By CLAY KALLAM | Contributor
It’s too bad this game is likely to get lost in the shuffle.
Sure, a few girls’ basketball faithful will make their way to Haas Pavilion on Jan. 16 to see St. Mary’s-Stockton and Carondelet-Concord “” two of Northern California’s most consistent and most talented powers “” play at 12:15 in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Classic in Berkeley. But all the other games are boys’ games, which explains the early starting time, and there will be more than a few fans there who will view a girls’ basketball game as an excuse to go get a burger at Kip’s.
But those who leave, or don’t pay attention, will be missing a premier matchup between two of the top girls’ teams in Northern California, and one that will pit the super-talented guards of Carondelet against the rightfully-feared St. Mary’s press.
On top of that, this could well be a preview of the California Interscholastic Federation Division II Northern regional championship game, as both these teams are favored not only to win section titles, but also advance to the finals.
Why? Let’s start with Carondelet, and guard Hannah Huffman, who will take her strength, skill and speed to Notre Dame next year. Huffman is a matchup nightmare, too quick for bigger players and too strong for quicker ones. She can shoot 3-pointers, post up, get to the rim off the bounce, defend and rebound. Oh, and she also rises to the occasion when the pressure mounts.
Making sure she gets the ball is sophomore Natalie Romeo, who led the Cougars to the state title game as a freshman point guard, and has embraced the challenge of doing more this year after Erica Payne took her post game to Stanford.
“It’s still an adjustment we’re trying to make,” says Carondelet coach Margaret Gartner about the absence of Payne. After all, before Payne, the Cougars could look inside to Jayne Appel, now with the San Antonio Silverstars of the WNBA, so it’s been eight years since they haven’t had a dominant post presence.
“Everyone has to rebound,” says Gartner, before pointing out “St. Mary’s doesn’t have much size either.”
The Rams do have sophomore power forward Charise Holloway, a transfer from Modesto Christian, who plays much bigger than her 5-9 listed height. And junior Courtney Range is 6-2, though she’s more comfortable attacking from the wing than starting on the block.
Still, Range is a factor on the top of the bewildering variety of St. Mary’s presses, and the strategy Gartner employed to beat it the last time the two teams played, back in 2006, won’t quite work.
“We put in a special press-breaker: Throw a deep pass to Jayne (Appel) and everybody take off,” she says. “We won’t be using that this year” ““ unless she can somehow slip Appel back into a Carondelet uniform.
But even though, St. Mary’s and Carondelet haven’t played since 2006, it’s not as if the Cougars haven’t seen their press. “We’ve scrimmaged them every year,” Gartner said. “We do scramble (press) a little bit ourselves, so it won’t be that foreign to us.”
Carondelet will also have to look out for the rain of 3-pointers that will be launched by every player on the St. Mary’s roster, and players like Reggie Camera have no hesitation about firing away from well in back of the high school 3-point line.
So expect a lot of points. That 2006 game ended with St. Mary’s winning 89-61, and in 2005, when the two teams waged an epic battle featuring Appel (29 points, 20 rebounds) and Jacki Gemelos (27 points), the final was won by Carondelet, 72-63.
Hopefully, there will be a gym full of fans to watch these two teams go at it again on Jan. 16, and hopefully some doubters about the quality of girls’ basketball will stick around long enough to get a chance to be seriously impressed.
MORE MID-JANUARY MATCHUPS
The Common Good Classic at Antelope High School will also toss a couple girls’ games into a mix that highlights boys, and the feature game will be at 2 p.m. Jan. 14 when Berkeley and Lincoln-Stockton meet in what could be another NorCal final preview “” this time for Division I.
The Yellowjackets appear to have weathered the loss of three Div.-I players and have lost only to nationally-ranked No. 3 Windward-L.A.. Lincoln, on the other hand, has a lot of firepower back from a 27-5 team that lost to Berkeley by 10 a season ago.
Also on tap Jan. 14 is Del Oro-Loomis vs. Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills, which brings together two of the top teams from the Sacramento area at 5:30, and then on Jan. 16, Kennedy-Sacramento and St. Francis-Sacramento will play the 2:30 game, matching two more teams with aspirations of a deep postseason run.
On Jan. 21, the Campolindo Shootout will have a seven-game all-girls’ lineup that begins with Castro Valley taking on surprising Heritage-Brentwood at 10:30 a.m., and features Berkeley vs. St. Mary’s-Berkeley at 5:30.
The latter game could be enlivened by the presence of St. Mary’s 6-1 guard Gabby Green, who as of Jan. 10 had yet to play this season due to a summer ankle injury. As she is one of the top young players in the country, her return would ratchet up the intensity even further in this intracity matchup.
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