Posted on 05 December 2013 by La Habra Journal
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by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
When it comes to finding success in the 2013-14 season, achieving balance may be the most important key for the La Habra girls’ basketball team.
After finishing third in the Freeway League and winning a playoff game at home last season, the Lady Highlanders lost their top two scorers to graduation.
However, the Lady Highlanders return a total of seven players, including two starters.
La Habra is also much younger this season, as Head Coach Jim Bohn has five freshman on varsity and said they could all play plenty of minutes this season.
“We have a great freshman class,” Bohn said. “All five of them could probably start, but their young and the maturity level isn’t quite there, so it will require quite a bit of patience.”
Over the last couple seasons, the Lady Highlanders relied on Allyson O’Brien and Amy Wilbourn for the bulk of their scoring.
This season, the Lady Highlanders don’t have that standout scorer, so the team will rely on that balance to get scoring from multiple contributors.
The team has also set goals to be the most bonded team on the court as well as the best defensive team in each game.
However, Bohn is hoping that his team’s aggressive defense can help lead to points on the other end.
“Last year, we were a big team and we played more of a half-court offense,” Bohn said. “Now with young legs, we probably won’t go to the half-court offense as much, we’ll start with the defense and try to get as many points as we can off that. We want to get points off our defense.”
Senior forwards Megan Chancellor and Kaili Peko, both returning starters, will be looked to for leadership both on and off the court with help from guard Lizette Martinez, who earned plenty of experience a season ago.
Senior Amanda Cuervo can also provide senior leadership and will play in the post.
But a supporting staff of what Bohn considers a very good freshman class could boost the energy level of this year’s team.
“Megan and Kaili are definitely the frontrunners in terms of leadership and Lizette will get time in that role as well,” Bohn said. “Last year, Lizette was a point guard, this year, we’ll put her at shooting guard so she can be a little more creative and she likes that.”
Freshman guards Emma Zener and Alexis Vigil will help with scoring, while Lani and Larisa Maehara can run the point guard position. Hannah MacArthur will provide another tall body in the paint.
Lani Maehara will start the season at the point guard position and can drive and score, or find the open person for a shot, according to Bohn. Zener will be a starter as well.
Another factor for this season’s team is the development of sophomore 6-foot-3 center Ashleigh Bessler, who played her first year of basketball last season as a freshman.
“It depends on the game, whether Ashleigh will start or not,” Bohn said. “We’re trying to get her to be more aggressive. Our goal is to work an inside-outside game, but it’s still in progress.”
The Lady Highlanders play a tough nonleague schedule, including tilts with El Toro and Villa Park, to go along with three tournaments before entering league play.
La Habra will defend its crown in the Lady Highlanders Classic, participate in the Ocean View Varsity Tournament and head down to San Diego County for the So. Cal. Holiday Prep Classic. The latter two are new tournaments for the Lady Highlanders this season.
“With a young team, I didn’t want to play the tournaments of the past where we could count on some wins,” Bohn said. “Instead, I wanted to challenge the team and give them some games that will be tough in terms of competing. It’s a bit of a rebuild year, but I think this will be a good team and we can boost up the next few years.”
Those tournaments will provide different looks both offensively and defensively and should set the Lady Highlanders up for what should be an interesting run in the Freeway League.
Bohn believes his team can be in the mix in the Freeway League as long as they can find that balance during the nonleague schedule.
“I’m trying to put us in more competitive environments this year,” Bohn said of his nonleague schedule. “We will compete this year, our goal is to win. In league, I know Sonora will be tough, Melissa [Barajas] always prepares her teams well and Troy is always up there, but I think the rest of us aside from Troy are in that rebuild mode. We’re just going to compete and give it our best.”
Like their cross-town rivals, Sonora also possesses some young talent at the varsity level this season.
A year removed from taking second place in the Freeway League, Sonora returns just one starter, who doubles as one of only two seniors on this year’s team.
Point guard Lauren Nakahara will be asked to provide leadership for this season’s Lady Raiders, a team that has five freshman and five sophomores.
“We worked on a lot of skill work this offseason, our girls were in the gym every day in the spring and summer and we played a lot of games,” said Melissa Barajas, Sonora head coach. “We also did a lot of work in the weight room, getting stronger and more athletic with this young team.”
With that youth, development may take a bit longer than usual for Sonora, but Barajas is excited about the potential of her freshman class.
One of those players, Meghann Henderson, is a player to watch for not only this year, but the next three years as well.
“She’s an excellent player, I don’t think she realizes how talented she is,” Barajas said. “She’s young, so she might go through some growing pains running the point for us, but we’re expecting big things from her and we know that by the midway point, she will figure it out. She’s already had some great games for us.”
Freshman Annie Wubbena will provide minutes for the Lady Raiders off the bench, while sophomores Marissa Dunn and forward Angela Rodriguez will start.
Dunn and junior Andrea Agramon both had experience on varsity last season and will be asked to help Nakahara lead this year’s squad.
