 in a D1 game by two-time Ms. Basketball honoree Terri Mann of San Diego Point Loma and later tied by two others.
For the season, Maxwell shined with averages of 24.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. She stepped it up from her junior season, which already showed high averages of 21.5 points and 6.6 rebounds.
As we’re writing her up for this honor, Talia remains listed as uncommitted for college. Playing in the same league as powerhouse Clovis West (D1), Maxwell was still the co-Player of the Year in the Tri River Athletic Conference.
In earning the D2 state honor, Talia becomes just the third ever to do it from the CIF Central Section. The only others have been Nikki Blue from West of Bakersfield (2002) and Erica McCall from Independence of Bakersfield (2013). She does come from a school that has a Ms. Basketball in its history, Jackie White, in the late 1970s, but that was before Cal-Hi Sports did any divisional players of the year.
Recent State D2 Players of the Year: 2022 Angie Robles (La Jolla Bishop’s); 2021 Kayanna Spriggs (Chula Vista Mater Dei Catholic); 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).
Morgan Triguiero (Caruthers) 5-9 Sr. G
All of the four-year career totals and overall season accomplishments for Trigueiro were just barely enough to land her this state player of the year selection.
For the season, the girl they call Mo Buckets in the CIF Central Section knocked down 25.2 points per game and she was among the state leaders in three-pointers with 108. That total also just missed making the all-time state list but is among the best in section history. She made 44 percent of her three-point attempts as well.
The season ended for Caruthers in the CIF NorCal finals with a one-point loss to Colfax in which Triguiero led all scorers with 24 points. Earlier in D3 regionals, Morgan had 35 points in a win over a University of San Francisco team that was top seed on the north side of the state bracket. She also had 26 in a regional victory vs Granada of Livermore.
It’s the career totals for Triguiero, however, that were definitely needed in order for her edge a talented freshman. Morgan had 2,012 career points and 281 career three-pointers. The three-pointers also just missed the all-time state career list, but both the scoring and three-pointers are on the all-time list for the Central Section. In all, Triguiero set 17 school records for the Blue Raiders and in the four years she was on the varsity they racked up a 103-19 win-loss slate. She’s already been named the Fresno Bee Medium Schools Player of the Year.
Trigueiro is the first-ever state player of the year from Caruthers. The only others from the section for D3 are from San Joaquin Memorial as it was considered D3 during the late 1970s and early 1980s and therefore shows Jackie White as a four-time winner from 1977 to 1981 and then Kalen Wright for 1982.
That freshman was guard Jackie Polk from D3 state champion Los Osos (Rancho Cucumonga). She had 30 points in the state final win vs Colfax but her scoring average was just 13.9 for the regular season. While we went another direction for D3 player of the year in a close call, there is a different major honor for Polk still to come that she will get.
Recent State D3 Players of the Year: 2022 Erin Sellers (Oakland Tech); 2021 D’Arrah Allen (Lawndale Leuzinger); 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).
Yalee Schwartz (Shalhevet, Los Angeles) 5-10 Sr. G
This one could have been a co-Player of the Year situation with Yalee’s junior teammate at Shalhevet, Arielle Grossman, but we just don’t do ties in any ranking or any player of the year selection. Schwartz and Grossman both were on the All-CIF Southern Section D4AA squad and there were playoff games in which Grossman was the team’s leading scorer.
In the CIF D4 state final when the Firebirds topped San Domenico of San Anselmo, however, it was Schwartz that led the way in scoring (21 points) and rebounds (13) plus she had four assists and three blocks. Yalee also was the one selected as the John R. Wooden Award winner for the CIFSS in for what it called Division V.
Schwartz also was an inspirational figure to many along press row at the CIF state finals since many who were there the year before recalled how she was injured the year before in the D5 state final (a loss to San Domenico) just three minutes into that game. To see how she came back in 2023 was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend.
Season stats were not available for Shalhevet, but another playoff game that stood out for Schwartz was 28 points and nine rebounds against Long Beach Jordan in the CIFSS D4AA quarterfinals.
The Shalhevet team made history in Sacramento for becoming the first Jewish school to earn a state basketball championship. Yalee also does herself by becoming the first girls player from a Jewish school to be a state player of the year in any division. There have been two boys to do it, including Johny Dan of Valley Torah in D4 just last season and Ryan Turell of Valley Torah in 2018.
Schwartz also is just the third all-time from the San Fernando Valley to be D4 player of the year. The others have been Jaclyn Johnson from now-closed Bell-Jeff of Burbank in 1997 and Kennedy Burke of Sierra Canyon in 2015 back before the Trailblazers were moved all the way up to the Open Division where they are now.
Recent State D4 Players of the Year: 2022 Hannah Golan (Ross Branson); 2021 Dami Sule (Bakersfield Christian); 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).
Christelle Williams (Valley Christian, Roseville) 5-6 Sr. G
This is the other divisional category in which a player has been selected who was not on the CIF state title team.
But in a strange twist, Williams is a player who had a great game against the team that did win the D5 state title. That performance came in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D5 final when Williams pumped in 22 points and filled up the stat sheet with eight rebounds, six assists, five steals and five blocks in a 71-65 victory over Bret Harte of Altaville. Bret Harte would later win in a regional semifinal game at home against Valley Christian and then went on to win the state championship.
While Bret Harte’s Ariah Fox had an impressive showing with 22 points in the state final, the Bullfrogs were a team that were extremely balanced in scoring. Fox, in fact, was their only leading scorer in double-figures and was just above 10 ppg. Williams averaged 15.6 ppg this season plus she was at 19.0 for her junior season and she went past 1,000 points for her career.
As a point guard with great speed up and down the court, Williams was the court general for the Lions (who finished 27-4 overall). Her other stats (such as assists and steals) were not reported but we would assume they were near 6.0 for assists and above 5.0 for steals.
Christelle is just the second-ever D5 state player of the year from the SJS. The only other one has been Jake Kelly from Sacramento Waldorf in 2006.
Recent State D5 Players of the Year: 2022 Summer Jenkins (San Anselmo San Domenico); 2021 Jazmine Soto (Strathmore); 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports