St. Mary's sophomore Neenah Young, right, looks to pass during a victory over Clovis West on Wednesday at Morelli Gym. CALIXTRO ROMIAS/THE RECORD
Had the impossible happened, and Richmond-Salesian upset the St. Mary’s girls basketball team, would the Rams have slid down from No. 1 in my power rankings?
No. Not even close.
Still, it’s crazy to think that Salesian nearly did the unthinkable, as it took St. Mary’s to overtime before falling 83-78 on Saturday evening at Morelli Gym.
Here’s a look at my latest Girls Basketball Power Rankings led, as usual, by the national No. 1 Rams.
1. St. Mary’s (1) 15-0
Let’s check up on the Rams’ incredible numbers. St. Mary’s is on a 44-game winning streak dating back to December 2014, is the reigning CIF State Open Division champion, has eight state championships in program history and coach Tom Gonsalves has a record seven to his name. Should St. Mary’s win another state title, and Brea Olinda not win one this year, St. Mary’s would tie Brea Olinda’s all-time record of nine state championships.
The Rams, though, need to get healthy as they play a more consistently difficult regular-season schedule than when they were part of the Tri-City Athletic League. Starters in guard Mi’Cole Cayton and forward Angel Johnson missed Saturday’s game with injury, and point guard Sierra Smith was lost during the game. I believe none are too lengthy, but only time will tell.
2. Lincoln (2) 11-3
The Trojans, quietly, as the Rams soak up most of the headlines, put together an impressive preseason. Lincoln junior Kiara Manipol is majorly improved and the leading scorer on most nights, along with fellow junior Zahria Hendrix. The Trojans should roll through TCAL play with an outright league title and into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs.
3. Brookside Christian (3) 7-7, 2-0 CCAA
Now that the Knights waded through their brutal preseason schedule, they’re obliterating their competition in the Central California Athletic Alliance. Senior guard Aari McDonald, The Record’s reigning All-Area Player of the Year, could hit 2,000 career points by the time she leaves. A fun one is coming as No. 3 Brookside Christian faces No. 2 Lincoln at the St. Mary’s MLK Showcase at 1 p.m. Saturday at Morelli Gym.
4. Venture Academy (4) 13-2, 1-0 CCAA
The Mustangs keep thriving under the radar behind Brookside Christian, kind of like the Lincoln-St. Mary’s but with smaller schools. Only Elk Grove and Antelope, much larger schools, have beaten Venture Academy this season. Senior Jada Menchaca is leading the Mustangs with 16-17 points and 10 boards per game.
5. East Union (5) 12-1, 1-0 VOL
Jim Agostini has succeeded annually since taking over the Lancers in 2007-08, producing seven winning seasons and only one losing campaign. Sure enough, East Union will make it eight winning seasons for Agostini, barring something bizarre happening. The Lancers’ only loss is to Venture Academy, 51-45 in the Tracy tournament in a game where they led most of the way. Senior Olivia Vezaldenos and junior Ruby Daube are key as East Union chases a Valley Oak League championship.
Weston Ranch seniors Anthony Booker, left, signs with Cal State Monterey Bay, as Jaelen Ragsdale, center, and Fred Lavender ink with Stanislaus State on Nov. 11. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE 2015
My boys basketball power rankings, for both large and small schools, have returned for a second edition. Both of the No. 1s are back, but the large-school pecking order had a major shuffle after more area teams from the SJAA and TCAL started playing against one another.
Here are my new Top 5 lists, with the ranking, team, last week’s ranking in parenthesis and overall record. Enjoy:
1. Weston Ranch (1) 11-3, 2-0 VOL
The Cougars handled business, edging Modesto-Central Catholic 62-58 on the road despite missing starting point guard and first-team All-Area pick from 2014-15, Jaelen Ragsdale. Weston Ranch then handled East Union 67-50 on Friday in its home VOL opener. This Friday brings one heck of a battle, as Weston Ranch hosts No. 2 Manteca at 7:15 p.m. in a battle of league, section and regional contenders. Manteca is No. 9 and Weston Ranch is No. 14 in NorCalPreps’ latest regional rankings.
