Girls BB Saturday CIF State Finals

Aliyahna “Puff” Morris of Etiwanda drives to the hoop between two Archbishop Mitty defenders during CIF Open Division state championship. Photo: Willie Eashman / Cal-Hi Sports.

State No. 2 Etiwanda puts itself into the all-time conversation with a one-sided win over previously unbeaten national No. 1 Archbishop Mitty in the CIF Open Division state championship. It is also a second straight Open Division title for the Eagles. Other big winners at the Golden 1 Center were Harvard-Westlake of Studio City (Girls D2) and St. Bernard’s of Eureka (Girls D4).

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Note: Editor and publisher Mark Tennis did the breakdown on the D2 girls contest.

After the way the CIF Girls Division Open Division state final ended last year with Etiwanda defeating Archbishop Mitty of San Jose, 69-67, on a put back at the buzzer, most girls’ basketball fans in California had thought the 2024 rematch played on Saturday at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento might be a similar affair, but in the end, it wasn’t close to last year in any way, shape or form.

Etiwanda didn’t win in the same fashion as last year, but a more convincing 60-48 victory where at one point the Eagles had a 48-24 lead near the end of the first half after leading 42-18 midway through the second quarter. It is the second straight CIF Open Division state crown for the Inland Empire school.

Kennedy Smith capped an incredible career at Etiwanda with 15 points in the CIF Open Division state final. Photo: Willie Eashman / Cal-Hi Sports.

Mitty came into the game undefeated at 30-0 and not only were the Monarchs No. 1 in the Cal-Hi Sports rankings, but No. 1 in the nation in every major rankings after the Monarchs knocked off previous national No. 1 Long Island Lutheran of New York at the Nike TOC in Arizona last December.

The problem for Mitty was that it really hadn’t been tested by national level competition since right after the TOC when the Monarchs won the Nike Holiday Classic in Oregon with wins over Texas DeSoto, Camas of Washington and Oregon Clackamas. The closest game they got was an 82-71 victory over Cal-Hi Sports No. 9 Folsom before rolling No. 2 seed and No. 6 ranked Clovis West (Fresno), 71-34, in the NorCal Open title game. No one they played after the TOC except No. 22 DeSoto was nationally ranked.

Etiwanda also had some adversity early on. Head coach Stan Delus was sick and absent from the bench in a 78-75 tournament loss to national No. 11 Texas Duncanville, the Eagles lost 55-50 to the DeSoto team Mitty beat and also 82-62 to a Long Island Lutheran team Mitty bested. Prior to the Long Island Lutheran loss, Etiwanda did post a 71-56 victory over national No. 18 Sidwell Friends of Washington D.C.

That was then, this is now.

“Our ladies here had expectations of themselves and a willingness to work hard for months to get to this moment,” said Delus, who was State Coach of the Year after last season’s championship. “They achieved this accomplishment and championship today by earning it with that hard work. You could tell from their warm-ups they wanted it.”

Prior to the season, Delus had said he was going to put the team through a “gauntlet” of a schedule to prepare them for what was to come

“I feel we played the toughest schedule in the nation with all the travel and ranked teams we played,” Delus said. “We had a lot of quality wins, but we had quality losses and that’s what kept us focused and motivated.”

Etiwanda junior Aliyahna “Puff” Morris showed just why she may be the best true all-around point guard in the state. The 2023 State Junior of the Year took charge right from the beginning. She finished with a game-high 20 points (two-three-pointers) with six rebounds, five assists and three steals.

The bottom line is that right from the opening tip Etiwanda totally outplayed Mitty. The assistants helped Delus put together a 3-2 match-up defense that was new and Mitty had not seen on film, and Mitty had difficulty adjusting to it. Coupling that with an Eagles’ team that played with more energy, physicality and purpose to start, spelled disaster for Mitty.

“We were going to use the defense for the other championships,” Delus remarked. “But my assistants that developed it insisted on saving it for Mitty, and we were fortunate to get through those games without having to use it.”

Mitty did make some adjustments but that didn’t pay any dividends until the fourth quarter and that happened it was too late with Mitty facing a 50-29 deficit. A 12-0 run they put together got it to 50-39 with around six minutes left, but three straight Monarchs turnovers led to five Eagles points and at that point Etiwanda was able to comfortably close it out.

Senior and 2023 State Junior of the Year Kennedy Smith showed why she is one of if not the leading candidate to capture the Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year honors. When the 6-foot-1 Smith decided to go to the basket she was unstoppable and finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

Belle Bramer of Archbishop Mitty goes up for a shot against Etiwanda’s Grace Knox during CIF Open Division state title game. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Mykelle Richards, a 6-foot-2 senior forward, finished with 11 points, five rebounds and four steals. She made both of her three-point attempts that each came in the third quarter. Her second three-pointer gave Etiwanda its first 24-point lead. The second 24-point lead came on a three-pointer by Morris.

