Girls Basketball Power Rankings: Vol. IV

St. Mary's junior point guard Sierra Smith, left, goes up for a layup against Los Angeles-Bishop Alemany during the Rams' MLK Showcase on Jan. 16 at Morelli Gym. CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD

From the first possession, you knew it was the kind of game that St. Mary’s thrives in.

The first half of the St. Mary’s-Lincoln girls basketball rivalry featured 28 total fouls, and a wash of sloppy-but-intense transition defense, steals and errant passes. The Rams live for that chaos.

Sure enough, St. Mary’s strolled to a 76-36 win, its 48th consecutive victory overall dating to December 2014, and at least its 12th consecutive victory over Lincoln.

With that, the Rams easily remained atop my Girls Basketball Power Rankings:

GIRLS POWER RANKINGS

1. ST. MARY’S (1) 19-0

The scary thing about St. Mary’s is, even when most of their shooters are off, they do such a nice job creating opportunities for one another that it just takes one to have a good night. At Lincoln, it was junior guard Naje Murray, who scored 17 of her game-high 21 points in the first half, mostly via five 3-pointers.

2. BROOKSIDE CHRISTIAN (2) 15-7, 8-0 CCAA

The Knights have been red-hot of late, picking up impressive wins over Lincoln, Venture Academy, and most importantly, Los Altos Hills-Pinewood via a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in overtime from Aari McDonald, The Record’s reigning All-Area Player of the Year. This team added important depth once transfers like former McNair guard Shaylene Stark were activated.

3. LINCOLN (3) 16-5, 4-0 TCAL

While the Trojans didn’t enjoy falling to their rivals last night, they’ve still handled their business where they’ve needed to, en route to a likely Tri-City Athletic League outright title and a top six seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs. The Trojans, though, need to get junior guard Lianna Tillman and senior guard Lauren Rabena, both starters, healthy.

4. VENTURE ACADEMY (4) 18-4, 5-1 CCAA

The Mustangs are likely chomping at the bit for a rematch with Brookside Christian, after falling to the Knights 67-63 at home on Jan. 21. The starting trio of Anya Gamez, Jada Menchaca and Jazlyn Maletino is formidable on both sides of the court.

5. EAST UNION (5) 19-1, 7-0 VOL

The Lancers’ biggest test comes today in facing co-VOL leader Manteca at 5:45 p.m., also a battle for this No. 5 placement in the rankings.

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Boys Basketball Power Rankings: Vol. IV

Weston Ranch senior D'Angelo Finley, right, blocks a shot from Modesto-Central Catholic's Peter Hamilton during their Valley Oak League boys basketball game Monday in Stockton. Weston Ranch, which remains No. 1 in The Record's large-school boys basketball rankings, won 69-66. CALIXTRO ROMIAS/THE RECORD

It was clear from the start Ephraim Estell and company were going to shake up The Record’s next large-school boys basketball power rankings.

Though West is a big win or two away from cracking the top five, it upended No. 3 Lodi 82-71 on Friday night in Tracy. The junior Estell powered his way to 23 points and 18 rebounds, while junior guard Isaiah Abdul shined for 25 points.

On the small-school side, previously-unranked Venture Academy upset Brookside Christian by a point, behind Anthony Young’s 31-point performance. The Mustangs and Knights are now tied for first in the Central California Athletic Alliance.

LARGE-SCHOOL BOYS

1. WESTON RANCH (1) 16-4, 7-0 VOL

The Cougars have been able to stay untouched through a brutal first half of Valley Oak League play, despite two tests from third-place Modesto-Central Catholic. Weston Ranch opened VOL play with a 62-58 win in Modesto, and rallied to win 69-66 last night, keyed by a four of six night from 3-point land from senior Fred Lavender. Weston Ranch beat No. 2 Manteca 72-68 the last time around at home in Stockton, but the Buffaloes host the Cougars at 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday at Winter Gym.

2. MANTECA (2) 17-3, 6-1 VOL

The Buffaloes are playing some of their best basketball, behind the red-hot shooting of junior guard Dwight Young, the versatility of junior wing Tydus Verhoeven and the consistent dominance of seniors Kenny Wooten and Anand Hundal in the paint. Manteca should be the favorite to win round two. This feel’s like a co-VOL championship season, between two teams that you’d hope would meet in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III finals.