2. Manteca (2) 12-2, 2-0 VOL
The Buffaloes more than earned their No. 2 spot, and with their dominant second half against their rival, outscoring Sierra 42-24 at home, showed that when they’re at their best, they might be No. 1 in the area. Manteca’s starting big men came through as 6-foot-9 senior Anand Hundal had 25 points and 6-8 senior Kenny Wooten had 13 points, 13 boards, five blocks and one heck of a leaping slam dunk.
3. Lodi (NR) 10-6
The Flames proved just how tough they could be, disposing of former No. 3 Chavez 72-61 on the road. Lodi is mega-balanced, and (ready for the ire of St. Mary’s, Lincoln, West, Tracy and Tokay fans) I think they’ll win the Tri-City Athletic League. Look out for senior Spencer Monteiro off the bench, he can defend, shoot, dunk and more. Chavez was also knocked from its perch because Lincoln won that matchup with a buzzer-beater from Niko Levitt on Saturday.
4. St. Mary’s (5) 7-7
The Rams always test themselves in the preseason, which is why that 7-7 record is nothing to scoff at. St. Mary’s fell 57-48 at Moraga-Campolindo on Saturday, and most impressively, scored 37 points in the second half after a tepid offensive first half (11 points). Senior guard Evan Madill is the top scorer, and a great defender, and is one of the most reliable free-throw shooters in the Sac-Joaquin Section. It’ll be a blast if it’s down to Lodi and St. Mary’s for a TCAL title, as St. Mary’s coach Ken Green used to coach the Flames.
5. Edison (NR) 9-7
The Vikings keep on racking up impressive area victories. Edison has beaten Lincoln and Sierra twice, and has handled West and Tokay by double digits. Edison is deep, and for real as an SJAA contender. Carlnel Woolbright-McGee is an electric scorer, brothers Sharif and Shaqur Vanhook are fantastic defensively, Jordan Whatley just put up double figures against Tokay and Adonnis McMurtry is the prolific scorer and solid post player who ties it all together. Second-year coach Matt Atad has something brewing in south Stockton. Edison would be No. 4 had St. Mary’s not beaten Edison 55-52 last week at Taggart Gym.
On the Bubble: West, Lincoln, Chavez, Bear Creek, Kimball, Sierra
The Manteca (in white) and Sierra boys basketball teams battle for the ball in January 2014 at Manteca High's Winter Gym. CALIXTRO ROMIAS/RECORD FILE 2014
High school basketball season is finally serious.
Manteca (11-2, 1-0 Valley Oak League) entertains Sierra (10-3, 1-0 VOL), at 7:15 p.m. today at Winter Gym, a great barometer for the heralded Buffaloes and the perhaps overlooked Timberwolves: reigning Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champions. Not to mention, a four-time defending VOL champion, with three league losses combined the past four years.
Here’s a look, by the numbers, at this matchup tonight:
309: Scott Thomason, in his 16th season coaching Sierra, has 309 career victories. He had 299 to start the season, and his Timberwolves have beaten the Buffaloes in eight of their past nine matchups.
1: Manteca coach Brett Lewis, in his second season guiding the Buffaloes, has only beaten Sierra and Thomason once, in this, his sixth season as a head high school coach in Manteca. Lewis spent four seasons coaching his alma mater East Union from 2009-2012, and only beat Sierra in his first try, in January 2010. Money’s on Manteca tonight, but Sierra should not be taken lightly.
242: Manteca’s big three, seniors Kenny Wooten (6-foot-9) and Anand Hundal (6-9), and junior Tydus Verhoeven (6-8) have 242 inches of height between them. More importantly, they’re combining for an average of 35.2 points, 23.7 rebounds and 7.4 blocks every game. Don’t count out the shorter Buffaloes, too, as junior guard Dwight Young averages 10.8 points and is dangerous from 3-point land.
