SSM’s Jim McCue takes a closer look at Division I-V as first-round games prepare to tip-off on Feb. 15.
SportStars’ primary Sac-Joaquin Edition contributor digs into each of the top five girls playoff brackets and breaks things down.
THE FAVORITE: St. Mary’s-Stockton (25-2, 10-0 Tri Valley League). Despite the transer of Courtney Range and the move up to Div. I, the Rams are still the team to beat. The perennial state contender finished as Div. II runners-up to Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland last year, and fell to the Dragons in a recent rematch, but no other Northern California team has provided much of a test for St. Mary’s over the last five years. Sophomore Brijanee Moore has emerged as the latest all-around talent for the Rams, and has plenty of support from senior Unique Coleman and junior Charise Holloway. Head coach Tom Gonsalves has had plenty of success at Sleep Train Arena (through all of its name changes) and has plenty of talent for another section title.
THE BRACKETBUSTER: Pleasant Grove-Elk Grove (19-8, 7-3 Delta River League). Preseason favorites for the DRL and section titles, the Eagles labored through an inconsistent 2013. After winning the consolation final of the West Coast Jamboree in early January, Pleasant Grove has posted a 10-6 mark which included a pair of back-to-back defeats. Through the up-and-down play, head coach James McKeever’s group still has the talent to pull it all together for a run at the section title. Seniors Dezja James (18.3 ppg, 12.3 rpg) and Avonna Lee (17.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg) have led the team, as expected, while sophomore Kim Schmelz has been the most consistent third option averaging nearly 10 points per contest.
ONE PLAYER TO WATCH: Ali Bettencourt (Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills). The junior has seized the opportunity to be the go-to player for the Trojans (23-3, 10-0 Delta River League), which started the season without senior forward Haley Anderson. Game in and game out, Bettencourt has paced Oak Ridge to a perfect DRL campaign. Her continued success at both ends of the floor will determine if coach Steve White’s top-seeded team can return to the section final and beyond.
CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION: St. Mary’s 70, Oak Ridge 58
THE FAVORITE: Sacramento (23-4, 14-0 Metro League). The Dragons are unbeaten against section foes, and have won 92 consecutive league games dating back to 2006. Head coach Michelle Masarri’s emphasis on defense and discipline has sustained such success, but the Dragons were disappointed with a NorCal semifinal loss last year. Allie Green, a senior guard and the team’s leading scorer this year, missed all of last season with a knee injury. Thus, her talent alone is a huge boost for Sac High’s quest for a third consecutive section crown. Green is supported ably by senior posts Ayanna Edwards and Breanna Garrett, junior guards Zonyia Cormier and Chaya Durr, and freshman sharpshooter Aliceah Hernandez.
THE BRACKETBUSTER: Del Oro-Loomis (17-10, 7-3 Sierra Foothill League). Head coach Mike Takayama has consistently fielded playoff contenders and this year’s team is no different. Del Oro survived most of a challenging schedule without senior Brianna Ruiz, including its run through the difficult SFL. Ruiz suffered a bad knee injury in the offseason and many thought that the team’s top returner would miss all of her senior season. However, the 5-foot-11 guard returned for the last four regular season games. In her absence, senior forward Stephanie Geyer stepped up her game to the tune of 16 points and nearly eight rebounds per game. With Ruiz back in the mix, Del Oro could make a run and challenge Sacramento for the title.
ONE PLAYER TO WATCH: Dalayna Sampton (Florin-Sacramento). The junior forward emerged from the shadow of star teammate Daija Joe-Smith to lead the team in scoring (16.8 ppg) and rebounding (14.6 rpg) for the Panthers (19-8, 9-5 Metro League). Sampton has exploited defenses eager to contain seniors Joe-Smith (17.0 ppg, 12.8 rpg) and Deja Conger (11.9 ppg) on the perimeter.
CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION: Sacramento 64, Gregori-Modesto 55
THE FAVORITE: Christian Brothers-Sacramento (20-7, 10-0 Capital Valley League). The Falcons enter the playoffs with an eight-game winning streak and plenty of confidence as the No. 1 seed. Sophomore post Kira McKechnie has emerged as an inside presence, averaging 14.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. Senior guards Ana Burch (11.8 ppg) and Niel Valormes (10.5 ppg) have taken advantage of the attention paid to McKechnie and form a solid backcourt. Burch and Valormes run the offense and often start it from the defensive end as the pair have averaged 7 steals per game combined. Head coach Ron Gully is hopeful that the top seed and promotion of Sacramento to Div. II will open the door for a section title after falling in the semifinals last year.