3. ST. MARY’S (4) 11-8, 3-0 TCAL

The Rams keep on taking care of business with balanced scoring and defense-first basketball. St. Mary’s has a chance to make a Tri-City Athletic League statement, facing Lodi on the road at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The Rams beat the West Wolf Pack at eight by home, but that’s no guarantee of beating the Flames, who are likely fired up beyond belief after being upset on Friday.

4. LODI (3) 13-7, 2-1 TCAL

Lodi has the depth, defense and an All-Area caliber threat in Spencer Monteiro, which is still enough to split or win a TCAL championship outright if they play their best basketball. St. Mary’s has won at least nine consecutive games against Lodi, where Rams coach Ken Green coached before landing at his alma mater.

5. EDISON (5) 13-7, 4-0 SJAA

The Vikings topped the former San Joaquin Athletic Association co-leaders McNair Eagles by 10 points on Friday. Edison now gets a shot at arch rival and last-place Franklin to complete a perfect first-half run through league. Edison was my pick to win the SJAA before the league slate began, and I’m sticking with it.

SMALL-SCHOOL BOYS

1. BROOKSIDE CHRISTIAN (1) 16-3, 7-1 CCAA

2. CALAVERAS (2) 15-4, 5-1 MLL

3. RIPON CHRISTIAN (3) 12-6, 5-0 TVL

4. VENTURE ACADEMY (NR) 10-7, 6-1 CCAA

5. ELLIOT CHRISTIAN (NR) 9-5, 4-2 CCAA

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Aumavae, Grim, Guevara, Dancy named All-NorCal

The MaxPreps.com 2015 All-Northern California football team, written by The Sacramento Bee’s Joe Davidson, was released on Friday morning.

St. Mary’s junior lineman Popo Aumavae leads the group as a first-team defensive lineman. Aumavae, a 6-foot-6 force for the Rams, already has six NCAA Division I offers, including Oregon. I’ve seen him wear Oregon socks, so I believe the Ducks have a great chance in the Aumavae race.

McNair senior wide receiver Derrion Grim, a Nebraska commit, is a second-team offense selection. Grim tied the state record with 34 touchdown receptions. Except he did it in just 10 games played, while Folsom’s Cole Thompson, the original record-holder, had 16 to do it. Grim would’ve been on pace for about 53 touchdowns had he played a full 16-game slate.

West senior defensive back Marcel Dancy and Sierra senior lineman Andrew Guevara were second-team defensive picks as well. Dancy, a three-phases star, was a first-team All-Area running back for The Record, a season after being a first-team All-Area defensive back. Guevara, who had over 18 sacks for the CIF State Division IV champion Timberwolves, was a first-team All-Area defensive lineman for us.

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The Record’s Girls Basketball Stat Leaders

Brookside Christian guard Aari McDonald, left, drives against Dixon in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinal last season. RECORD FILE 2015

We’re well into league play for girls basketball in Stockton, San Joaquin County and the Mother Lode, so without further ado, here are the top five statistical leaders for points, rebounds and assists per game from area players:

(For purposes of keeping these players even closer to home, the two Mother Lode League teams I’m considering are Calaveras and Linden):

SCORING

1. Jasmine Pharms (Stagg F, Sr.), 27.2 PPG: Pharms is second in the Sac-Joaquin Section, and has 435 points scored already this season for the Delta Queens, a team with section playoff aspirations.

2. Aari McDonald (Brookside Christian G, Sr.), 23.0 PPG: McDonald, The Record’s reigning All-Area Player of the Year, is fourth in the section.

3. Taylor Martin (Stockton Christian G, Sr.), 19.7 PPG: Martin, a driving force behind the Eagles, is seventh in the section.

4. Ashley Hart (Millennium G, Sr.), 19.3 PPG: Hart is ninth in the section, and the second player from the Central California Athletic Alliance in the top 10, joining McDonald.

5. Jaliah Williams (Edison F, So.), 16.3 PPG: Williams, one of the top underclassmen in the area, is 21st in the section and gives the Vikings great balance to their guards Celeste Almendarez and Kendra Banks.

