Girls basketball is perhaps the most impressive high school sport in Stockton and San Joaquin County, and this year is proving it yet again.
Not only is St. Mary’s ranked No. 6 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, but Lincoln and Brookside Christian join the Rams in NorCalPreps’ Top 20 rankings.
Here is my All-Area Player of the Year Watchlist, in its first edition for 2016-17:
Remember: This is just for fun, and this list can change dramatically before season’s end. The Record puts a huge emphasis on winning teams, so there are players who are probably good enough to be on this list, but whose teams are struggling in league play so they’re less likely to win this award
Aquira DeCosta (St. Mary’s forward, junior)
DeCosta is a double-double waiting to happen, and the scary part is, she’s still just scratching the surface of her potential. The 6-foot-2 Rams star just posted 23 points and 15 rebounds in an 89-69 win over Mission Hills-Bishop Alemany on Monday in St. Mary’s MLK Showcase. She’s ESPN’s top-rated prospect for the Class of 2018.
Ariel Johnson (St. Mary’s guard, junior)
Johnson, despite being recruited my many, still flies a little under the spotlight because of the recruiting notoriety of DeCosta. But make no mistake, Johnson is relentless, can score by driving to the basket, hit 3-pointers and wreak havoc on defense. She’s the kind of versatile that college recruiters love and that will translate well to big-time college basketball. I could see Johnson in the Pac-12. She’s averaging 15 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Loretta Kakala (Manteca center, senior)
Kakala was recently named the first McDonald’s All-American from the city of Manteca, and the fourth from San Joaquin County (joining St. Mary’s graduates Jacki Gemelos, Chelsea Gray and Afure Jemerigbe). She’s averaging 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Buffaloes, who sit atop the Valley Oak League standings as the only team without a loss.
Celeste Almendarez (Edison guard, junior)
Almendarez is 5-foot-7 in a lineup that features three 6-footers — Vantajia Warren, Jaliah Williams and Koletta Wooten — but her IQ, speed, unselfishness and tenacity make her the Vikings’ catalyst. Plus, she could post a triple-double at any time. Almendarez is averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Donwanae Anthony (Kimball forward, senior)
Anthony isn’t just a powerful forward with the ability to score at will, but is a superb facilitator for her teammates. She’s putting up 17 points and 11 boards per game, though Kimball is in a rough stretch after consecutive VOL losses to Manteca and Modesto-Central Catholic.
Shaylene Stark (Brookside Christian guard, senior)
Stark was an excellent complement last year for Aari McDonald (two-time All-Area Player of the Year, and now a Washington guard). Now, she’s beyond important for a team that literally doesn’t have any bench due to an already thin roster and a key injury. Stark is averaging 14 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Deyliana Lewis (Bear Creek forward, sophomore)
Lewis is the only forward who starts for the guard-heavy Bruins, but runs the floor like a guard and can do a bit of everything for Bear Creek. Lewis, whose nickname is “Dey Dey”, averages 10 points, six rebounds and two steals.
Zahria Hendrix (Lincoln guard, senior)
The Trojans have a balanced scoring attack, but Hendrix is the best open-court defender, has a great 3-point shot, can get to the basket and is a threat for blocking shots, too. The Stanislaus State signee is averaging 11 points, seven boards and four steals.
MORE NAMES TO WATCH
Kiara Manipol (Lincoln guard, senior)
Neenah Young (St. Mary’s forward, junior)
Vantajia Warren (Edison forward, senior)
Donja Payne (East Union forward, sophomore)
Savannah Henson (Brookside Christian guard, junior)
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