From my cold workstation in the upper level of the building on 123 W. Alisal Street, I’ve been slowly putting together my thoughts and predictions on the three local girls basketball leagues.
Through the demands of covering 20-plus high schools and carving out bits of time during a hectic holiday work schedule, here’s what I think will happen on the hardwood.
The insight was crafted through talks with coaches, a thorough look at which top players from last year are back and from seeing teams in action. Barring chemistry problems, drama and injuries, I present to you The Salinas Californian’s girls basketball league previews. The Monterey Bay League opens play today while the Mission Trail Athletic League opens next week.
Also, check out my video clip with Soledad senior Felicia Villarruel on http://www.thecalifornian.com. The scintillating scorer talks about her shooting motion and how she feels the Aztecs will fare in the MTAL.
Monterey Bay League Gabilan
Ryan’s take: I see five teams with a legitimate chance of winning the league crown. One coach said it’s going to be battle every single night, and as cliché as that sounds, there really is no better way to summarize what’s going to transpire over the next seven weeks. Here is my predicted order of finish:
1. Christopher: The Cougars bring back almost everyone — and that includes the Tabron sisters, Hanna and Olivia — from last year’s Monterey Bay League championship team. This team showed very few flaws on the court last year, and if they repeat that in this competitive league — look out.
2. North Salinas: The Vikings have a tenacious pack of guards and consistent low-post scoring threats in Darjhian Tennant and Kayla Harper. North Salinas comes into league play well-tested and ready to grind.
3. Salinas: The Cowboys play all of their players and get contributions from every single one, making them a seasoned and deep team ready for the rugged rigors ahead.
4. Hollister: The Haybalers, led by seniors Ellie Burley and Taylor Fabing, got a nice win over Christopher in the Del Mar Tournament finals on Saturday and are 1-1 against Salinas in their two preseason meetings.
5. Seaside: The Spartans built a championship pedigree in the old MBL, and so far in 2012-13 they are showing no signs of dropping off. Senior forward Sabrina Neal is in her fourth varsity season and is a serious league MVP candidate.
6. Notre Dame: The Spirits come armed with terrific guard play and a defensive system that keeps them in games, but they’re still looking for consistent scoring and defense from their post players.
7. Alisal: The Trojans were T-CAL contenders for most of last season thanks to super senior Eva Latu. This year’s Alisal squad is young — only two seniors — and should make strides with junior Natalia Castro and sophomore Brittany Valdez leading the charge.
Monterey Bay League Pacific
Ryan’s take: Monte Vista Christian, Alvarez and Watsonville have emerged as the leaders of this league. The Mustangs hung tough against Christopher at the Watsonville tournament, Alvarez’s starting five can all score and Watsonville has a win over MVC on its ledger. I see six hotly-contested games being waged between three teams. Here is my predicted order of finish:
1. Monte Vista Christian: The Mustangs roll into league play on a six-game winning streak. Six-foot-three senior Sydney Beadle will be a difficult match-up every time she’s on the floor and junior Myckenize Toler is poised for a breakout season.
2. Alvarez: The Eagles will be the team benefiting most from the equity league. Fourth-year coach Christopher Gaskins has this team playing with confidence. “This team is the most conditioned and has the best basketball IQ since I’ve been here,” Gaskins said. “This is the freshmen class when I came in and they have a very family-oriented bound. I think that will take us a long way.”
3. Watsonville: Watsonville’s top players from a year ago — Sonya Cervantes, Brianna Cueva and Mandy Cabanlit — are all back in the fold. The Wildcatz played Christopher, Seaside and MVC tough at home last season.
4. Gilroy: Despite a 1-9 record, four of the Mustangs’ last five games have been decided by four points or less. The Mustangs have a good shot at starting 2-1 in league and possibly 3-0, giving them a nice shot of confidence.
5. North Monterey County: The Condors have a combined six freshmen and sophomores on their roster, and several who see significant minutes. Junior Samantha Flores has been the team’s top scorer and 5-10 freshman Julissa Torres could develop into the next dominant Condor post player.
6. Pajaro Valley: The Grizzlies have not won more than three games in the MBL during any of the last six seasons. With three other teams with two or fewer losses so far this season, surpassing that mark may not be out of reach.
7. Monterey: Seniors Bella White is the only player returning to the Toreadore varsity roster from last year. Five of Monterey’s eight players are freshmen.
Mission Trail Athletic League
Ryan’s take: No team has identified itself as the early favorite in this newly constructed 10-team, two-division league. King City, led by two scrappy seniors, has stirred some early whispers. What about Pacific Collegiate out of Santa Cruz? This team is 7-2 — they hung tough with a good Soquel team — and is led by junior guard Morgan Green, who may up leading the Monterey Bay area in scoring this year. Speaking of scorers, Soledad has a very good one in four-year starter Felicia Villarruel. The Aztecs also have some nice pieces to go around her. We’ll learn a little more in the opening week when King City hosts Pacific Collegiate and Soledad. Here is my predicted order of finish:
1. King City: By the time league starts the Mustangs will have played four teams from the MBL Gabilan Division. Leading the Mustangs is senior Sarah Shepherd who can score and defend — a great combination — and athletic stat-stuffer, senior Jessica Davis.
2. Pacific Collegiate: I’ve already mentioned Green and the Pumas’ loss to Soquel (10-2) as my reasons for PCS being in discussion in the MTAL in their first year. Here’s another: PCS’s other loss was by two points to Branson (8-3)
3. Soledad: The Aztecs will rely heavily on Villarruel’s scoring, as they have the past two years, but she also plays the game with a scrappiness and unselfishness that makes the team better. The Aztecs have reached the playoffs in two of the last three seasons.
4. Santa Catalina: The defending MTAL champions return a fair amount of players — led by all-league first-teamer Lucy Scattini and four-year player Tierney Hightower — and should get better with a heavier dose of games.
5. Carmel: The Padres have two big losses to Seaside and North Salinas, but their other two were by a combined 16 points. Look for their guard play to keep them challenging.
6. Greenfield: The Bruins were competitive in three losses against larger schools going into the winter break, and will see what they’re made off in the first five league games. They open against York and Gonzales and then face Catalina, King City and Soledad.
7. Pacific Grove: The Breakers have held their opponents under 45 points in eight of 10 games, but are just 3-7. Finding some more offense would be a big boost.
8. Stevenson: The Pirates have already equaled their win total from a year ago, and Emma Bhaskar and Nicole Trenka have the qualities to keep this team heading down the right track.
9. Gonzales: The Spartans are still searching for their first win but do pack a scoring punch with K.K. Banuelos and Martha Grimes.
10. York: The Falcons finished runner-up to PCS in the Coastal Athletic League with an 8-2 mark. York will play its first game in its league opener Friday at Greenfield.
* Ryan Wallace is a sports reporter for The Salinas Californian. Contact him at 831-754-4267 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @wallace_salnews.