REBOUNDING

1. Jasmine Pharms (Stagg F, Sr.), 14.1 RPG: Pharms is an old-fashioned force inside for the Delta Queens, also second in the section in this category.

2. Jayla Patzer (Stockton Christian G/F, Sr.), 12.8 RPG: Patzer ranks ninth in the section, and is a great post complement for Martin.

3. Steffanie Sims (Delta Charter F, So.), 12.3 RPG: Sims has quietly been one of the most prolific rebounders around, and is 10th in the section.

4. Bradi Kooyman (Elliot Christian F, Sr.), 9.9 RPG: Kooyman, a softball standout who’s committed to Missouri, is in the top 30 in the section, averaging 10 boards.

T5. Sarah Leal (Escalon, Sr.) and Deyliana Lewis (Bear Creek F/C, Fr.), 9.8 RPG - Both of these players, a veteran and a rookie, are tied for 30th in the section.

ASSISTS

1. Taylor Martin (Stockton Christian G, Sr.), 6.3 APG: Martin is tied for second in the section, as an adept disrtibutor as well as a scorer.

2. Aari McDonald (Brookside Christian G, Sr.), 5.7 APG: McDonald is tenacious in every aspect of basketball, including facilitating her teammates, and is fifth in the section in assists.

3. Jasmine Mahan (Stagg PG, Sr.), 5.4 APG: Mahan is tied for eighth in the section, though she’s recently missed some time with an ankle sprain.

4. Sierra Smith (St. Mary’s PG, Jr.), 4.6 APG: Smith may only be 13th in the section, but I’m willing to say she’s one of the best point guards in the section, and one of the top true, unselfish point guards in the state. Her numbers would be astronomical on any other team.

5. Kendra Banks (Edison G, Fr.), 4.4 APG: Banks is tied for 14th, and is showing a knack of being a multi-faceted player for the Vikings.

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Girls Basketball Power Rankings: Vol. III

St. Mary's point guard Sierra Smith, right, a 14-year-old junior, dribbles against Los Angeles-Bishop Alemany during the Rams' MLK Showcase Saturday at Morelli Gym in Stockton. CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD

Ho-hum. The St. Mary’s girls basketball team, now on a 46-game winning streak, is an obvious No. 1 once again in my Girls Basketball Power Rankings. Of course, the Rams are also ranked first in the Sac-Joaquin Section, the state and the nation.

However, the switch between second and third is fascinating.

Brookside Christian, last week’s No. 3, defeated former No. 2 Lincoln 63-57 at St. Mary’s MLK Showcase Saturday morning at Morelli Gym. The Knights are improving, after a brutal preseason, and more importantly, with now-activated transfer like guard Shaylene Stark: formerly of McNair.

That’s the only switch this week:

WATCH HIGHLIGHTS FROM ST. MARY’S MLK SHOWCASE WIN OVER PALISADES HERE!

POWER RANKINGS

1. St. Mary’s (1) 17-0

St. Mary’s was tested by Pacific Palisades-Palisades early, before pulling away for an easy 94-76 win that wasn’t as close as the score, Monday at the MLK Showcase. Sophomore forward Aquira DeCosta,  a 6-foot-2 force, dominated and showed off her eclectic rebounding ability, with 18 points and 17 boards.

2. Brookside Christian (3) 12-7, 6-0 CCAA

The Knights are surging, looking like section Division IV and NorCal Div. IV contenders once again. Senior guard Aari McDonald, The Record’s defending All-Area Player of the Year, is averaging 23 points, eight rebounds, six assists and six steals. She and St. Mary’s senior guard Kat Tudor and Mi’Cole Cayton were McDonald’s All-American nominees, but were not selected for the final roster.

3. Lincoln (2) 14-4, 2-0 TCAL

The Trojans have been tested of late, but recovered from the Brookside Christian loss to beat Berkeley-St. Mary’s 56-49 Monday at the MLK Showcase. Lodi stuck with Lincoln during the first half of their Tri-City Athletic League opener in Lodi, before the Trojans rolled to a 75-48 victory.