2: The duo (as in two of) seniors in forward Jess Spivey and guard D.J. Wyatt are paramount to the Timberwolves’ success tonight and throughout the season. They are the two returning starters from Sierra’s first-ever section championship campaign, and its run to the CIF State NorCal semifinals, where they fell to a very good Moraga-Campolindo team.
1987: While Sierra has only been 10 months without the taste of a section championship, it’s been nearly 28 years for Manteca, which won its only boys basketball section banner in 1987.
Manteca senior Kenny Wooten delivers a reverse slam dunk in a 58-51 win on Tuesday at Lathrop High. Wooten is a 2016 McDonald's All-American boys nominee. RECORD FILE PHOTOS FROM 2015, 2016
Kenny Wooten has a chance to make San Joaquin County history. Wooten, a 6-foot-8 forward and center for the Manteca boys basketball team, is on the list of candidates (and yes, it’s an impossibly long list, even from California alone, not counting the other 49 states) for the 2016 McDonald’s All-American boys game.
Wooten is a Nevada commit and dominant, versatile force who’s averaging 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks for the Buffaloes (11-2, 1-0 Valley Oak League).
If selected, which is a longshot, albeit, he’d be the first boys player ever from the area to make a McDonald’s team.
The same can’t be said for the girls side, where three St. Mary’s players have made past teams, and three Stockton players are nominated this year.
Brookside Christian senior guard Aari McDonald, The Record’s reigning All-Area Player of the Year, and St. Mary’s senior guards Mi’Cole Cayton and Kat Tudor have also been nominated. If any, two of or all of them make it, they’d join Jacki Gemelos (St. Mary’s 2006, USC), Afure Jemerigbe (St. Mary’s 2010, Cal) and Chelsea Gray (St. Mary’s 2010, Duke).
St. Mary's senior guards Mi'Cole Cayton, fourth from left, and Kat Tudor, third from left, are 2016 McDonald's All-American girls game nominees.
McDonald, who Cal-Hi Sports editor Mark Tennis said would potentially be the first player with the last name “McDonald” to be a McDonald’s All-American, is averaging 24 points, seven rebounds, four steals and four assists for the Knights (6-7). She’s a University of Washington commit. Cayton, a Nebraska commit, averages 11 points, two assists and two steals for the deepest and best team likely in the nation. St. Mary’s is on a 43-game winning streak dating to last December, is the reigning CIF State Open Division champion and is ranked No. 1 in the USA by any media outlet you can choose. Tudor, an Oregon State commit, averages 13 points, three rebounds and two steals.
McNair wrestler Roman Romero, left, wins the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters 182-pound championship at Stockton Arena. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE 2015
Roman Romero is on top of the world.
Romero, a McNair High senior, is ranked No. 3 in the state in the 182-pound wrestling class, according to The California Wrestler website. He’s a reigning Sac-Joaquin Section champion at that mark, was a CIF State placer and is committed to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
And Romero heads the latest batch of area wrestlers who are included in The California Wrestler’s Top 40 rankings. Here’s a look at each:
113: West junior Greg Viloria is 15th. He finished fourth in the section as a freshman and third as a sophomore.
120: Bear Creek senior Aaron Rugnao is 21st. He’s competed at the past two section Masters but is seeking his first ticket to the CIF State meet in Bakersfield. Escalon senior Kyle Jimenez is 38th, and is coming off a seventh place finish at Masters as a junior.
170: Lodi junior Justin Medeiros is 28th. He finished eighth at Masters as a sophomore.
182: McNair’s Romero remains third. He finished eighth at CIF State last year and won a section title, after ending as a section runner-up as a sophomore. He’s certainly a state title contender. He lost a close 6-4 decision to No. 2 in 182s: San Diego-Rancho Bernardo’s Chasen Blair.
