Know Thine Enemy: Folsom Bulldogs

Folsom's Brandon Rupchock runs for a touchdown during the Bulldogs' 41-3 win over Elk Grove in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal on Friday at Folsom High. RANDALL BENTON/THE SACRAMENTO BEE

The stage is set for one of the most fascinating Sac-Joaquin Section football games in recent memory.

No. 1 Folsom (12-1) and No. 2 St. Mary’s (12-1) lock horns in the Division I title game at 6 p.m. Saturday at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium.

Folsom broke green-and-white hearts last November, taking a Division I semifinal over St. Mary’s 56-49 after the Rams had not one but two multi-touchdown leads.

St. Mary’s returns with many of the same faces, including five three-year varsity players who were also around for 2014′s section finals loss to Sacramento-Grant.

My “Know Thine Enemy” blog returns to break down this version of the Bulldogs:

FOLSOM BULLDOGS

Record: 12-1, 6-0 Sierra Foothill League

Recent history: Four-time defending section champions. Folsom has seven section titles total, and has appeared in eight section finals.

Notable alumni: Washington quarterback Jake Browning is a true sophomore, and in consideration for the Heisman Trophy. Alabama offensive lineman Jonah Williams, a true freshman, has been one of the budding stars of the SEC. Both will be first-round NFL draft picks at some point.

Players to Watch:

No. 1 Joe Curry (QB, senior): 3,511 passing yards, 50 touchdowns, 7 interceptions

No. 7 Davin Simmons (RB/LB, junior): 926 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns

No. 2 Drake Stallworth (WR/DB, senior): 53 catches, 1,141 yards, 18 touchdowns

No. 14 Keoni-Zagata-vera (DL/RB, senior): 45 tackles, 11 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries

Head coach: Kris Richardson — was formerly co-coaches with Troy Taylor, but Taylor departed to be the quarterbacks coach at Eastern Washington. Richardson arrived in 2005, and since, Folsom has gone 132-25-1, with state championships in 2010 and 2014.

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

Posted in High school football, High School Sports, Sports | Leave a comment

Countdown to Tipoff: Boys No. 1, Junior Ballard

Lathrop guard Junior Ballard, in white, rises for a jumper against Sierra during their Valley Oak League boys basketball game in February at Lathrop High. Ballard is No. 1 on Thomas Lawrence's "Countdown to Tipoff" boys basketball returner rankings. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE 2016

San Joaquin County basketball fans learned the name “Junior Ballard” on Jan. 25.

Ballard, then a sophomore guard and forward on the Lathrop boys basketball team, dropped a school-record 51 points in a Valley Oak League win over Sierra: then the Sac-Joaquin Section’s defending Division III champion.

Ballard wasn’t just a fluke. He was electric all season. The 6-foot-2 star-in-the-making averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds. Ballard shot an impressive 50 percent from the field and an even more impressive 44 percent from 3-point land: converting 35 treys overall.

Ballard scored 40 points or more twice and 30 points or more five times.

With defending champion Weston Ranch and runner-up Manteca graduating a ton of talent, the time could be now for Ballard and the Spartans to make a surprise run in the VOL.

Having a flexible player, with the kind of scoring ability that Ballard has, with his importance to his young-and-growing program. Well, that all added up to No. 1 on my “Countdown to Tipoff” boys basketball returner rankings.

Deciphering one-through-four on this list was brutally hard. Again, this is all educated guesswork. Ballard’s importance to his team, and his ability to create for himself (all the while averaging double-digit rebounds) won me over. You could argue Manteca’s Tydus Verhoeven, Lincoln’s Andre Kelly and West’s Michael Hayes in whichever order you like.

Here’s the important thing: these dudes can ball, and the season is here.

How it works: These player rankings are returning players only. These are weighed both by past varsity success and statistical prowess and the potential impact these players may have this year. All factors will be weighed, including whether a player must sit out time after a transfer or how long an existing injury might last.

Now, this counts down not to the first day of regular-season hoops, which for a handful of teams in the area is the week of Nov. 21-26 but the day the near entirety of the section begins: with the Foundation games on Monday, Nov. 28.