4. Venture Academy (4) 16-3, 3-0 CCAA

The Mustangs have one heck of a test tonight in hosting Brookside Christian, and are better equipped to stay with them this year since Brookside Christian forward Ariana Vaughn and Ra’kyra Gabriel have graduated.

5. East Union (5) 16-1, 5-0 VOL

The Lancers continue to dismantle the Valley Oak League. Their best test will be next Friday in hosting fellow VOL unbeaten Manteca, and NCAA Division I prospect Loretta Kakala. That’s a 5:45 p.m. game before the boys play at 7:15.

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St. Mary’s football schedules St. John Bosco

St. Mary's running back Dusty Frampton, left, and his teammates await facing Folsom in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal this November. CRAIG SANDERS/RECORD FILE 2015

My eyes almost popped out of my head.

I was standing at the Chavez-McNair wrestling dual meet tonight, working on a feature story on Eagles senior Roman Romero, when I saw a new tweet from St. Mary’s star lineman Popo Aumavae.

The St. Mary’s football team had added Bellflower-St. John Bosco to its schedule. For reference, St. John Bosco was ranked as high as No. 2 IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA by USA Today, and ended with a No. 11 ranking. Ironically, Bosco, probably the second-best team in California, lost its Southern Section championship game to Corona-Centennial, so it didn’t even get to take part in the expanded CIF State playoff format.

Bosco has gone 41-3 the past three seasons, and won a state championship with a 16-0 campaign in 2013. That team featured Josh Rosen at quarterback as a junior. Yes, the same Josh Rosen who was at times exceptional as a UCLA true freshman this year.

So, St. Mary’s, which is a true contender for its third Sac-Joaquin Section championship, has added Bosco to its schedule for Week 4, on the road in Bellflower, a suburb of Los Angeles.

Here’s the Rams’ preseason schedule, as texted to me by coach Tony Franks:

Week 0: BYE

Week 1: Santa Rosa-Cardinal Newman, 7:15 p.m.

Week 2: At Modesto-Central Catholic, 7 p.m.

Week 3: Elk Grove-Cosumnes Oaks, 7:15 p.m.

Week 4: At St. John Bosco, TBA

Week 5: Opponent, location TBA

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Boys Basketball Power Rankings: Vol. III

Head coach Chris Teevan speaks to his Weston Ranch boys basketball team during its 72-68 Valley Oak League win over Manteca Friday at home. CALIXTRO ROMIAS/THE RECORD

Thanks to Jaelen Ragsdale, the Cougars protected their perch atop my Boys Basketball Power Rankings for large schools in Stockton, San Joaquin County and the Mother Lode.

Ragsdale, a Weston Ranch senior guard, scored 21 of his game-high 34 points in the fourth quarter, leading to a come-from-behind 72-68 victory over fellow Valley Oak League power Manteca on Friday in Stockton.

The winner of that game would be No. 1 in my large-school pecking order this week, and sure enough, “The Ranch” is No. 1 for another week.

NOTE: Small-school No. 1 Brookside Christian earned a cathartic victory, beating San Francisco-University 59-47 on Monday at the MLK Classic at Merritt College in Oakland. University was previously ranked No. 1 in NorCal’s Division V, and more importantly, was the team that beat Brookside Christian in last year’s NorCal finals in American Canyon.

Here we go, with the ranking, team, last week’s ranking in parenthesis and record.

LARGE-SCHOOL BOYS

1. WESTON RANCH (1) 14-4, 5-0 VOL

Not only did Ragsdale go off in the second half, as he was prompted to be more aggressive at halftime by coach Chris Teevan after a six-point first half, but his teammate Fred Lavender added 13 points and played defense on 6-foot-9 Buffaloes senior Anand Hundal.

Manteca hosts Weston Ranch at 7:15 p.m. next Wednesday, a game which could decide if Manteca could eventually share a VOL banner with Weston Ranch.

2. MANTECA (2) 15-3, 4-1 VOL

The Buffaloes only lost by four, on a night when Ragsdale had a phenomenal second half. They didn’t make a bunch of boneheaded mistakes down the stretch, and played admirably in front of a raucous crowd. Manteca should be just fine, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they even the series at home. Fun to think about: Manteca and Weston Ranch could very well play a third time in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs (If Weston Ranch wins the VOL and remains Div. III) and/or a fourth time in the CIF NorCal playoffs.

