Valencia girls basketball seeking unique identity following CIF-SS title

Chayanne Pagkalinawan dribbles around her sister, Camille Pagkalinawan, at a practice at Valencia on Thursday. Chyanne is the team's lone returning starter. Haley Sawyer/The Signal

The Valencia girls basketball team is ready to turn the page.

By no means is that to take away from the team capturing its first-ever CIF-Southern Section title last season.

But there are four new starters on this year’s squad, including seven underclassmen on a 10-player roster.

Establishing a unique identity will be of utmost importance.

“Last year’s group was definitely special,” said Vikings coach Jerry Mike. “We’re not comparing, though.  We’re proud of what we did but right now it’s the 2017-18 team, that’s it.”

One thing Mike hopes will carry over from last year’s team is the energy in practice, along with lofty expectations.

For that, he’ll lean on senior Chyanne Pagkalinawan, the team’s only returning starter, who’ll run the point once again. She averaged 9.8 points and 4.1 assists last season. Chidinma Ikonte didn’t start last year but replaced an injured Jade Jordan in the post for the Vikings’ title-clinching win over Canyon, as well as their three state playoff games.

“Obviously, we’re going to be a lot different from last year,” Ikonte said. “The seniors last year were amazing and contributed a lot. But these freshmen and sophomores bring a lot to the table and we’re excited to see what they can do.”

The rest of the starting lineup will include sophomore Nicole Weatherman at shooting guard, freshman Mailey Ballard at small forward and sophomore Skylar Ingram at center.

“We feel pretty good about that group,” Mike said. “But what we like most is the different combos and lineups we can use.”

Tiana Beale, who the team nicknamed “Bunny,” joins Ikonte and Pagkalinawan as the team’s senior class. Mike spoke highly of her ability to provide instant offense off the bench.

Pagkalinawan will get relief at point guard in the form of her sister Camille, a sophomore who was MVP of last year’s JV team, and freshman Marissa Howell. Sophomore Leilani Manuel and freshman Audrey Field provide depth in the post.

“The younger players are picking everything up really quickly,” Chyanne Pagkalinawan said. “They know what they’re doing and we have a lot of confidence in them.”

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Mike, who’s in his 19th year with the program, is hardly a stranger to roster turnover. It’s the production he lost from last year’s team that makes that group extra tough to replace. Kayla Konrad (UC Davis), Kenadee Honaker (Southern Oregon), Ashlee Ane (Cal State Fullerton) and Jade Jordan (Cal Lutheran) all moved on to play at the collegiate level. They also combined for 44.8 points and 26.9 rebounds per game last season. The Vikings shared the Foothill League title with Canyon.

“That’s what makes this job so fun and challenging,” Mike said. “We have a lot of talent on our current team. We just have to find the right balance.”

Though the team is light on seniors, it’s not lacking for leadership. Pagkalinawan and Ikonte are making it a point to pass down the wisdom that comes with winning a Southern Section title and playing in the state playoffs.

“These future years are only going to get harder for them because they’re still in that learning and development process,” Ikonte said. “I think we’re having a good influence on them and showing them how we expect things to get done in this program.

NOTES — Valencia will take part in the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions, beginning Dec. 20 against Ventura. It will then take on Ribet Academy (Jan. 3) and Buena (Jan. 5)  in exhibitions before beginning Foothill League play on Jan. 9 at home against Saugus.

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