195: Tokay senior K.C. Kranich is No. 22, having just moved down a weight class, where he was No. 26 at 220s. Kranich finished eighth at Masters as a junior.
220: Calaveras senior Shane Torre is 17th. He finished fourth at Masters as a junior and won one of his matches in Bakersfield. McNair junior Jacob Gomez is 27th, and is yet to place at Masters or punch a CIF State ticket.
285: Ripon senior Tristan Smith is the only other area wrestler in the top 10, at seventh. He finished third in the section and went 2-2 at CIF State as a junior. Escalon senior Daniel Gonzalez is 34th, and just moved up a weight class, after he was 32nd in 220s.
*These rankings were last updated Dec. 31, 2015, one week ago today, so new ones are probably coming soon. It’s just been awhile since I’ve done an update here.
Tom Gonsalves, St. Mary's girls basketball's head coach, hollers out instructions during his team's 76-69 win over Santa Ana-Mater Dei in the CIF State Open Division final on March 28, 2015 at Cal's Haas Pavilion in Berkeley. RECORD FILE 2015
Girls basketball league play begins this week and next across San Joaquin County and the Mother Lode, and with that comes the first edition of my weekly power rankings. Unlike the boys rankings I do, this is a singular Top 5, not separated into large and small schools:
1. ST. MARY’S (13-0)
I know what you’re thinking. You’re shocked. OK, maybe seeing as the Rams are defending CIF State Open Division champions, an eight-time state champion in their history, are on a 42-game winning streak dating to December 2014 and have won the Nike Central Valley Showdown in Fresno, the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix and the Title IX Classic in Washington, D.C., you’re not shocked.
St. Mary’s is pulverizing inferior competition and soundly beating excellent competition this year. The Rams are now a freelance team, away from the Tri-City Athletic League, but will keep up their rivalry with Lincoln (Jan. 28 on the road and Feb. 16 at home).
St. Mary’s has four players averaging double-digit points in sophomore forward Aquira DeCosta (15.8), senior guard Kat Tudor (13.4), junior guard Naje Murray (13.2) and senior guard Mi’Cole Cayton (11.3). Junior point guard Sierra Smith leads the Rams with 5.2 assists and 4.4 steals per game.
2. LINCOLN (8-3)
It’s too easy for the Trojans to get overshadowed playing three miles away from the Rams, but they’re one of the best teams in the Sac-Joaquin Section and one of the better teams in Northern California. Lincoln is fresh off winning the Best of the West Tournament, and is powered by juniors Kiara Manipol (11.6 PPG) and Zahria Hendrix (10.3 PPG). Look for Lincoln to run away with the TCAL championship.
3. BROOKSIDE CHRISTIAN (5-7)
Don’t be fooled by the Knights’ record. They may be down from 2014-15, but they’re still a force and play a gnarly preseason schedule. Senior guard Aari McDonald, The Record’s reigning All-Area Player of the Year, a University of Washington commit and a potential McDonald’s All-American, is averaging 22 points and four rebounds, and has 1,681 career points despite not playing her sophomore season after transferring from Fresno-Bullard.
4. VENTURE ACADEMY (11-2)
Just like St. Mary’s unfairly overshadows Lincoln, Brookside Christian does the same to Venture Academy. You know, the artist formerly known as VA Excel, Excel Academy and maybe more? The Mustangs won the Tracy Breakfast Lions/Tom Hawkins tournament title and ended East Union’s unbeaten run in the process. Senior Jada Menchaca averages 16.3 points and 10.1 rebounds, while senior Jazlyn Maletino averages 10 points and 6.9 boards.
5. EAST UNION (11-1)
The Lancers, who did lead for most of that loss to Venture Academy, will battle for a Valley Oak League championship with upstart Modesto-Central Catholic (9-3). The duo of senior Olivia Vezaldenos and junior Ruby Daube, returning All-VOL picks, have now seven years of varsity basketball between them.