Grace Knox, a 6-foot-3 junior transfer from Nevada, didn’t quite get her usual double-double, but she did have 11 rebounds to go with eight points.

“We got knocked on our heels and didn’t respond,” said Mitty head coach Sue Phillips. “I’m incredibly disappointed in the way we played in the first half. The bottom line is we fell short.

“Nobody plays for second place, and we’re not into moral victories or shoulda, woulda, couulda,” continued Phillips. “We would have liked to do things differently, but we didn’t.”

Mitty (30-1) got a solid game from 2023 State Freshman of the Year and hot State Sophomore of the Year candidate McKenna Woliczko. She finished with a double-double 14 points and 10 rebounds with six assists and three steals.

Sophomore Abigail James had 12 points off the bench, Lehigh-bound Belle Bramer added 10 points, but Connecticut-bound senior Morgan Cheli, who has been nursing a hamstring for over a month and missed the better part of nine games, clearly was not at full strength. She did have nine rebounds and five assists, but was held scoreless in the first half and finished with only four points.

In doing the pregame analysis we had felt the addition of Knox, who had missed her entire sophomore year with an injury, and who really started to show dominant play in the paint as the season progressed, would be the difference, and while her addition made Etiwanda a better team than last year, the real difference was Morris and her excellent play at the point.

“She’s done it from her first day at Etiwanda,” said Delus about his star point guard. “Once Puff stepped on campus and solidified that point guard position, she’s been the heart and soul of our team and the tip of the spear. She has so much experience that these moments are not too big for her.”

“I feel like it was very important for me to take charge of this game,” Puff remarked. “I knew this would be my time to do what I do best.”

With the win, Etiwanda gets the trifecta. The Eagles won the CIF Southern Section Open Division, considered by many to be the toughest playoffs in the nation, and followed that up by beating essentially the same field in the CIF SoCal Open Regionals, and then they toppled the nation’s number one team.

“Our goal from the beginning of the year was to win it all, all three championships,” Smith said. “This team had a lot of grit and grind, and with our national schedule it definitely prepared us for this moment.”

Etiwanda also is now 2-0 in Open Division championships and that ties it with Sierra Canyon for the most Open titles and ties Delus with Sierra Canyon head coach Alicia Komaki as the only coaches to win two Open titles since 2013 when the CIF went to an Open Division. Komaki’s girls also went back-to-back officially, but there were two years of COVID in between 2019 and 2022.

Mitty is now the first team to lose three straight Open Division title games and is now 0-4 in Open finals and 6-9 overall in state championships.

Head coach Melissa Hearlihy’s two CIF state titles at Harvard-Westlake couldn’t be more different. One was a 33-1 team that was dominant in D4 (before competitive equity). The other struggled to stay above .500 but came through down the stretch in D2. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Girls D2
Harvard-Westlake (Studio City) 60, Colfax 45

Despite one of the biggest differences in win-loss records of any two finalists in state history, the Wolverines proved to have more punch in the fourth quarter of this game.

Entering that period, Harvard-Westlake (19-18) was hanging on to a 42-40 lead over the Falcons (34-3). Then junior Deana Thompson took over. The 5-foot-9 guard scored three straight baskets to open the fourth quarter. The Wolverines then scored six more points after Colfax had cut the lead to 48-43 to push it to a comfortable lead. Thompson closed that mini-spurt with a basket and ended with 18 points to go with four assists.

“Finally, we’re over .500,” remarked head coach Melissa Hearlihy, who picked up her second CIF state title to go with the one from 2010 in D4 when Harvard-Westlake had a different win-loss record (33-1). “Some said that was the record for most losses for a team in a state final. That’s not something to be proud of.”

There’s a lot to be proud of now.

Harvard-Westlake at one point this season was 5-13 after going 0-3 in its division at the West Coast Jamboree. Unlike Alemany in D3 boys which had to get a win in a game over Muir of Pasadena to get eligible for the CIF Southern Section playoffs, the Wolverines didn’t need that since they still finished third in their league despite having a losing record.

“It was one thing after another,” Hearlihy said about a string of injuries that prevented her team from reaching full strength until just a few weeks ago.

Then when asked about winning a second state title and indirectly about her career in which she’s now passed Jeff Sink (retired at Brea Olinda) as the second-winningest head coach in state history (now with 839 wins), she said: “When you’ve been coaching for 38 years, it is great. Watching them celebrate brings such joy.”

After Colfax got out to a 14-9 lead to start the game, the Wolverines responded to a timeout by Hearlihy with a 14-0 run (including the first basket of the second quarter). Then after the Falcons stopped the run, senior point guard Jamie Yue picked up her third foul and had to go to the bench. From that point until halftime, Colfax outscored Harvard-Westlake 14-6 to take a 28-24 lead at halftime.