COUNTDOWN TO TIPOFF

No. 10: Gyse Hulsebosch (East Union G, senior)

No. 9: Jimmy Beltz (Elliot Christian G, senior)

No. 8: Tre Simmons (Brookside Christian G, senior)

No. 7: Milton Jordan (Franklin G, senior)

No. 6: Dwight Young (Manteca G, senior)

No. 5: Ephraim Estell (West F, senior)

No. 4: Tydus Verhoeven (Manteca F, senior)

No. 3: Andre Kelly (Lincoln F/C, junior)

No. 2: Michael Hayes (West F, junior)

No. 1: Junior Ballard (Lathrop G/F, junior)

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

Posted in High School Sports, Sports | Leave a comment

Countdown to Tipoff: Girls No. 1, Aquira DeCosta

St. Mary's forward Aquira DeCosta, center, battles against Carondelet in the CIF NorCal Open Division quarterfinals in March at Morelli Gym in Stockton. DeCosta is No. 1 on Thomas Lawrence's "Countdown to Tipoff" returner rankings. RECORD FILE 2016

Aquira DeCosta isn’t just the player to watch in Stockton, San Joaquin County and Northern California.

She might just be the signature high school player in the United States of America.

Especially for her class. DeCosta, 6-foot-2 forward on the St. Mary’s girls basketball team, is the top-rated prospect for the Class of 2018 via ESPN.com

She can dunk a volleyball, has a dazzling array of post moves, a knack for finishing, a tough rebounding presence and scary enough, the foot speed to keep up with most point guards. On a team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation for most of the season, DeCosta averaged a team-high 15.2 points and 9.4 rebounds.

Through two varsity seasons, DeCosta has amassed 876 points and 529 rebounds. Look for St. Mary’s emphasis to go more toward her this season, as guards Mi’Cole Cayton (Cal) and Kat Tudor (Oregon State) graduated and former starting point guard Sierra Smith transferred to Richmond-Salesian.

DeCosta, who’s narrowed her potential college choices to six — UCLA, Tennessee, Washington, Baylor, Louisville and Oklahoma — is the obvious No. 1 for my “Countdown to Tipoff” girls basketball returner rankings.

I wouldn’t be surprised if DeCosta pushes 2,000 career points once she’s done, though in the Rams’ selfless, full-court press style, that may be difficult.

DeCosta certainly has a chance to be the fourth McDonald’s All-American from St. Mary’s (next year). If so, she would join Jacki Gemelos, Afure Jemerigbe and Chelsea Gray.

How it works: These player rankings are returning players only. These are weighed both by past varsity success and statistical prowess and the potential impact these players may have this year. All factors will be weighed, including whether a player must sit out time after a transfer or how long an existing injury may last.

Now, this counts down not to the first day of regular-season hoops, which for a handful of teams in the area is the week of Nov. 21-26 but the day the near entirety of the section begins: with the Foundation games on Monday, Nov. 28.

COUNTDOWN TO TIPOFF

GIRLS BASKETBALL RETURNER RANKINGS

No. 10: Deyliana Lewis (Bear Creek F/C, sophomore)

No. 9: Shaylene Stark (Brookside Christian G, senior)

No. 8: Celeste Almendarez (Edison G, junior)

No. 7: Neenah Young (St. Mary’s G/F, junior)

No. 6: Lianna Tillman (Lincoln G, senior)

No. 5: Ariel Johnson (St. Mary’s G/F, junior)

No. 4: Zahria Hendrix (Lincoln G/F, senior)

No. 3: Naje Murray (St. Mary’s G, senior)

No. 2: Loretta Kakala (Manteca F/C, senior)

No. 1: Aquira DeCosta (St. Mary’s F/C, junior)

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

Posted in High School Sports, Sports | Leave a comment

Countdown to Tipoff: Boys No. 2, Michael Hayes

West forward Michael Hayes, second from right, rises for a shot against Bear Creek during the Stagg tournament in December 2015. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE 2015

Michael Hayes wasn’t a name on the media’s radar entering the 2015-16 boys basketball season in The Record’s coverage area.

Yet the then-sophomore at West was electric, eventually splitting the Tri-City Athletic League MVP award with St. Mary’s guard Evan Madill (now at Cal Maritime Academy).

