With one Foothill League girls basketball game down, the picture is becoming a little more clear as to how each team is shaping up this season.
Canyon, the reigning undefeated Foothill League champions took a hit in almost every area of its game by losing seniors Talia Taufaasau, Rachel Bowers, Gabby Sanchez and Selasi Mawugbe.
The Cowboys were on a three-game losing streak entering Foothill League play with losses to Covina, Summit and Jserra Catholic, but opened up league on Dec. 14 with a 68-19 win over West Ranch.
In that game, junior and first-year varsity player Chidinma Okafor recorded a double-double with 26 points, 12 rebounds and eight steals.
Canyon has seen scoring from a variety of players aside from Okafor including Riley LaPlant, Julia Fung and Kiki Taufaasau.
Ellie Villavicencio also returns this season. She is the only player on the roster to experience Canyon’s deep playoff run in the 2016-17 season that included a CIF-Southern Section championship game appearance.
So, the Cowboys are building experience and basketball IQ by any means possible, even by simply watching basketball on television.
“NBA, college, whatever it is, just watch it,” said Cowboys coach Jessica Haayer after a loss to El Camino Real in late November. “And don’t watch the ball, because that’s what kids watch. It’s off the ball that we preach. But yeah, just learning the game. IQ is so important in this game and I think being young, they need to watch as much as they can.”
Valencia is coming back this season with what appears to be an inexperienced team on paper, but first-year head coach Kevin Honaker argues otherwise.
“It’s almost a veteran group from a basketball sense,” he said. “They’ve all played a ton of basketball for a long time, so I don’t think it’s a veteran group almost because of that. I like it because they are young and enthusiastic and bright-eyed but they’ve played a ton of basketball, so it’s kind of nice that I have a blend of both.”
With two seniors, four juniors and five sophomores on the roster, there’s plenty of room for growth. One of those seniors, Yasmine Ahllamara, is leading that growth, even though she moved to Valencia from Canada just this year.
“(She) is for sure the best ball defender, guard we’ve had since I’ve been around Valencia in the past eight years which is a great disrupter for our defense,” Honaker said.
Ahllamara is valuable on offense, too and provides plenty of support for returning sophomore Mailey Ballard, who is taking on a bigger scoring role this season.
All of the Vikings are comfortable taking shots from 3-point range, which will play a major factor in Honaker’s schemes this season, which he says will incorporate a heavy dose of shooting from just about everywhere on the court, especially beyond the arc.
Skylar Ingram provides plenty of support when it comes to rebounding. In Valencia’s Foothill League opener against Saugus, she pulled down 11 rebounds in addition to scoring 12 points.
Saugus enters this league season as a seasoned team after making it to the CIF-Southern Section Division 3A semifinals last year and brings back most of the players from that playoff team.
Monique Febles is at point guard again in her junior season with the Centurions.
“I’m always confident in Monique to get the job done,” said Cents junior Libbie McMahan during preleague. “She’s a great ball handler and she has a great drive to the basket and a great shot as well and I think we’re going to work really good as a team this year.”
Although Saugus lost 56-38 to Valencia in its league opener, the team showed resiliency by fighting back in the fourth quarter thanks to some aggressive play from Ashlyn Canel on defense.
“She was intense, aggressive and fearless diving on the floor for loose balls and constant pressure on defense,” said coach Jason Conn after the game.
McMahan scored 10 points in the league opener and is likely to repeat as a primary scorer for the Centurions, although she’s focusing on distributing the ball a little more this year.
“For me personally I think it’s more important that I share the ball more,” she said. “A lot of people know I’m a shooter so I need to work on getting the pass to the open person and drive to the lane more.”
Hart returns key parts of its starting lineup with Trudy Larkins, Emma Allen and Emily Munoz coming back to show off the Indians’ tenacious game.
Allen and Munoz led the team in scoring against Golden Valley on the league’s opening night. Allen recorded a double-double with 18 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Munoz followed with 17 points and three steals.
Larkins will be integral on defense, according to Palmer.
“Trudy is one of the toughest kids you’ll see,” she said after a preleague loss to Oak Park. “She was always a good defensive player, but now she’s gotten stronger and her offensive game has come around so she creates problems because people foul her. She looks small but she’s strong and she does not shy away from the contact.”
Golden Valley is trying for a new look this year as Galbert Conner enters his third year as head coach for the Grizzlies. Conner loves watching college basketball and has developed a new system based off of what he’s seen from Kansas and Michigan State.
“Lots of motion, lots of cutting, and they have to get used to that because they’re not used to that,” Conner said. “Not one person being ball dominant. Win by committee.”
The Grizzlies are going for a full-court man-to-man defense this year, too. Shyann Franklin, one of four returners on the team, is key in the paint on defense, nabbing countless rebounds. She also has the ability to score and is emotionally a rock for the team.
“She’s like the big sister that everyone counts on and when they get a little frantic and nervous, she’s our rock and calms us down,” Conner said. “She’s also one of our captains and she’s not afraid to ask for help. She’s learned the best quality of leadership is when to sacrifice.”
Kimberly Manary and Cassandra Ortiz are two more seniors on the team filling leadership positions. Conner said he only expects them to improve in all areas of the game as the season goes on.
West Ranch returns just two players from last year’s roster: point guard Abbey Ang and forward Jade Sanchez, both of whom are sophomores.
In the Foothill League opener against Canyon, freshman Elora Kawasawa led the Wildcats in scoring with eight points and also chipped in four rebounds. The Cats also saw contributions in scoring from Jasleen Arora, Harneet Arora, Jade Sanchez and Ariel Miron.
League play continues on Thursday. Hart will be at Valencia, Canyon hosts Golden Valley and Saugus will play at West Ranch. All games will tip off at 5 p.m.