Last season, Valencia girls basketball emerged as the clear-cut top team in the Foothill League with an undefeated league record. Valencia has its eyes on another league title, but this season’s journey to be the best might not be as easy.
Both Canyon and Saugus have multiple returners on battle-tested rosters, and they’re all eager to get their hands on a league crown.
“Our goal is to win league, the girls know it,” said Saugus coach Jason Conn. “Our goal is to beat Valencia. I think they’ve won it six or seven years in a row now and we’re focused. The girls are excited about this year. League is our No. 1 goal, winning league, and then going as far as we can in CIF.”
The Vikings have a strong offense again this season, one that is very comfortable from the range. They can also be gritty in the paint, especially senior big Skylar Ingram.
Ingram averaged a double-double last season with 10.1 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per game and according to coach Kevin Honaker, she has only increased that productivity.
Mailey Ballard will likely be the team’s top-scorer this season after averaging 11.4 points per game last season as a sophomore and she’s added a little more to her defensive side ahead of this season.
Marissa Howell, a junior, and Camille Pagkalinawan, a senior, have been splitting time at the point guard position. Pagkalinawan was limited last season due to a leg injury but has rebounded this season for a lot of playing time. Howell was battling slight injury throughout preleague, but is expected to be healthy for league play.
“I think we’re all a year older, a year wiser and stronger and the team has built a better bond and is closer, so I’m excited to see what the league brings to us,” Honaker said.
Saugus, which is tied for seventh in Division 2AA, plays Valencia in Tuesday’s Foothill League opener at Valencia at 5 p.m.
The Centurions are a well-rounded team this season that can work on the inside as well as score from outside the perimeter using a good mix of returning experience and fresh talent.
“That was something we really lacked last year,” Conn said. “No inside game. We’ve improved that immensely. We’re able to go inside, then they can throw the ball out and we can work our outside game. That’s our biggest advantage this year.”
Monique Febles returns as an aggressive point guard and knows how to distribute the ball to Libbie McMahan, who is back as a confident shooter. Eden MacKenzie has also emerged as the team’s leading 3-point shooter and also leads in field goal percentage.
Their experience complements Riley Phipps and Lulu Salloom, who add defense and rebounding to the team. Building some confidence has helped both of them elevate their games.
“They’re just now realizing that they are able to play at this type of level of basketball,” Conn said. “They’re understanding that they can compete.”
Canyon is another balanced team this season and returns 11 of the players from last season’s roster, including bigs Chidinma Okafor and Lucy Collins. Cowboys head coach Jessica Haayer said that the latter is one of the most improved players on the team, with several 20-plus point nights in preleague.
Jordan Wise, who played mostly defense last season, will be scoring more points for Canyon this year.
“She really learned how to get hers, if you will and she’s so athletic,” Haayer said.”Probably the most athletic kid on our team.”
Kiki Taufaasau grew a few inches since last season and will be even more of a scoring threat as a sophomore in her second year on varsity. She also brings a high basketball IQ to the team, as does freshman Aaliyah Garcia.
“Incredible vision,” Haayer said of Garcia. “Things that I don’t even see and she’s probably the smallest person on the floor. You look at her and she’s little, but oh man she is super crafty and very intelligent.”
Canyon plays at West Ranch Tuesday at 7 p.m. to open its Foothill League slate.
Hart brings a young roster into this Foothill League season with only four players returning from last year. Emma Allen, a four-year varsity player, is shaping up to be the Indians’ top contributor in almost every category.
“She’s one of our most competitive kids. She is always fighting to make something happen for us,” coach Terra Palmer said after a loss to Granada Hills on Jan. 3. “She’s huge and she makes the other kids confident.”
Evelin Herrera and Leila Uribe join Allen as this season’s team captains and can do it all, especially on defense. Laney Grider, a freshman, is showing potential and has already earned a starting position.
As the young Hart team gains confidence, its game will improve.
“When we’re moving the ball and we’re getting the opportunities and the looks that we like, they are a lot more confident and you see a lot more rhythm and what we do, better opportunities present themselves,” said Palmer. “As the younger kids’ confidence grows, we anticipate that we’ll continue to get better and better.”
Hart plays at Golden Valley Tuesday, which has a new head coach in Sixx Johnson. The Grizzlies lost Shyann Franklin and Kim Manary to graduation, but return Imani McGee, a high-scoring guard who is exciting to watch.
“She’s the nucleus of our offense,” said Johnson of McGee after beating Kennedy in mid-December. “We try to play through her and open up everything else.”
Golden Valley holds a 6-7 overall record as they enter Tuesday’s game against Hart.
West Ranch is another team with a new coach and have Shawn Zeringue at the helm this season. In addition to the new coach, freshman Lucia Kajganic and Alissa Saridin are offering some motivation for the Wildcats.
“They encourage my juniors to drive and be aggressive,” Zeringue said after a loss to Calabasas on Dec. 27. “They see the freshmen going all out, so that tells them that they need to do the same. My freshmen are setting the bar high for those who are coming off the bench.”
The Cats went 1-7 in preleague, but will likely be returning two starters ahead of the matchup against Canyon Tuesday.