3. LODI (3) 12-6, 2-0 TCAL

The Flames flattened Tracy 74-49 tonight, a few days after hammering Lincoln 73-47. Lodi’s depth, shooting ability and defense, as I’ve written before, make it the favorite in the TCAL. The Flames host the St. Mary’s Rams in a pivotal game at 7 p.m. next Wednesday.

4. ST. MARY’S (4) 9-8, 2-0 TCAL

St. Mary’s keeps handling business, and you can’t look at its schedule and see a single game it lost that it probably should’ve won. The Rams rely on senior guard Evan Madill for the bulk of their scoring, but Ryan Yarborough has stepped up to help shoulder that load, and guard Aaron Masuda and forward Sam Goudreaux have great experience from section and NorCal semifinals runs last year.

5. EDISON (5) 12-7, 3-0 SJAA

Edison has made early statements in the San Joaquin Athletic Association, outlasting one reigning co-champion in Chavez at home, and beating the other reigning co-champ, Bear Creek, 59-46 today on the road. The Vikings have a great starting lineup and the ability to outscore their opponents or frustrate them with transition defense.

SMALL-SCHOOL BOYS

1. BROOKSIDE CHRISTIAN (1) 15-1, 6-0 CCAA

2. CALAVERAS (3) 14-4, 4-1 MLL

3. RIPON CHRISTIAN (4) 12-5, 5-0 TVL

4. ESCALON (NR) 9-10, 3-1 TVL

5. RIPON (2) 15-4, 3-1 TVL

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

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More from Dr. Omalu

Much of what Dr. Bennet Omalu said last week at a private screening of the motion picture “Concussion” didn’t wind up in print.

San Joaquin County’s Chief Medical Examiner is a fascinating, brave and caring man, whose work inspired the book and the movie about his discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in deceased NFL players. Omalu battled the NFL and the medical community, as his findings threatened the country’s largest and most powerful sports entity. But Omalu, a native Nigerian and United States citizen, stood strong and showed a mirror up to the league and the American public about the long-term damage of repeated blunt-force head trauma.

Here are some quotes from Omalu’s appearance Jan. 9 in Lodi:

On his groundbreaking autopsy of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, which started Omalu’s quest that almost cost him everything:

“Like I always said, I wish I never did the Mike Webster autopsy. I wish I could have just lived a normal, simple life and died a simple death. But it is what it is.”

Omalu has given Americans much to think about when it comes to exposing people of all ages, but especially children, to the risks of contact sports:

“What happens as a society, we evolve. We become more enlightened. There is nothing bad about light. Light is good. Only good can come out of light. And light brings knowledge. Light is truth. So, I think it’s a good thing to know the truth and if you know the truth, the truth will set you free. The truth is liberating. So, I think this is about how we are as Americans.”

Omalu on whether he was happy with the film:

“I feel the story was a good depiction of events in my life. Everything in that movie happened. It’s a phenomenal movie. I strongly advise every family to see the movie. This movie’s a game-changer. People should go see it and enlighten themselves.”

Does he hope Will Smith wins the Oscar for his portrayal of him?:

“I pray. I pray and I’m fasting. I’m not lying about it. I’m praying and fasting for him. I’ve spent time with him and Will Smith stole my soul away from me. I’m waiting for him to return (it). When I was watching that movie at some point I forgot I was watching Will Smith. I actually thought I was watching myself.”

On the future:

“As science evolves, we need to evolve with science. We used to smoke in air planes in the 70s. We used to use asbestos in the 80s. We don’t do that today. And so, no matter how enticing or fantastic football could be, we have to be smarter.”

“Black men make up 6 percent of the population. But black men make up 70 percent of football players and most of them come from poor backgrounds. It’s becoming less often now to see a physician’s son play football. It tells you a lot.”

 

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Boys Basketball League Picks: VOL, SJAA, TCAL

Lodi's Jared Wall, left, battles with St. Mary's Ryan Yarborough during their Tri-City Athletic League boys basketball game last season at Morelli Gym in Stockton. JERRY R. TYSON/LODI NEWS-SENTINEL

Cliches like “dogfight” and “battle” just aren’t good enough to describe the boys basketball competition for league championships in the Valley Oak League, San Joaquin Athletic Association and Tri-City Athletic League.

