The pinnacle of Southern California prep basketball is back, and 12 Santa Clarita teams find themselves in the heart of it when the playoffs get underway on Wednesday.
Six boys teams and six girls teams from a range of schools qualified for the playoffs this year and three of them earned a week one bye.
Saugus (23-4 Overall, 10-0 Foothill League) Division 2AA – BYE
“The mindset is that we’re not changing anything,” said Saugus head coach Jason Conn. “It’s just a confidence builder that we were able to go undefeated in league. It was one of the goals the girls set out for in the beginning of the season. We’re still doing our business like we always do and we’re not letting anything go to our head.”
The Centurions are a senior-heavy team this year and are headed by seniors Libbie McMahan and Monique Febles.
“I expect them to be leaders out there and to take control of the game when need be because they are both capable of doing it,” Conn said.
They are complimented on the exterior by juniors Eden Mackenzie and Riley Phipps.
“They’re the 3-point specialists out there,” Conn said. “Those are the two that I count on to hit the threes.”
On the defensive side of the ball, junior Lulu Salloom is the star and key to the Centurions’ undefeated league title.
“I’m looking for her to get 15 rebounds and play some amazing defense against the other team’s best player,” Conn said. “She’s very good and she just adds to the links of the team.”
Saugus has a first-round bye and will play the winner of St. Anthony and Cajon on Saturday.
“I hope that the community comes out and supports Saugus girls basketball Saturday night at our place. The crowd and the fans do make a difference,” Conn said.
Valencia (18-10, 8-2) Division 2AA – at El Dorado
Junior Mailey Ballard and senior Skylar Ingram have been the dynamic duo this year and are a force to reckon with. They were supported by junior Marissa Howell who began to shine late in the season for the Vikings.
The Vikings will kick off the basketball playoffs on Thursday with an away game at El Dorado at 7 p.m. However, they are on almost the complete opposite side of the bracket as Saugus. In order to exact revenge, they would need to meet the Centurions in the semi-final round.
Canyon (18-10, 5-5) Division 2AA – at Pasadena
“If you look at our overall, it doesn’t reflect how we did,” said Canyon head coach Jessica Haayer. “In my opinion, we should be 9-1 (in-league) because we lost all four games by under 10 points and that’s competing at a high level.
Canyon tied with Hart for third in the Foothill League but lost the tie-breaking coin flip and entered the playoff race as an at-large team.
“It’s really nerve-wracking because it’s the first time we’ve been in this situation since I’ve been here,” Haayer said. “(The girls) feel as though they have something to prove.”
The Cowboys offense is led by Chidinma Okafor who is a scoring machine. However, she hasn’t been available to the team throughout the entire season and other players like Kiki Taufaasau and Lucy Collins stepped up to fill the gap.
“I think that’s part of how we’re still adjusting,” Haayer said. “Chidinma had to go to Nigeria for about three weeks. Kiki stepped up a ton, as did Lucy. Now, they’re growing into it and settling in and figuring out how to be ball players. They’re doing some really good things.”
Hart (12-12, 5-5) Division 3A – at West Covina
Hart had an up and down year this year, but battled through to the end to qualify for a Division 3A basketball playoff spot. The Indians were 12-12 overall and 5-5 in league, taking third after the tie-breaker over Canyon.
Seniors Emma Allen and Evelin Herrera are two veterans the Indians will look to lean on as they make their playoff run. Another key player to watch is Laney Grider who is new on the scene. As a freshman she was able to make herself a threat for Hart and keep its hopes alive throughout the season.
SCCS (16-7, 9-3) Division 5A – vs Lutheran
“They’re all excited. I’m excited for them,” said SCCS head coach Dennis Schewsinger. “We finished the season playing our best basketball. That’s where we want to be.”
The Cardinals boasted a young roster this year and Schwesinger is looking to sophomore Kelly Lotz to continue what she’s done for the Cardinals all season. Lotz was SCCS’s leading scorer this year. He is also looking for Jordan Schwesinger to continue her comeback tour from a broken collarbone.
“Jordan just stepped back in the lineup. She came back in and started to get her timing back with our team. That should help us a lot. It gives us one more ball handler on the court which always helps.”
