Season outlook: Saugus girls’ basketball looks to win third Foothill League title in a row

Centurions' Victoria Phan dribbling and sizing up for her next move. Courtesy of Jason Conn

By Ryan Menzie 

Signal Sports Writer  

The Saugus Centurions girls’ basketball team has its goal set out for the season: to win three Foothill League titles in a row, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in the Foothill League since the Valencia Vikings completed the three-peat in 2017.  

The Centurions look to continue their dominance, but in a league as competitive as the Foothill League, their chances don’t get any easier as the reigning champions.  

Here is the season outlook for the girls’ basketball teams of the Santa Clarita Valley.  

All current records are based off the day this story was published. 

Saugus High School  

The Saugus Centurions finished the 2021 season with a 9-1 overall record, good enough to earn at least a share of their second league title in a row. The Centurions currently hold a 5-2 overall record (2-1 league) despite losing four of their starters who had accounted for 90% of the scoring.  

“At the moment, we have a real chance to three-peat,” said Centurions’ head coach Jason Conn. “We’re young and we’re learning. We have to be focused on the little things and we need to be aggressive. Most of all we need to be disciplined. We’re not a team that can dominate individually so we need to be a team that can be a disciplined team.” 

Despite losing most of their offense, the Centurions are led by center Ruth Kempler and point guard Victoria Phan, who are both three-year varsity players. Kempler looks up to her former teammates for their hard work and high level of play. 

“I think that our main goal is to win league,” said Kempler. “We have to continue to work hard every day and have 100% focus and effort every practice.”  

Phan, who models her game after her older brother who was a former Centurion and always has high energy on the court, has the same goal in mind, to win league.  

“From last season the work ethic will definitely carry over for us,” said Phan. “We all want to continue to work hard and have a lot of room for improvement. We all need to stay on the same level and keep our goals on the same page. Everyone on the team is very supportive of each other.” 

Valencia High School 

The Valencia Vikings would also finish with a 9-1 record in the 2021 season to get a share of the league title with the Centurions. The Vikings now have a much younger team and head coach Kevin Honaker looks to build upon a tough early season and teach a young group of players how to become a successful varsity program. 

The Vikings currently hold a 2-8 (1-1 league) record.  

“It is a completely new season,” said Honaker. “Losing five seniors who competed and did amazing for four years together put us in a completely new future. We’re trying to build the mindset and culture to have what we have established for a long time and get back to it. That’s our No. 1 thing now: to learn to be competitive.” 

The Vikings are led by Libby Oxciano and Chelsea Besina. Oxciano, a 10th-grade guard who models her game after Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson and Nneka Ogwumike, wants to focus on team chemistry and see how far the season will take them. 

“I expect a lot of improvement from us,” said Oxciano. “We need to start working on our flaws. Fixing those little things will get us to where we want to be for sure. The expectations are still there for us.” 

Besina, who models her game after Trae Young, wants to see high defense and energy out on the court.  

“We’re going to go out there and play hard and do the best that we can,” said Besina.  

Canyon High School  

The Canyon Cowboys finished tied for third in the Foothill League with a 5-5 record in 2021. The Cowboys are out to a quick 7-2 start (2-0 league) and as long as they can maintain that pace, they are well on their way to take the league title from Saugus and Valencia. 

“The goal is always to compete. It’s been an exciting season,” said Cowboys head coach Jessica Haayer. “We haven’t played in so long so it’s nice to get out there and compete. Last season was so short so we’re thankful to have had a summer and play over 30 games. We got a lot of young talent that has bought into the program so we now look to get better game by game.” 

The Cowboys will be led by their juniors Aaliyah Garcia, who averaged 14 points and four assists per game last season to lead the team, and Jade Sims. Garcia models her game after Trae Young and believes they had a solid run last year, but believes they can do much better this season.  

“The expectations are to win league. We have a pretty solid team this year so that’s where we’re heading,” said Garcia. “We have to always be ready and stay hungry. We can reach our goals with the right mindset.” 

Sims, who has been leading the team in scoring for the early part of the season and models her game after Klay Thompson, wants to make sure they are all on the same page and play as a team together.  

“We definitely just need to be more connected as a team,” said Sims. “Don’t let anybody scare us. We know what we have to do to get to where we want to be.” 

Hart High School  

The Hart Indians tied with the Cowboys with a 5-5 record to secure a share of third place last season. It was head coach Jerry Mike’s first season with the Indians, but Mike has had his share of experiences throughout the Foothill League, including coaching at Valencia, and knows what needs to be done in order to compete at a high level. The Indians hold a 7-2 overall (2-0 league) record.  

Laney Grider, 4, elevates for a jump shot over Golden Valley defenders during the second half of the girls varsity basketball game between the Hart Indians and the Golden Valley Grizzlies at the Hart High School Gymnasium in Santa Clarita, Calif, on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. Chris Torres/The Signal

“We have high expectations for ourselves,” said Mike. “We only lost one player so we think we should be pretty good. It’s more about getting accustomed to things and knowing our strengths. They’re fun to work with. They’re enjoyable and come ready to go every day. If you like basketball and come out to watch us play, it will be a fun time.” 