Weston Ranch guard Fred Lavender, an incoming senior, is a key part of the Cougars' quest for a section championship. RECORD FILE PHOTO
The boys basketball league season begins today as the Valley Oak League, Mother Lode League and Central California Athletic Alliance begin in The Record’s coverage area.
Though it’s way too early, and plenty of this is still guesswork, I’m beginning my weekly Prep Basketball Power Rankings with a top five for boys large and small schools. These will fluctuate the most at the beginning as league play begins and surprise teams unseat ones with better records or a higher ranking.
Away we go:
1. WESTON RANCH (9-3)
The Cougars have one of the best backcourts in the area with Jaelen Ragsdale and Fred Lavender (along with Chavez’s Justice Harris and Abraham Kabba), and have some of the best depth, adding senior forwards in 6-foot-5 D’Angelo Finely and 6-9 Anthony Booker (Chavez transfer) this season.
Plus, more seniors bring invaluable postseason experience in guard Josh Dilg and forwards Jordan Strane and Charles Udeze. Weston Ranch already has great wins against Reedley-Immanuel, Richmond-Salesian and Oakland-McClymonds. The Cougars play at Modesto-Central Catholic to open VOL play at 7:15 p.m. today.
2. MANTECA (10-2)
Everyone talks about the Buffaloes’ big three, 6-foot-9 senior forward/center Anand Hundal, 6-9 senior forward/center Kenny Wooten and 6-8 wing Tydus Verhoeven. But throw in the 3-point and free-throw sharpshooting of junior guard Dwight Young, and the late-game, 3-point theatrics of senior Frankie Lopez, and Manteca is even better than meets the eye. Slight edge went to Weston Ranch for its balance and speed, but their VOL meeting at 7:15 p.m. on Jan. 15 in Stockton will make the true call. Manteca plays its VOL opener at 7:15 p.m. today at Lathrop.
3. CHAVEZ (12-2)
Chavez’s Harris and Kabba are torching the competition, and the Titans get a great test in facing the Tri-City Athletic’s League Lodi, admittedly the first team out of my top five, at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Stockton. Harris averages 20 points, five rebounds and three assists, Kabba is at 17 points and freshman Devin Small is at 12 PPG. The Titans have solid wins over West and Vallejo-Bethel, among others.
4. WEST (8-6)
The Wolf Pack has had its ups and downs, losing to Kimball and Ripon but beating Bear Creek and Rio Linda, and testing McClymonds in a close loss, but has a triumvirate worth appreciating. West sophomore Michael Hayes is averaging 20 points and nine rebounds, junior Ephraim Estell is averaging a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double and senior Isaiah Grady is at nine points and four assists. West opens TCAL play at No. 5 St. Mary’s at 7 p.m. on Jan. 15.
5. ST. MARY’S (6-6)
The Rams get the slight nod over TCAL foes Lodi and Lincoln for this last spot, because they don’t have a bad loss, because they’re the reigning champions with the toughest nonleague schedule and because they’re led by senior guard Evan Madill. Plus, they have a nice variety of players who you can count on. The star power is gone from 2014-15, but the defensive-minded play is not. Madill is averaging a team-high 18 points.
On the Bubble: Lodi, Lincoln, Sierra, Edison, Lathrop, McNair
1. BROOKSIDE CHRISTIAN (8-1)
The Knights, reigning Sac-Joaquin Section Division V champions, are powered by senior guard D.J. Barlow’s 19 point sand five boards per game. Senior guard Tre Simmons, a Weston Ranch transfer, is at 12 points, senior forward Philip Patrick is at 12 points too and freshman Jalen Williams is averaging 11 points and five assists. Look for Brookside Christian to crush most of its CCAA competition.