THE BRACKETBUSTER: Placer-Auburn (23-4, 8-2 Pioneer Valley League). The Hillmen have shown resilience all season long, capped by a come-from-behind victory in the regular season finale that clinched a share of the PVL title. Seniors Kerry McCullough, Kristin Schauble and Lauren Collins have provided valuable leadership and experience to a team that also features rising underclassmen, including freshman post Baylee Vanderdoes and junior Elena Daniel. Coach Tony Camilucci is seeking the program’s first section title, and the team’s deep roster and hard-fought run through the PVL gives the Hillmen a fighting chance.
ONE PLAYER TO WATCH: Courtney Range (Manteca). The senior had to wait until the calendar year changed to 2013 before she could contribute to her new team after transferring from St Mary’s-Stockton. The 2012 SportStars Female Winter Athlete of the Year has led the Buffaloes (20-6, 14-0 Valley Oak League) to 13 wins in 14 games since she was allowed on the court. She did miss the last two contests with an ankle injury. Range is averaging 20.6 points and 19.9 rebounds in those 14 games, and she has a wealth of playoff experience from her Rams days. If healthy, Range will dazzle spectators in her last postseason before heading to Cal.
CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION: Rio Americano 61, Manteca 57
THE FAVORITE: Bear River-Grass Valley (23-3, 8-2 Pioneer Valley League). A perennial playoff power, the Bruins have won seven Div. IV section titles, but none since 2007. Senior guards Savannah Welz (9.8 ppg) and Cindy Solomon (7.7 ppg) have anchored the offense and led a young team. Junior Kaitlyn Reina leads the team in most statistical categories with 13.2 ppg, 9.7 rpg, and 3.5 steals per game. Coach Jeff Bickmore’s team may have been disappointed to share the PVL crown with rivals Colfax and Placer, but the Bruins can separate themselves from their league counterparts with another section title.
THE BRACKETBUSTER: Bradshaw Christian-Sacramento (23-2, 12-0 Sierra Delta League). The Pride did not earn a top four seed despite winning 17 consecutive games to finish the regular season. The lack of strength in the Sierra Delta League likely hurt Bradshaw Christian, but coach Mike Ruble’s squad has beaten bigger schools like Grant and Modesto Christian. Sophomores Erika Bean and Jordyn Bell have combined for 29 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 9.4 steals per game, and ensure a promising future for the Pride. Senior Ashlee Jones added 4.6 steals to the team’s hounding defense that average nearly 21 steals per contest.
ONE PLAYER TO WATCH: Selina Moore (Liberty Ranch-Galt). The senior guard has done it all for the Hawks (17-10, 7-5 Sierra Valley League) with 19 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.1 steals, 3.4 assists, and one block per game. Accounting for nearly half of the team’s points, Moore will draw lots of defensive attention in the postseason, and should attract lots of attention from spectators with the playoffs as her showcase.
CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION: Bear River 56, Colfax 53
THE FAVORITE: Brookside Christian-Stockton (23-4, 8-0 Central California AA League). The defending CIF State Champions graduated just one player and it wasn’t guard Tiara Tucker, so head coach Que Ngo has his sights set on repeating as section, NorCal, and state champions. Tucker is the section’s leading scorer with 29.3 ppg, and can light up opponents from anywhere on the floor. The Knights again scheduled games against bigger schools and perennial regional powers such as Sacramento, Bishop O’Dowd, St. Francis-Sacramento, Pleasant Grove, and St. Ignatius-San Francisco, making them playoff ready. Brookside Christian’s roster consists of only underclassmen, including imposing sophomore post Raky’ra Gabriel (12.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg), so this year could just be the continued rise of a dynasty.
THE BRACKETBUSTER: Woodland Christian (24-3, 12-0 Central Valley California League). The Cardinals have not lost in 2013 and are riding a 13-game winning streak into the playoffs. Sophomores Rebecca Williams (13.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and Paige Randolph (10.3 ppg) lead the young team that has sought out big names like Sacred Heart Prep-Atherton and Turlock Christian to prepare for its postseason run.
ONE PLAYER TO WATCH: Halie Bergman (Turlock Christian). The senior guard again finished second in the section in scoring with a 27.2 ppg average, but she can do anything and everything that coach Edwin Santiago asks of her. Bergman also averaged 9.6 rebounds, 6.4 steals, 5.3 assists, and 2.8 blocks per game for the Eagles (23-4, 13-1 Southern League). She poured in a season-high 38 in a narrow win over Ripon Christian, but her best effort may have come in a 51-41 victory over Woodland Christian in December when she scored 33 points and pulled down 24 rebounds.
CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION: Brookside Christian 66, Turlock Christian 51
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