Hayes, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound force, averaged 19 points and eight rebounds for the Wolf Pack, which finished third in the TCAl behind co-champions St. Mary’s and Lodi.

He could step back and hit a jumper or crash the basket for a dramatic slam dunk. Hayes paired wonderfully with fellow forward Ephraim Estell, and the two could lead West to a TCAL title under new coach Matt Garza.

That’s why Hayes is No. 2 on my “Countdown to Tipoff” boys basketball returner rankings: discussing the best of the best from Stockton, San Joaquin County and the Mother Lode.

The top three or four on this could’ve been mixed and matched in whichever order, and there would always be an argument for a chance. It was difficult to place Lincoln’s Andre Kelly at No. 3. Hayes, though, did edge Kelly for co-MVP honors, and was on a winning team that beat Lincoln. Kelly has the stronger college potential, and will likely be the more dominant offensive player, but Hayes was excellent there and more dynamic on defense (last year).

Again, these are splitting hairs, not wide margins.

Hayes and the Wolf Pack opened the regular season against Modesto-Johansen on Saturday and play in the Stagg Tournament (Joe Nava Delta King tourney) from Thursday through Saturday.

How it works: These player rankings are returning players only. These are weighed both by past varsity success and statistical prowess and the potential impact these players may have this year. All factors will be weighed, including whether a player must sit out time after a transfer or how long an existing injury might last.

Now, this counts down not to the first day of regular-season hoops, which for a handful of teams in the area is the week of Nov. 21-26 but the day the near entirety of the section begins: with the Foundation games on Monday, Nov. 28.

COUNTDOWN TO TIPOFF

No. 10: Gyse Hulsebosch (East Union G, senior)

No. 9: Jimmy Beltz (Elliot Christian G, senior)

No. 8: Tre Simmons (Brookside Christian G, senior)

No. 7: Milton Jordan (Franklin G, senior)

No. 6: Dwight Young (Manteca G, senior)

No. 5: Ephraim Estell (West F, senior)

No. 4: Tydus Verhoeven (Manteca F, senior)

No. 3: Andre Kelly (Lincoln F/C, junior)

No. 2: Michael Hayes (West F, junior)

No. 1: Monday

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

Posted in High School Sports, Sports | Leave a comment

Countdown to Tipoff: Girls No. 2, Loretta Kakala

Manteca senior forward Loretta Kakala is No. 2 on Thomas Lawrence's "Countdown to Tipoff" girls basketball returner rankings. Kakala has signed with Louisville women's hoops. RECORD FILE 2016

Loretta Kakala, almost quietly, has made herself one of the most-sought after girls basketball recruits on the West Coast.

The 6-foot-2 Manteca senior forward has a five-star rating, and is rated 97 out of 100 via ESPN.com. Kakala signed with Louisville women’s basketball earlier in November, and now, has the task of helping Manteca compete in the Valley Oak League, where rival East Union reigned supreme a year ago.

After recovering from early-season injuries, Kakala averaged 16 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. Kakala shot 54 percent from the field, helping to guide the Buffaloes to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.

To truly embed herself in Manteca High lore (after an amazing few years for the school), she’ll need to help Manteca compete in the VOL and try and make a section playoff run.

With her college choice decided, her senior season stage is set. Kakala is No. 2 on my “Countdown to Tipoff” girls basketball returner rankings.

How it works: These player rankings are returning players only. These are weighed both by past varsity success and statistical prowess and the potential impact these players may have this year. All factors will be weighed, including whether a player must sit out time after a transfer or how long an existing injury may last.

Now, this counts down not to the first day of regular-season hoops, which for a handful of teams in the area is the week of Nov. 21-26 but the day the near entirety of the section begins: with the Foundation games on Monday, Nov. 28.