“We’re really looking for these three to lead on the court by example and set the tone in practice to show the younger players what it means to be a varsity player,” Barajas said. “I’m looking to see them display examples of mental focus and communication on the court as well. Lauren is the one who sets the tone for us, she may be small, but she’s the toughest one on the court for us and we’re trying to show the younger kids how to play with intensity and she’s being a great example of that.”
Offensively, the Raiders may have to rely on jump shots and outside shooting, as the team is a little undersized in the middle.
However, Rodriguez is a fearless player who will battle down low for rebounds and inside scoring, while the other four starters, Nakahara, Dunn, Agramon and Henderson have the ability to knock down long-range shots.
“We always want to be balanced, but I would say that we are more perimeter oriented,” Barajas said. “We definitely want to play faster than other teams and put pressure on them, force turnovers and be able to score in transition.”
Barajas said that the defense is still a bit of a work in progress this early in the season, but hopes that her team can get it all worked out through tournaments and nonleague play within the next month.
In addition to playing in the Wilson Ladycat Classic, the Lady Raiders will be heading back to both the Arroyo Tournament and the So. Cal. Holiday Prep Classic.
Sonora will also play a slew of nonleague games against California, Whittier, Woodbridge and Paramount.
It all sets up for a Freeway League race that Barajas believes is more open this year than it has been in years past.
“We really need to clean up our defense and really focus on details like communication and improving on ball pressure,” Barajas said. “I think the Freeway League will be wide open, a lot of teams will be young and the problem with that is you don’t know what you’re going to get. That first taste of the league environment can be daunting, especially in ours where the gyms are loud, which can be a challenge for a young team.”
The Whittier Christian girls basketball team has a luxury that most other teams in the area cannot brag about: returning its leading scorer.
Last season, forward Sydney Lopez was a force down low, leading the team in scoring and rebounding as a junior while the Lady Heralds took second place in the Olympic League and made the second round of the playoffs.
This season, Lopez is back, but a decent portion of the supporting cast will be replaced as point guard Raylene Olivares and forward Lauren Macias graduated.
Still, the Lady Heralds will focus on defense to win games this season and starters Hannah Yoshihara and Priscilla Zamorano will help Lopez score points on the offensive end.
“Hopefully they got a lot of experience from last year, we’re going to rely on Sydney a lot, but the other seniors and players have to feed off that and not depend on her so much,” said Richard Villeza, Whittier Christian head coach. “With that experience, we’re hoping that they can step up and alleviate some of that scoring load off of Sydney.”
Juniors Tyler Gibson and Kyanna Barboza along with senior Tammi Adereti will be role players on the defensive end and will help Lopez fight for rebounds down low.
The team also has two sophomores and a freshman, all of which can provide help for this year’s team.
Sophomore Makenna Coleman will start for the Lady Heralds at the small forward position, while sophomore Amanda Ashworth and freshman Christa Evans will earn minutes off the bench.
Junior Megan Kleber will provide a boost in rebounding when Lopez needs a rest.
“The one thing we have is a little versatility,” Villeza said. “We can go small if we need to with Tammi and Tyler. It might hurt in rebounding, but their heart and hustle make up for that. Whenever we’re down, we’re going to have to go small and athletic.”
But like last season, this year’s Lady Heralds squad will be scrappy on defense in the hopes that it can lead to transition baskets on the other end.
Yoshihara is a returning starter, while Gibson, Barboza, and Zamarano earned minutes off the bench last year. All bring back plenty of experience for this year’s squad.
“From a leadership standpoint, I’m hoping that last season will play a huge part in how they approach this year in leaving everything out on the floor,” Villeza said. “Hopefully, they’ll get the other girls to play as hard as they can. With Priscilla, I’m looking to see her initiate the offense and get everyone involved. For Hannah, I want her to be more aggressive with open shots.”
The success of this year’s squad may be predicated on how well it plays defense, but with the experience coming back, Villeza is hopeful that his team can pick it up quickly.
“We’re going to struggle a little bit on offense, we’re not overloaded with talent on that side,” Villeza said. “Once we get a few games under ourselves, we’ll start getting better at rotations and getting stops. It’s going to start with our defense.”
In addition, Villeza believes that the team’s cohesiveness and the ability to overcome adversity could be contributing factors when it comes to earning victories this season.
The Lady Heralds will play in the Lady Highlanders Classic and the Norwalk/Glenn Tournament before making a return trip to the Ontario Christian Tournament. Mixed in are nonleague games against Liberty Christian, La Serna, Edgewood of West Covina and Crossroads Christian in Corona.
The nonleague schedule will prepare the Lady Heralds for a tough trip through the Olympic League, which will provide tough challenges every week.
“We’re just looking for progress, I think the first five or six games will give us a fingerprint of what the season will hold for us,” Villeza said. “We want to work on those combos and make sure we stay healthy. In league, we’re looking for first place, I think quite a few teams lost key players from last year. There are definitely good teams out there this year, but if we make the progressions I anticipate, I think we’ll be a pretty good team. I predict us finishing first or second place.”