Let’s go ahead and use melee and insanity.

As I did for the girls CCAA, VOL, SJAA and TCAL leagues yesterday, I’m picking my boys league champions for the VOL, SJAA and TCAL (Brookside Christian will take the boys CCAA again). Not only am I picking the winners, but the top four finishers in each league.

Here they are, beginning with the brutal (in a good way) VOL:

VALLEY OAK LEAGUE (VOL)

CHAMPION: Weston Ranch Cougars

I feel the Buffaloes’ fans eyes glaring at me already. Manteca is higher in at least Cal-Hi Sports’ pecking order, and has an incomparable trio of 6-foot-9 senior Anand Hundal, 6-9 senior Kenny Wooten (Nevada commit) and 6-8 junior Tydus Verhoeven. Throw in junior guard Dwight Young, a 90-percent free-throw shooter who always helps the Buffaloes put away games, and you have a juggernaut. But I think Weston Ranch is a hair better.

The Cougars’ dynamic backcourt is back in seniors Jaelen Ragsdale and Fred Lavender, both Stanislaus State (NCAA Division II) commits, but more important for their balance is 6-5 senior D’Angelo Finely, a transfer from the east Bay Area. Finley is a double-digit scorer like those guys, but is taller and a more prolific rebounder. Once Anthony Booker, a 6-9 transfer from Chavez, gets comfortable with Weston Ranch, he should provide a body to at least pester Hundal and Wooten in their matchups.

These teams’ first meeting is at Weston Ranch at 7:15 p.m. Friday in Stockton.

RUNNER-UP: Manteca Buffaloes

Manteca could easily prove me wrong by beating Weston Ranch Friday on the road and tearing through the rest of VOL play. Regardless of what happens here, the Buffaloes are no doubt a contender for their first Sac-Joaquin Section championship since 1987. Manteca has looked even better of late, bringing Verhoeven, a very underrated facilitator, off the bench to breathe life into the team. He’s fared well in that role, and has handled it with maturity: as one of the best players in the area, it would be easy for him to take the sixth man role as an insult. Instead, he’s thriving in it.

BRONZE MEDAL: Central Catholic Raiders

Central Catholic won most of its preseason games, against mostly inferior competition, but has proved it’s for real by beating Sierra 79-76 at home and coming within 62-58 of Weston Ranch, also at home in Modesto. This is a tough call, as Sierra could easily win third.

FOURTH PLACE: Sierra Timberwolves

The Timberwolves have the most experienced, crafty coach in the league, if not the area in 16th-year Scott Thomason, who has six VOL banners to his name. The problem is, when the scoring of seniors in guard D.J. Wyatt and/or forward Jess Spivey isn’t there, Sierra is a solid team, but will struggle to keep up offenisvely. I would still NOT want to see this team come February and playoff team.

SAN JOAQUIN ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION (SJAA)

CHAMPION: Edison Vikings

The Vikings get up and down the floor, they shoot the 3, they have their man to earn buckets inside, and the brothers and guards in seniors Sharif and Shaqur Vanhook provide tenacious defense. Adonnis McMurtry deals up the points in the paint, Carlnel McGee-Woolbright is the 3-point virtuoso and sophomore Jordan Whatley can light up the scoreboard, too. Edison has beaten Sierra and Lincoln twice, dispatched of West and Tokay by double digits and came within 55-52 of beating three-time defending TCAL champion St. Mary’s last week.

RUNNER-UP: Chavez Titans

The Titans, defending co-SJAA champions with the Bear Creek Bruins, have the best offensive backcourt in the league in seniors Justice Harris (21 points per game) and Abraham Kabba. Edison gets the slight nod here because I believe it has a touch more depth and a touch more defensive prowess, but all the Titans have done in coach Mack Harris tenure is win, win and win some more. Don’t be surprised if Chavez peaks in league play and repeats.

BRONZE MEDAL: Bear Creek Bruins

Kudos to first-year coach Luke Williams, a former Brookside Christian assistant, for crafting this group with four new starters into an immediate winner. More kudos to senior point guard John Berna, who was the underrated facilitator behind last year’s squad, but now is the leading scorer, averaging 18 points.