2. RIPON (12-3)
The Indians have an impressive win against large-school No. 4 West to their credit, and should compete for a Trans-Valley League title. Juniors Aaron Paschini (19 PPG) and Cole Stevens (17 PPG) fuel the Indians’ offense.
3. CALAVERAS (10-3)
The Redskins have only lost to Lincoln-Lincoln (twice) and Galt-Liberty Ranch, and are a force to be reckoned with entering MLL play.
4. ELLIOT CHRISTIAN (4-2*)
The Eagles can score in bunches, led by senior Jimmy Beltz, who dropped a career-high 53 points in a loss to McNair at the Ceres Tournament. Sure, Elliot Christian misses now-departed scorers like David Lerma (Delta College, reigning second-team All-Area guard), but it should be a factor in the CCAA and section playoffs.
*According to MaxPreps.com
5. RIPON CHRISTIAN (7-5)
The Knights have hung with tough teams like Calaveras, and recently beat larger schools like Modesto-Downey and Hughson. Ripon Christian is powered by returners like senior Travis Vander Molen.
Brookside Christian senior guard Aari McDonald, right, is The Record's reigning All-Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE 2015
The Brookside Christian girls basketball team doesn’t have to deal with senioritis from Aari McDonald.
McDonald, the Knights’ point guard and University of Washington commit, is The Record’s reigning Girls Basketball All-Area Player of the Year, and was an integral part of Brookside Christian’s Division IV Northern California championship run.
She was named one of Cal-Hi Sports’ State Stat Stars last week, and is averaging 22 points, four rebounds and three steals for the Knights (5-5). McDonald posted a unique kind of double-double recently, with 38 points and 10 steals in a 74-73 win over San Francisco-Sacred Heart Cathedral.
That’s why, once again, McDonald is on my Girls Basketball Player of the Year Watchlist, Volume I.
JASMINE PHARMS (Stagg F/C, Sr.)
Pharms is hammering the competition, as the reigning Record Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year is averaging 26 points and 15 rebounds for the Delta Queens (7-2). The San Joaquin Athletic Association is wide-open this year, and Pharms instantly gives Stagg a shot to compete for a league crown. Pharms has scored 30 points or more three times this season, and has as many as 29 rebounds in a game.
JADE MENCHACA (Venture Academy G/F, Sr.)
The Mustangs (7-1) can often be unfairly overshadowed by Brookside Christian, the premier girls basketball small-school team in Stockton the past couple years, but coach Greg Azevedo’s group is for real. Menchaca is putting up 17 points, 11 boards and three steals per game, as the team’s leading scorer. Venture Academy faces East Union (10-0) in a compelling semifinal of the Tracy Breakfast Lions/Tom Hawkins tournament at 8 p.m. today.
KAT TUDOR (St. Mary’s G, Sr.)
Tudor, sitting out the first few games while recovering from an offseason procedure, averaging 12 points and three rebounds and shooting 39 percent from 3-point land — a mark that will likely only improve. Tudor is an Oregon State commit, following in the footsteps of fellow St. Mary’s Ram Ali Gibson.
AQUIRA DeCOSTA (St. Mary’s F/C, So.)
DeCosta, rated No. 1 on my Countdown to Tipoff girls basketball returner rankings, is showing why she’s the No. 1 prospect from the Class of 2018. Through 11 games, DeCosta averaged 15.3 points, eight rebounds and four steals as the force in the post for the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.
MI’COLE CAYTON (St. Mary’s G, Sr.)
Cayton, a ruthless defender and slasher to the basket, has shown no signs of stopping as a senior. The Nebraska commit is averging 12.2 points, with two assists and two steals per game, and is shooting an exceptional 47 percent from the field. She carried over plenty of confidence from last season, when she scored a team-high 21 points in the 76-69 CIF State Open Division finals win over Santa Ana-Mater Dei.
NAJE MURRAY (St. Mary’s G, Jr.)