Jue, who Hearlihy described as “the head of the snake” when she is playing, did not pick up any other fouls, which was bad news for Colfax. She ended with nine points and five assists.

Freshman Angelina Habis also had a big night for Harvard-Westlake. She racked up a game-high 19 points and she had four rebounds, three steals and two assists.

Colfax, which is the only team in the state this year (and last) to win 34 games, was fueled by a large contingent of fans that trekked down the hill from Placer County.

“We have a bunch of fighters,” said Falcons’ head coach Rexanne Simpton. “They really wanted this. They thought it was their turn. In the second half, we got a little cold and they hit their shots.”

The Falcons’ girls thought it was their turn after they reached the D3 state final last year only to lose to a Los Osos of Rancho Cucamonga squad that is from the same league as Etiwanda.

While D2 is a step up from D3 and while Colfax has an enrollment that would have made it D4 going by a different, Simpton just takes it one game at a time.

“We are told that it’s not fair, it’s not fair, but in life sometimes it’s not fair,” she said. “It out our control. We just truly go out there and play as a team.”

Power forward Juliette James led the Falcons with 18 points and double-doubled with 11 rebounds. Junior guard Kaia Diederichs had 13 points and three steals. The team’s only senior, Jade Biittner, had a game high seven assists.

Girls D4

St. Bernard’s (Eureka) 47, Grossmont (El Cajon) 29

With an enrollment of less than 250 students, the school from Humboldt County made the trek south to the state capital from the far northwest reaches of the Golden State to take on a Grossmont team from a school with nearly 10 times the enrollment.

St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin became the first in state history to have CIF girls basketball and football state titles on his resume. Photo: Willie Eashman / Cal-Hi Sports.

By the time the final buzzer sounded in the 10 a.m. game on Saturday morning, it was the girls from the tiny Catholic school from an area known as “Behind the Redwood Curtain” that came up big in winning the CIF Division IV state championship in their first-ever state title game appearance, and in a game where they never trailed.

“Our ladies studied in the film room, and knew what we needed them to do game plan wise,” said St. Bernard’s head coach Mike Tomlin. “They came out and executed the defensive game plan to perfection, and they left their hearts out there today.”

Three St. Bernard’s players registered double-doubles. Junior Laila Florvilus finished with 18 points and 14 points, but she did have 11 turnovers. Senior Madelyn Shanahan added 15 points and 16 rebounds, and freshman Samantha Sundberg had 12 points and 12 rebounds.

St. Bernard’s (30-5) opened up with an 8-4 lead but at that point Grossmont began using a pressing and trapping defense and it was visibly bothering St. Bernard’s. The Crusaders ended with 27 turnovers to 10 for Grossmont, but more than made up for it with a whopping 58-30 rebounding advantage that included 24 offensive rebounds.

“Our biggest flaw in this game was rebounding,” remarked Grossmont head coach Grace Campbell. “They got way too many offensive rebounds.”

Grossmont tied it at 8-8 after one quarter and forced seven Crusaders turnovers in the period. From the time it was 8-4 to their first basket of the second quarter, the Crusaders went around three minutes without even getting off a shot, but despite that fact they still had a 10-8 lead.

A 9-0 run by St. Bernard’s that included an NBA-range three-pointer off the glass by Shanahan on her only three-point attempt stretched the lead to 17-8. When Grossmont finally did convert a shot, it had gone almost five minutes without scoring. After that basket, Grossmont had another almost four-minute drought before scoring but at that point the Foothillers had only registered four points in the second quarter and St. Bernard’s had a 23-12 lead at the half.

St. Bernard’s scored the first four points of the third quarter to open a 15-point lead and from there expanded it right up until the horn sounded ending the game.

Grossmont (27-9) got 10 points from senior Kellan Hayden, nine points from senior Amethyst Price and eight points and eight rebounds from freshman Aakash Price

“When we say we’re from Northern California people think of the Bay Area, but we’re from way farther north,” Shanahan said. “To be from the far north and be able to come here and play in an NBA arena and win a state championship, it’s insane.”

For Tomlin, known most as the St. Bernard’s football coach, this state championship makes him arguably one of the greatest multi-sport coaches in state history

“I’m just an old football coach doing my best,” Tomlin remarked before the game.

Now, with the CIF state championship in girls basketball, Tomlin becomes the first head coach in California history to win a state championship in football and girls basketball. His 2015, Crusaders won the CIF Division 5-A championship and his 2019 team won the 6-AA title.

Tomlin also coaches baseball at St. Bernard’s, and despite there not being state championships in baseball he has captured three regional championships. In 2015 and 2016 his teams won the NorCal D6 championship, and in 2022 his Crusaders captured the CIF NorCal Division III championship.

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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