COUNTDOWN TO TIPOFF

GIRLS BASKETBALL RETURNER RANKINGS

No. 10: Deyliana Lewis (Bear Creek F/C, sophomore)

No. 9: Shaylene Stark (Brookside Christian G, senior)

No. 8: Celeste Almendarez (Edison G, junior)

No. 7: Neenah Young (St. Mary’s G/F, junior)

No. 6: Lianna Tillman (Lincoln G, senior)

No. 5: Ariel Johnson (St. Mary’s G/F, junior)

No. 4: Zahria Hendrix (Lincoln G/F, senior)

No. 3: Naje Murray (St. Mary’s G, senior)

No. 2: Loretta Kakala (Manteca F/C, senior)

No. 1: Monday

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

Posted in High School Sports, Sports | Leave a comment

Countdown to Tipoff: Boys No. 3, Andre Kelly

Lincoln's Andre Kelly, left, rises for a shot against rival St. Mary's during a Tri-City Athletic League boys basketball game last season at Lincoln High in Stockton. RECORD FILE 2016

It’s hard to believe that Andre Kelly is still a junior in high school.

Kelly has already had a fantastic varsity basketball career, without one game as an upperclassman.

The 6-foot-8 forward on the Lincoln boys basketball team averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds as a sophomore, shooting 57 percent from the field. Kelly was a second-team All-Area forward for The Record.

Kelly had 490 total points as a sophomore, and has 571 for his career. One thousand is certainly on the horizon for this kid.

That’s why Kelly is No. 3 on my “Countdown to Tipoff” boys basketball returner rankings.

Kelly is as talented, and as big a collegiate prospect as anyone in the area. I’m guessing there will be a question or two about why he’s not No. 1. Honestly, any of the top four have an argument to be No. 1. Kelly can prove that worth, too, this season by helping take Lincoln back to the playoffs, and using his length, stregnth and athleticism to become a dominant defensive player, too.

What he’s already accomplished is amazing, and he is likely going to get much, much better.

How it works: These player rankings are returning players only. These are weighed both by past varsity success and statistical prowess and the potential impact these players may have this year. All factors will be weighed, including whether a player must sit out time after a transfer or how long an existing injury might last.

Now, this counts down not to the first day of regular-season hoops, which for a handful of teams in the area is the week of Nov. 21-26 but the day the near entirety of the section begins: with the Foundation games on Monday, Nov. 28.

COUNTDOWN TO TIPOFF

No. 10: Gyse Hulsebosch (East Union G, senior)

No. 9: Jimmy Beltz (Elliot Christian G, senior)

No. 8: Tre Simmons (Brookside Christian G, senior)

No. 7: Milton Jordan (Franklin G, senior)

No. 6: Dwight Young (Manteca G, senior)

No. 5: Ephraim Estell (West F, senior)

No. 4: Tydus Verhoeven (Manteca F, senior)

No. 3: Andre Kelly (Lincoln F/C, junior)

No. 2: Sunday

No. 1: Monday

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

Posted in High School Sports, Sports | Leave a comment

Countdown to Tipoff: Girls No. 3, Naje Murray

St. Mary's guard Naje Murray rises for a jumper during his team's win over St. Francis in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I finals in March at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. CRAIG SANDERS/RECORD FILE 2016

Naje Murray won’t be on the court as soon as she’d like, but can still be a deciding factor in just how far this year’s St. Mary’s girls basketball team goes.

Murray, a senior guard for the Rams and returning first-team All-Area pick, tore her ACL in the offseason. Her recovery has gone faster than first thought, and she hopes for a mid-to-late January return.

That’s a huge factor in these rankings. Should Murray, in actuality, need until March to return, that’s a huge chunk of time where other players on this list will be helping their teams. So, this ranking is assuming Murray gets to play a month or so of the regular season and throughout the playoffs. Keep that in mind.

Different knees handle ACL recovery in different ways. Basketball can be particularly tough, because of all the sudden changes in direction using one’s knees. But we’ve also seen athletes recover incredibly, and fast, like Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson.

What is sure, is what a terrific offensive player Murray was for the Rams last season.

The future San Diego State Aztec averaged 12.9 points and 2.8 steals for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I champions. Murray shot 45 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3-point land. The year before, she was a key player off the bench in St. Mary’s CIF State Open Division championship run.

Murray is No. 3 on my “Countdown to Tipoff” girls basketball returner rankings.

How it works: These player rankings are returning players only. These are weighed both by past varsity success and statistical prowess and the potential impact these players may have this year. All factors will be weighed, including whether a player must sit out time after a transfer or how long an existing injury may last.