FOURTH-PLACE: Franklin Yellowjackets

Surprise, surprise! The Yellowjackets pull out of their dark days, having won just four combined games in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Under third-year coach Steve Kayson, Franklin has reeled off five consecutive wins, hammering a solid small-school team in Elliot Christian, and beating respectable opponents like Rio Linda and Tracy. Milton Jordan is a scoring machine and Jovon Woods is a superb athlete who can score double digits, too.

TRI-CITY ATHLETIC LEAGUE (TCAL)

CHAMPION: Lodi Flames

Lodi overcomes the program’s former coach in St. Mary’s Ken Green, a St. Mary’s alumnus in his 14th-year coaching the Rams, and more importantly, those three-time defending champion Rams. Lodi’s depth is remarkable, perhaps its most dynamic player, senior Spencer Monteiro, came off the bench when I saw them defeat Chavez 72-61 on the road. The Flames may not have a superstar, but they can shoot the 3, rebound, drive to the basket, play pesky defense and grind down their opponents. When they’re throwing in waves of fresh players with fresh legs like a hockey team, with little to no dropoff in performance, it’s bad news for the opposition.

RUNNER-UP: St. Mary’s Rams

St. Mary’s is certainly a contender for its fourth consecutive TCAL crown, and the Rams are a gritty group, though they’ll miss graduated seniors Devin Williams (Cal Maritime Academy), Jacob Aruta (Whittier College) and Lance Coleman II (first-team All-Area pick). The key is, can somebody step up and help senior guard Evan Madill (18 points per game) on offense. St. Mary’s defense I trust, and that’ll help lead them back to the postseason.

BRONZE MEDAL: Lincoln Trojans

Lincoln had a lot of frustrating stumbles in its preseason, whether it be through close losses, or close games that got away, like when I saw Modesto-Beyer surge past them in the second half at the Edison McDonald’s classic. But 6-foot-6 sophomore Andre Kelly and 6-9 senior Elan Spencer are a great tandem, and junior guard Niko Levitt is proving to be clutch, as he was with a buzzer-beater against Chavez on Saturday. West will certainly battle them for third place, though.

FOURTH-PLACE: West Wolf Pack

West going 10-17 overall and 1-9 in league play last year was an anomaly. Coach Derek Sprecksel has been a consistent winner in his now seventh year, and the 10-7 Wolf Pack, who are 5-0 at home, are improved to be sure. Sophomore Michael Hayes has been an offensive revelation, and junior forward Ephraim Estell has been a consistent force as expected. West has suffered its ups and downs, losing to city rival Kimball and a smaller school in Ripon, but could peak in TCAL play. West could finish as high as second in this league (and I’m guessing they’ll use this as bulletin-board material).

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Girls Basketball League Picks: CCAA, VOL, TCAL, SJAA

Lincoln guard Lauren Rabena drives against Modesto-Beyer during a Trojan Clash tournament game this December at Lincoln. RECORD FILE 2015

The Valley Oak League, Mother Lode League, Trans-Valley League and Central California Athletic Alliance girls basketball seasons have already begun, while the San Joaquin Athletic Association kicks off today and the Tri-City Athletic League starts on Thursday.

Some leagues are top-heavy, some are ripe with parity and some are an absolute guess.

Here are my predictions for the VOL, TCAL, CCAA and SJAA, with a runner-up for each. I haven’t seen any MLL or TVL games, and I didn’t really see those leagues last year, so I don’t think I have the proper authority to pick winners.

Brookside Christian forward Ashlynn Lockard, right, is tied up during a 2014-15 game. RECORD FILE PHOTO

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA ATHLETIC ALLIANCE (CCAA)

CHAMPION: Brookside Christian

The Knights (7-7, 2-0 CCAA) may miss departed forwards Ra’kyra Gabriel (FAU) and Ariana Vaughn (Pacific), but The Record’s reigning All-Area Player of the Year Aari McDonald is still around as an incredible 5-foot-7 guard. McDonald, a University of Washington commit, is the key in Brookside Christian’s quest to compete for a league title, and in the Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF State playoffs. Bad news for the CCAA and playoff opponents: the Knights now have junior guard Shaylene Stark, who’s active after her transfer sitout period from McNair. Stark is averaging 16 points, nine rebounds and four steals in two games. Ascension Urbina-Thierry, a sophomore, is averaging 10 points in two games.

