Statement Win For Etiwanda Girls

Senior Kennedy Smith of Etiwanda looks for room going against Sierra Canyon’s Jerzy Robinson during the CIF Southern Section Open Division championship on Friday at Cal Baptist University. Photo: Santurnino Photography.

Defending CIF Open Division state champions use a suffocating defense to turn back Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth in the CIF Southern Section Open Division final on Friday in a matchup of the state’s No. 2 and No. 3 ranked teams. The Eagles will move up to No. 2 and showed they will be a force for the regionals and in a potential showdown with No. 1 Archbishop Mitty in two weeks.

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It seems like the girls basketball rivalry between the top two programs in the CIF Southern Section, Etiwanda and Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth, is almost mirroring the recent CIFSS football rivalry between Mater Dei of Santa Ana and St. John Bosco of Bellflower.

While those two national football powerhouses have played for the Southern Section Division I title six of the past seven seasons it’s been contested, nationally-ranked and Cal-Hi Sports No. 3 Etiwanda and No. 2 Sierra Canyon have not only played for the last three CIFSS titles but the two have met in the last two CIF Southern Regional Open Division championship games as well.

The most recent match-up on Saturday evening at Cal Baptist University for the CIF Southern Section Open Division championship was a classic defensive grind-it-out affair, but after all was said and done it was all second-seeded Etiwanda in a statement-making 65-44 victory over top-seeded Sierra Canyon.

Grace Knox has become a dominant player for Etiwanda in recent weeks to give the Eagles a 1-2-3 punch with Kennedy Smith and Aliyahna “Puff” Morris that may prove to be too much for any other team’s 1-2-3 punch in the state. Photo: @ballislifewbb /

With the decisiveness of the win coupled with an 81-61 dismantling of No. 3 seed Ontario Christian in the final game of pool play last week, head coach and 2023 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year Stan Delus and his Eagles left no doubt about the bragging rights to the top spot in Southern California girls high school basketball

“We had a really, really good week of preparation” Delus remarked. “In my eight years at Etiwanda I’ve never seen a group so locked in.”

“You could just tell in their everyday demeanor that they really wanted this,” Delus continued.

Etiwanda (29-3) fell behind 2-0 on a pair of Sierra Canyon free-throws, but despite missing their first five shots the Eagles’ defense was lights out and an 8-0 run gave Etiwanda a lead it never relinquished.

Etiwanda may have missed its first five shots, and the Eagles didn’t score until the 4:28 mark of the first quarter, but the stifling, vise-like defense of the Eagles forced Sierra Canyon to miss its first eight shots, and by the time the Trailblazers scored their first basket there was only 1:35 left in the first quarter.

“Offense is a bonus, and we love what we do offensively, but our philosophy at Etiwanda is you can always keep yourself in a basketball game through defense,” said Delus. “You can always give yourselves a chance to win a game with defense.”

The bottom line is that in the most important girls high school basketball game in the state so far this season, the Etiwanda girls sent a loud and clear message about what it’s going to take to topple them in the run to the CIF Open Division state title game next month in Sacramento.

“Our goal was to come out with energy and to play hard, and match their energy, and I think that shook them up a bit,” said Etiwanda senior star Kennedy Smith, who finished with double-double 13 points and 11 rebounds with three assists and three blocked shots. “We have a feel for how they play and we obviously executed what we planned on doing.”

“We know how they play and me and Kennedy alone, we have good, strong body types and we know how to read what they are going to do and how to play them,” said standout junior transfer from Nevada Grace Knox. “Being able to read what they were going to do helped us a lot in defending them, and just being stronger bodying up to them as much as possible.”

Knox also had a double-double after finishing with a game high 19 points plus 12 rebounds with three steals.

Two other Etiwanda players were in double-figure scoring. Junior sensation Aliyahna “Puff” Morris had 13 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Senior Mykelle Richards got things going early for the Eagles with back-to-back three-pointers that turned a 2-2 tie to an 8-2 advantage. Richards finished with 13 points.

Sierra Canyon (30-2) had three players in double-figure scoring led by sophomore transfer Jerzy Robinson with a double-double 17 points and 15 rebounds, senior star Mackenly Randolph added a double-double 14 points and 16 rebounds, and senior Izela Arenas finished with 11 points.

In a first quarter where baskets were at a premium for both teams, Etiwanda took an 11-4 lead and stretched it to 18-7, but in the one run Sierra Canyon did make it closed the half with an 8-2 rally and only trailed 20-15 heading into the intermission.

When Sierra Canyon scored to open the third quarter, the deficit was down to 20-17 but that was when Etiwanda erupted for a 12-0 run keyed by Smith and Knox, and although it was only midway through the third quarter and the margin was still manageable at 32-19, the starch was pretty much gone from the Trailblazers’ swagger. By the end of the third it was 40-25 with Sierra Canyon needing a miracle finish it just didn’t have in its arsenal.

“In the first half I felt we had a lead but we hadn’t made our run,” Delus remarked. “The third quarter is when we finally made our run.”

The run didn’t stop there as Etiwanda stretched the lead almost right up until the final buzzer when Morris scored to make it 65-42 for the game’s largest lead, but with Etiwanda just standing around Sierra Canyon senior Christy Reynoso scored her only basket of the game for the final tally. Ironically, in a night of total frustration for Sierra Canyon, those two points were the only ones for the Trailblazers not scored by Robinson, Randolph and Arenas.

Etiwanda didn’t exactly shoot the lights out at 23.3 percent in the first half, but a 15-of-24 effort in the second half got it to 40.7-percent from the field and 5-for-13 on three-pointers, and that was smoking hot compared to a Sierra Canyon team that shot 25-percent from the field and blanked on 14 attempts from outside the arc.

“That was the worst basketball game of my Sierra Canyon career,” was the matter of fact opening statement of Sierra Canyon head coach Alicia Komaki at the post game press conference. “The crazy thing is we played so terrible and the score was 65-44. For as bad as we played we should have lost by 60 points.

“It was an ugly basketball game. It just was not pretty basketball,” Komaki continued. “On our side we’re embarrassed but represented our program and girls basketball. It’s not typical of our program but we’ll regroup and get ready to make a state run.”

“I feel like this was just not us. We came out, and we were prepared but the basketball wasn’t going in the basket. We just have to turn it around completely,” Randolph said. “This week we’re going to go hard in practice and develop a whole new mindset.”

The way Etiwanda is playing, its looking like it’s going to be pretty difficult for anyone in the CIF Southern Regional Open Division field to upend the Eagles but nothing is for certain.

Last season, Etiwanda lost decisively to Sierra Canyon in the CIFSS Open title game, 70-57, but came back to run the table and avenged the defeat with a 55-54 victory in the SoCal Open championship before tripping Archbishop Mitty 69-67 in the state championship.

“The job is still not done,” Smith remarked. “We still have state and have to stay focused and locked in and take it a game at a time.”

Harold Abend is the associate editor of and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend

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