Now, this counts down not to the first day of regular-season hoops, which for a handful of teams in the area is the week of Nov. 21-26 but the day the near entirety of the section begins: with the Foundation games on Monday, Nov. 28.

COUNTDOWN TO TIPOFF

GIRLS BASKETBALL RETURNER RANKINGS

No. 10: Deyliana Lewis (Bear Creek F/C, sophomore)

No. 9: Shaylene Stark (Brookside Christian G, senior)

No. 8: Celeste Almendarez (Edison G, junior)

No. 7: Neenah Young (St. Mary’s G/F, junior)

No. 6: Lianna Tillman (Lincoln G, senior)

No. 5: Ariel Johnson (St. Mary’s G/F, junior)

No. 4: Zahria Hendrix (Lincoln G/F, senior)

No. 3: Naje Murray (St. Mary’s G, senior)

No. 2: Friday

No. 1: Nov. 28

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

Posted in High School Sports, Sports | Leave a comment

Countdown to Tipoff: Boys No. 4, Tydus Verhoeven

Manteca forward Tydus Verhoeven celebrates after the Buffs won the CIF State Division III championship in March at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. RECORD FILE 2016

Down the stretch, Tydus Verhoeven began finding his potential as a pensive, modern basketball player.

Verhoeven, a 6-foot-8, incoming senior wing on the Manteca boys team, did everything right in the Buffaloes’ historic run to a CIF State Division III championship. The No. 1-ranked recruit for the Class of 2017 on NorCalPreps.com had tremendous court vision, whether it was facilitating for fellow forwards Kenny Wooten and Anand Hundal or creating offense for himself.

His length, shooting touch, defensive capability and ability to see plays unfolding well before they happen makes him a unique recruit. Now, he and fellow senior Dwight Young are the two returning starters, on a Manteca team that’s defending a special title. Manteca, after all, was the first public school from San Joaquin County to win a boys basketball state title since Stockton High did so in 1928.

Verhoeven is No. 4 on my “Countdown to Tipoff” boys basketball returner rankings, comparing and contrasting the best from The Record’s coverage area: Stockton, San Joaquin County and the Mother Lode.

How it works: These player rankings are returning players only. These are weighed both by past varsity success and statistical prowess and the potential impact these players may have this year. All factors will be weighed, including whether a player must sit out time after a transfer or how long an existing injury might last.

Now, this counts down not to the first day of regular-season hoops, which for a handful of teams in the area is the week of Nov. 21-26 but the day the near entirety of the section begins: with the Foundation games on Monday, Nov. 28.

COUNTDOWN TO TIPOFF

No. 10: Gyse Hulsebosch (East Union G, senior)

No. 9: Jimmy Beltz (Elliot Christian G, senior)

No. 8: Tre Simmons (Brookside Christian G, senior)

No. 7: Milton Jordan (Franklin G, senior)

No. 6: Dwight Young (Manteca G, senior)

No. 5: Ephraim Estell (West F, senior)

No. 4: Tydus Verhoeven (Manteca F, senior)

No. 3: Friday

No. 2: Sunday

No. 1: Nov. 28

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

Posted in High School Sports, Sports | Leave a comment

Countdown to Tipoff: Girls No. 4, Zahria Hendrix

Lincoln guard Zahria Hendrix, second from left, dribbles the basketball against Beyer during the Trojans Clash in December 2015. Hendrix is No. 4 on Thomas Lawrence's "Countdown to Tipoff" girls basketball returner rankings. RECORD FILE 2015

You can’t teach many of the things that make Zahria Hendrix a great basketball player.

Hendrix, a senior guard for the Lincoln girls hoops team, is superb in transition: whether it be creating a turnover on defense or slashing to the basket and scoring on offense. Not to mention, she’s excellent in a halfcourt offense, where her 3-point shooting ability is top-notch.

Hendrix signed with Stanislaus State women’s basketball earlier in November, where she’ll join a fellow Stockton high school product in Weston Ranch graduate Lizzy Alexander.

Hendrix is No. 4 in my “Countdown to Tipoff” girls basketball rankings — comparing and contrasting the best returning players in The Record’s coverage area: Stockton, San Joaquin County and the Mother Lode. As a junior, Hendrix averaged nine points, five rebounds, four steals and three assists, and those numbers are likely to grow this year: especially offensively.