The Indians are led by Kayla Hourigan, their top scorer from last season who averaged just under 20 points per game and 12 rebounds, and Laney Grider, their second leading scorer who averaged 12 points per game.  

“I think we have all the right pieces,” said Hourigan. “The goal this season is to be a powerhouse down low. Last season we had a new coach and a new season. Everything was new for us but now we’re ready to go out and play. We worked so hard to get here so now it’s time to go and show it off.”  

Grider, who models her game after all the ideas she learned from a former coach at The Master’s University, believes that Hart can win the whole season.  

“We have the teamwork skills and we can all play very well individually,” said Grider. “We need to continue to play as a unit on defense and let the offense play smoothly. Take it game by game.”  

West Ranch High School  

The West Ranch Wildcats finished fifth overall with a 2-8 record for the 2021 season. Despite the record, the expectations are still high for head coach Carlos Fandino and his team, who are still waiting for transferred players to join them mid-December and make the playoffs for the first time since 2014.  

“We have a solid group of seniors this year,” said Fandino. “Last season was a weird year for us. We didn’t think we were going to play but we stayed competitive with a couple of Foothill League teams. We felt we could have gone at least 4-6. I think this year we’ve grown from that and we should be able to excel and make it to the playoffs. Our team has come together and faced a lot of adversity.” 

The West Ranch Wildcats girls basketball team. Courtesy of Carlos Fandino

With high hopes being set for the Wildcats, they will be led by Nadia Bernard and Layla Davis. Bernard, who is a transfer from Valencia and models her game after her dad who played overseas, feels West Ranch is the right location for her and the place for her to grow as teammate and player.  

“We definitely have high expectations to win league and go as far as we can to win in the playoffs,” said Bernard. “For me personally this is a big year for me. It’s my junior year and we got some coaches coming in to see me during games. I need to dial in and focus this year heading into senior year.” 

Davis, who models her game after Kobe Bryant and Anthony Davis, is a sophomore transfer from Paraclete High School but looks to keep her team motivated and be a leader on the court.  

“The goal is to stay strong mentally for the entire season,” said Davis. “I expect us to play hard and play as a team. My job is to get us to where we need to go and win league and be on our way to the CIF and state playoffs.” 

Golden Valley High School 

The Golden Valley Grizzlies rounded out the Foothill League, finishing in sixth place last season. Head coach Charise Hall is not discouraged as she looks to rebuild the program with new routines and establish a new culture.  

“Everything is grit,” said Hall. “Putting everything on the line and going hard in practice. Everyone is excited to finally have a regular season. Getting back in the routine is what we’re looking forward to.” 

The Grizzlies will be led by Valery Garcia and Lianne Calvo. Garcia looks up to her dad for all the things she was taught with basketball and expects the team to go out and work hard every single time.  

“We need to work hard every single day and put the work in,” said Garcia. “We’re working hard and talking to one another. Win or lose we’re still going to work hard and put the work in.” 

Calvo, who models her game after Steph Curry, also expects the team to go hard but wants to increase the level of communication on the court.  

“We’re all close and have built good enough relationships to play on the court,” said Calvo. “We just need to continue being there for each other and keep our heads up even when things start getting tough for us.” 

Trinity Classical Academy  

The Trinity Classical Academy Knights are not part of the Foothill League, but had the best season among local teams last spring, winning the Division 5-A CIF and state championships with a 15-4 overall record. The success for head coach James De Monbrun and his team has motivated his team to compete at a higher level and division for the upcoming season.  

The Knights currently hold a 3-2 (1-0 league) record.  

“Our expectations don’t change. It’s up to the girls to bring the best effort and attitude,” said De Monbrun. “We don’t want to win a certain number of games, we just go out to compete. We didn’t lose any seniors so there is going to be cohesiveness going into the year. We’re going to have to call on the experience we gained from making it so far into the playoffs last season for this season.” 

Trinity’s Kelly Lotz drives by West Ranch forward Nadia Bernard (31) to the basket. Courtesy of Wally Caddow

The Knights are led by Kelly Lotz and Lily Caddow. Lotz looks up to her teammate Caddow for her composure toward the game. She follows the advice her personal trainer and coach have given her throughout the years.  

“As a Christian athlete I was taught to play selflessly while also balancing being a team leader and playing aggressively,” said Lotz. “Last year felt like the classic underdog story. Now we’re playing against schools much bigger than us with coaches who have never heard what school we are. It’s exciting to know we can compete with the bigger schools.” 

Caddow, who models her game after her brother, who played four years at Trinity, and her teammate Lotz, understands that even though she plays for a smaller school she should control what she can control on the basketball court and academically.  

“It’s hard to really say what the expectations are because we’re in a position we’ve never been in before,” said Caddow. “There’s a lot of unexpected and new things going on, which is exciting. I’ve played with Kelly (Lotz) since about seventh or eighth grade and she is someone I have always looked up to. When she graduates, I hope I can emulate the same attitude and impact she has made for me and this team.” 

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