Sophomore Ella Banke has been another young but successful addition to the Cardinals team this year.
“Ella has been real strong playing the low post for us. Real strong underneath the basket,” Schwesinger said.
Trinity (17-8, 12-0) Division 5AA – BYE
The Knights are coming off a perfect league record as well and a 16-game winning streak. They will look for big performances from basketball players from a variety of ages.
Senior Trinity Towns will be expected to lead the team, and her band of star athletes also includes junior Riley Spector, sophomore Katie Brown and freshman Lily Caddow.
SCVi (8-6, 8-5) Division 5A – at Vasquez
Santa Clarita Valley International kicked things off for the boys on Tuesday at Vasquez High School, but were eliminated after a 74-33 loss.
Valencia (23-5, 9-1) Division 1 – BYE
Valencia’s lone league loss came to Hart just four games away from the end of the season.
“When we lost the one game we lost to Hart I think that helped us,” said Valencia head coach Bill Bedgood. “When you win a ton of games in a row going into the playoffs the guys lose focus and get sloppy. That loss kind of helped refocus us and get our minds dialed in and ready to compete. It’s a whole nother level of intensity when your season’s on the line.”
The Vikings will look for continued success from junior Noah Veluzat and seniors Jake Hlywiak, Junior camacho and Kevin Konrad. However, the most important aspect for the Viking will be its depth on the bench.
“Going into the playoffs everyone kind of knows who your top scorers are but we have a very deep team,” Bedgood said. “Some of the keys in this game are going to be your third fourth or fifth option.”
Valencia will either play Crescenta Valley or Crespi after the first round of the playoffs. Its game will be at Valencia High School on Feb. 14 at 7 p.m.
“Two very good programs,” Bedgood said. “Crespi beat us earlier in the year in our first or second tournament. Crescenta valleys a good program. We usually play them in the summer. Either way it’s going to be a good game.”
Hart (16-12, 6-4) Division 3AA – at Covina
Hart’s victory over the Vikings was much needed. Without it, the Indians would not have been able to qualify for the Division 3AA playoff bracket.
The Indians have a cast of shooters that are dangerous from range. Senior Ty Penberthy and and junior Dillon Barrientos will look to lead their team on a deep playoff run this year. They are backed by Penberthy’s brother Jaden, a junior, and Isaac Deedon who is a junior as well. Brady Dunlap will be a crucial piece to the puzzle too as one of the most dynamic freshman of the Foothill League.
Saugus (19-8, 7-3) Division 2AA – at San Gabriel Academy
The Centurions had a rough start to league play, losing their first two games to Valencia and West Ranch, but bounced back and took second place in the Foothill League.
“It’s huge because it gives us the confidence that we need to get into this 2AA playoff bracket that’s just a monster,” said Saugus head coach Alfredo Manzano after beating Hart in the regular-season finale.
As has been the story all season, Saugus will be relying on Adrian Mcintyre and Nate Perez to create a dynamic offense, not only as scorers, but as ball distributors, as well. When they are able to get their flow going, the Centurions generate an explosive offense.
SCCS (19-5) Division 2AA – vs. Maranatha
After a basketball stellar season, SCCS is looking to make waves in the playoffs and make a deep run. SCCS had a 19-5 record and began the year with a big win in The Classic at Damien tournament.
“For us it’s always about the identity and culture that we tried to create from the beginning,” said SCCS head coach James Mosely. “To come out, compete and leave it all on the floor and play together. It’s all about keeping the game simple. We’re excited for a challenge, division 2AA is a really tough division.”
Josh O’Garro has been a huge part of SCCS’s success this season, and expectations are high for him to continue his good season into the playoffs.
“He’s worked hard all year long. He’s a big piece for us,” Mosely said.
Mosely said the Cardinals will be looking to its seniors for leadership.
“They’ve been with me over the years and they are a big part of our success,” Mosely said. “They’re a big piece for us because they have height and they have instinct.”
Trinity (16-6, 9-3) Division 5 A – at Garden Street
The Knights grabbed second place in the Heritage League with a 9-3 league record and will look to seniors Peyton Frazier and Kyle Fields, as well as junior Wil Yumbar to lead them through the playoffs.
They will kick off their bracket at Garden Street at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.