Lincoln is the definitive preseason No. 2 team in the area, behind St. Mary’s, and has a shot at advancing to the section’s Division I semifinals down the line and thus advancing to the CIF State playoffs. That’s important, because Lincoln wouldn’t be pushed to the Open Division, but would play in the more manageable Division I.

That’s a long way off, but Hendrix is a key reason why the Trojans have a chance.

How it works: These player rankings are returning players only. These are weighed both by past varsity success and statistical prowess and the potential impact these players may have this year. All factors will be weighed, including whether a player must sit out time after a transfer or how long an existing injury may last.

Now, this counts down not to the first day of regular-season hoops, which for a handful of teams in the area is the week of Nov. 21-26 but the day the near entirety of the section begins: with the Foundation games on Monday, Nov. 28.

COUNTDOWN TO TIPOFF

GIRLS BASKETBALL RETURNER RANKINGS

No. 10: Deyliana Lewis (Bear Creek F/C, sophomore)

No. 9: Shaylene Stark (Brookside Christian G, senior)

No. 8: Celeste Almendarez (Edison G, junior)

No. 7: Neenah Young (St. Mary’s G/F, junior)

No. 6: Lianna Tillman (Lincoln G, senior)

No. 5: Ariel Johnson (St. Mary’s G/F, junior)

No. 4: Zahria Hendrix (Lincoln G/F, senior)

No. 3: Friday

No. 2: Sunday

No. 1: Nov. 28

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

Posted in High School Sports, Sports | Leave a comment

Countdown to Tipoff: Girls No. 5, Ariel Johnson

St. Mary's guard Ariel Johnson dribbles against St. Francis during the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game in March at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. RECORD FILE 2016

Ariel Johnson could very well be higher on this list before the season’s over.

Johnson, an incoming junior guard for the St. Mary’s girls basketball team, has remarkable control on offensive, driving to the basket and making plays in the open court for the press-happy Rams.

It’s a fun time to be a Rams fan, as both Johnson and fellow junior Neenah Young will have much more pivotal roles after the graduation of Kat Tudor, Mi’Cole Cayton and Angel Johnson.

Ariel Johnson (no relation to Angel) averaged eight points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals as a sophomore, as St. Mary’s won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship and reached the CIF State NorCal Open Division semifinals before a massive upset from Los Altos Hills-Pinewood.

Johnson is primed for an incredible season, and is No. 5 on my “Countdown to Tipoff” girls basketball returner rankings.

As I said, she is one of those who could rise considerably in the coming months. The opportunity is there for Johnson, Young and the younger Rams players.

How it works: These player rankings are returning players only. These are weighed both by past varsity success and statistical prowess and the potential impact these players may have this year. All factors will be weighed, including whether a player must sit out time after a transfer or how long an existing injury may last.

Now, this counts down not to the first day of regular-season hoops, which for a handful of teams in the area is the week of Nov. 21-26 but the day the near entirety of the section begins: with the Foundation games on Monday, Nov. 28.

COUNTDOWN TO TIPOFF

GIRLS BASKETBALL RETURNER RANKINGS

No. 10: Deyliana Lewis (Bear Creek F/C, sophomore)

No. 9: Shaylene Stark (Brookside Christian G, senior)

No. 8: Celeste Almendarez (Edison G, junior)

No. 7: Neenah Young (St. Mary’s G/F, junior)

No. 6: Lianna Tillman (Lincoln G, senior)

No. 5: Ariel Johnson (St. Mary’s G/F, junior)

No. 4: TBA

No. 3: TBA

No. 2: Nov. 25

No. 1: Nov. 28

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

Posted in High School Sports, Sports | Leave a comment
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    Bob Highfill

    Bob Highfill has been with The Record sports department since 1990. He started as a part-time reporter/agate clerk then covered the high school sports beat before taking on the Pacific athletics beat. In 2006, he was named sports editor. Bob was ... Read Full

    Scott Linesburgh

    Linesburgh has been a member of The Record's sports department since 1988. A native of Wantagh, N.Y., he covers the Stockton Heat of the American Hockey League, and has spent more than a quarter century reporting various other sports on the high ... Read Full

    Thomas Lawrence

    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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