RUNNER-UP: Venture Academy

The Mustangs (13-2, 1-0 CCAA) deserve way more respect and press than they get, but it’s easy to be overshadowed by a recent state and regional champion like Brookside Christian. Venture Academy, though, has that potential. And, a better chance of challenging Brookside Christian this year with the departure of Gabriel and Vaughn. The Mustangs are powered by senior Jada Menchaca, who averages a double-double at 17 points and 10 boards.

East Union junior Ruby Daube, center, dribbles the ball against Edison during the Tracy Breakfast Lions/Tom Hawkins Tournament. RECORD FILE PHOTO

VALLEY OAK LEAGUE (VOL)

CHAMPION: East Union Lancers

Agostini picks up the fourth VOL championship in his now nine-year tenure at East Union, powered by senior Olivia Vezaldenos and junior Ruby Daube, who crazily enough have seven varsity seasons between them. East Union, under Agostini, won outright championships in 2008-09 and 2009-10, and split banners in 2007-08 and 2011-12. Fun fact: Jim Agostini is brother to sports reporting legend Ron Agostini of The Modesto Bee.

RUNNER-UP: Manteca Buffaloes

Manteca is just getting going with 6-foot-2 junior Loretta Kakala back from injury and dominating when she comes off the bench. She joins Elizabeth Tolbert, Leah Manuleleua and Rubel Dehal as part of a potent offense and tenacious defense. Manteca is the best bet to test East Union in this league.

TRI-CITY ATHLETIC LEAGUE (TCAL)

CHAMPION: Lincoln Trojans

This isn’t even close. Now that St. Mary’s is gone from the TCAL, playing a freelance schedule, Lincoln is going to wreak havoc on this league. Lincoln’s closest non-St. Mary’s TCAL game last season? A 72-37 nailbiter of a win last year at Tracy. The prowess of Lianna Tillman and Zahria Hendrix is expected, but top scorer and junior Kiara Manipol has improved vastly for Lincoln.

RUNNER-UP: Lodi Flames

This is up for debate, but the Flames are 16-2 after a pretty easy nonleague schedule, no disrespect, but it’s true, and have a great 3-point shooter in Talisa Rivera, formerly of St. Mary’s. Lodi has relatively good depth and should only be tested by Tracy for second place in the league.

Edison freshman Kendra Banks, right, looks to pass against East Union during the Tracy Breakfast Lions/Tom Hawkins tournament. RECORD FILE PHOTO

SAN JOAQUIN ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION (SJAA)

CHAMPION: Edison Vikings

The Vikings already had a good shot at winning this league, but the inclusion of sophomore guard Celeste Almendarez, a Lincoln transfer who just finished her sitout period, puts them over the top, in my opinion. She’s averaged 16 points already in just two games played, and is fast and provides another level of  intensity. Sophomore Jaliah Williams and freshman Kendra Banks have been dynamic presences for Edison and first-year coach Diondre Hawthorne. Today’s game against Stagg is a great barometer of the SJAA hierarchy.

RUNNER-UP: Bear Creek Bruins

The Bruins don’t have a single starter back from last year’s outright SJAA championship run, but freshmen Sarah Ruiz and Deyliana Lewis are providing consistent scoring, and senior Arielle Harrell is a nice addition and Chavez transfer as a veteran presence. This team might be incredibly inexperienced, and under a first-year coach in Jesse Holmes, but held its own in the preseason and should take second in the league. Stagg is certainly a challenge for not only second, but first place, let by senior forward Jasmine Pharms: a double-double machine.

THE SNUBS (Teams who I may have overlooked, and who might win the league or at least take second):

VOL – Central Catholic Raiders

TCAL – Tracy Bulldogs

SJAA – Stagg Delta Queens

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

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    Lawrence became a prep and general assignment sports reporter for The Record in August 2014. He has covered high school, college and professional sports and more in his career. From November of 2011 through summer 2014, he covered college and prep ... Read Full
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