Prep girls hoops notebook: Canyon aiming high; Saugus, West Ranch enjoying win streaks

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Erik Boal
For The Signal

The Canyon High girls basketball team has big aspirations this season. Perhaps the tallest order on the Cowboys’ schedule will be Thursday’s home opener against Ribet Academy (16-2).

Not only is the game a rematch of Canyon’s first loss this season, a 40-28 setback in the Magnolia Park Optimist Club tournament Dec. 8 at Burroughs High, but the Cowboys are also expected to face Oregon State signee Andrea Aquino, the tallest high school female basketball player in the country this year at 6 feet 9 inches.

Aquino, who was forced to sit out for 30 days by CIF-Southern Section rules following her transfer from Eastside High in New Jersey, is the No. 7 prospect in the senior class, according to ESPN’s Hoopgurlz national top 100. Aquino, who grew up in Paraguay, averaged 17 points, 12 rebounds and 6.5 blocks during her junior season at Eastside.

“I can’t wait for it. She’ll definitely be a great test for our post players, that’s for sure,” Canyon coach Jessica Haayer said. “But we’re a completely different team than we were Dec. 8 and I’m sure they are as well. We’ve grown tremendously in the past two or three weeks.”

Canyon (13-2) has won 10 in a row following Tuesday’s 89-21 victory at Highland, its first 10-game winning streak since 2014. The Cowboys also went 9-1 at home last season, winning their final seven games.

MORE: Canyon girls hoops takes West Coast Holiday Festival title

Following back-to-back losses to Ribet Academy and Alemany, Canyon responded by winning the Dan Wiley Division title Dec. 22 at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix and the West Coast Holiday Festival championship Saturday with a 53-33 victory over Los Alamitos at Burroughs High.

“We’re definitely coming into this game with a chip on our shoulder,” Canyon senior guard Talia Taufaasau said. “We knew coming into this season, a lot of people thought we’d be underdogs, especially after graduating who we graduated. No one thought we’d be this team right now, so it’s been pretty sweet to have this kind of success so far.

“But in order to be respected as a team that can contend for a (CIF-Southern Section) title, these are the caliber of teams we need to beat and these are the kind of games we need to continue to win.”

Canyon 6-3 senior Rachel Bowers, who is leading the Cowboys averaging 16.4 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.9 blocks, will face a significant test against Ribet Academy’s front line, which also includes 6-3 senior Lola Pendande and 6-2 senior Janette Mensah.

Bowers, a Boise State signee, was limited to 11 points and four rebounds in the first meeting against Ribet, with Taufaasau scoring only eight points, nearly half of her 15.6 average.

“We’ve grown up a lot in the past two weeks and I feel like we’re playing a lot better, so we hope it’s a whole different ball game. We’re looking forward to the challenge,” Bowers said. “It helps that the majority of our starting lineup has been playing together for all four years, so our chemistry has been great and that really helped us win these two tournaments.”

Busy stretch

Before Ribet visits Canyon, the Fighting Frogs will play host to Valencia (6-8) at 7 p.m. today, starting a schedule of four games in as many days.

Ribet will also play host Friday to Cantwell Sacred Heart (13-2) and travel Saturday to face Bishop Montgomery (9-5).

Saugus surge

One of the most impressive turnarounds in the CIF-Southern Section this season is Saugus (14-1), which is off to the best start in program history, surpassing its 13-3 nonleague record in 2007-08.

The Centurions, who went 13-16 last year, have won 13 in a row since a 61-42 loss Nov. 29 to Lancaster. Only Glendora (15-0) and Valley View (14-0) have longer winning streaks than Saugus among CIF-Southern Section girls basketball teams. The Centurions are ranked No. 2 in Division 3A.

Sophomores Libbie McMahan and Monique Febles are leading Saugus, which captured the Northeast Valley and Marquez tournament titles in December.

McMahan is averaging 18.7 points and 7.7 rebounds, with Febles contributing 11 points and 3.9 rebounds for the Centurions, who play host to Oxnard Pacifica at 5:30 p.m. today before opening Foothill League play Tuesday at Valencia.

Wildcat winning streak

West Ranch (9-5) enters Thursday’s nonleague home game against Highland having won five in row, the Wildcats’ longest winning streak since 2015.

West Ranch, which went 6-21 last season, is looking to match its 10-win total entering league play from the 2015-16 schedule with a victory over the Bulldogs. The Wildcats play host Tuesday to Canyon in their league opener.

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