Murray, who amazingly came off the bench for most of 2014-15, is one of the purest scorers in the region and is showing it early: averaging 12.3 points and three steals, and shooting 41 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3-point land. Murray already has NCAA Division I recruiting attention galore.
Chavez senior guard Justice Harris, center, is averaging 20 points a game for the Titans. CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD
The Record’s All-Area Football and Volleyball teams have been released.
That means one thing: a total focus on high school sports’ winter season — boys and girls basketball and wrestling.
I’m unveiling the first edition of my Boys Basketball Player of the Year Watchlist. It is chock full of prolific scorers and rebounders from across the area, with names you’ve heard for well over a year, and some new ones who have burst onto the varsity scene in San Joaquin County.
Here it is:
ANAND HUNDAL (Manteca F/C, Sr.)
Hundal is a matchup nightmare, a 6-foot-9 post who’s one of the top shot blockers around, can score with a bevy of inside moves and can hit the midrange jumper. He’s also more than proficient in dishing the ball to Manteca’s 3-point shooters like Dwight Young and Frankie Lopez. Hundal is averaging a team-high 16 points, with nine rebounds and two blocks per game.
FRED LAVENDER (Weston Ranch G/F, Sr.)
Lavender, somehow one of the more underrated players in the area, is a Stanislaus State (NCAA Division II) commit with teammate Jaelen Ragsdale, and averaged a whopping 24.5 points, with seven rebounds. He has fantastic versatility as a guard and forward, key against teams like Manteca and future section playoff opponents.
KENNY WOOTEN (Manteca F, Sr.)
It’s hard to believe that somebody on the Buffaloes (9-1) is blocking more shots than Hundal, but the Nevada commit Wooten certainly is. Wooten is putting up 14 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks per game. He’s a Stagg transfer who stat out his junior season due to that transfer, and is quickly finding his form with Hundal and junior Tydus Verhoeven.
JESS SPIVEY (Sierra F, Sr.)
Spivey has shown all kinds of heart in the preseason, as he was often the lone returning starter from last year’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champion and NorCal semifinalist team. Joshua Patton, The Record’s All-Area Player of the Year, Hunter Johnson, a first-team All-Area forward and guard Devin Nunez all graduated. D.J. Wyatt was busy until a week before Christmas taking part in a football state championship. Spivey has dominated, scoring in the 20s of points and even 30s, and pitching in with big rebounding numbers.
JUSTICE HARRIS (Chavez G, Sr.)
Harris has quietly torched his competition the past couple seasons, a true leader for the Titans out of the backcourt. He’s averaging 20 points, five rebounds and three assists, for the odds-on favorite in the SJAA. Chavez split the SJAA with Bear Creek, which graduated four starters, last year.
JAELEN RAGSDALE (Weston Ranch G, Sr.)
Ragsdale is the heart and soul of the Cougars (18-5), and a player who coach Chris Teevan called “the best guard in the area” last season. He’s averaging 18 points, four rebounds and four assists, and despite a wealth of talent, I’m guessing he’s the guy who’ll have the ball at the end of close games this season.
TYDUS VERHOEVEN (Manteca G/F, Jr.)
Verhoeven’s game, and more importantly, his on-court maturity, consistency and unselfishness seem to have improved dramatically from his sophomore season. The 6-foot-7 wing is averaging eight points, six rebounds and five assists for Manteca, and could have much gaudier numbers on a team with less talent. It’s Verhoeven’s versatility as a lengthy forward with guard skills that make this team a section championship contender.
CARLNEL McGEE-WOOLBRIGHT (Edison G/F, Sr.)
McGee-Woolbright is a 3-point shooting machine who provides senior leadership and a great tempo to the Vikings. Edison, though it’s sub-.500 at 5-6, has emerged as a surprise contender for the San Joaquin Athletic Association, featuring two wins each over Lincoln and Sierra.
DA’VION BARLOW (Brookside Christian G, Sr.)
Barlow is one of the key returners from a Brookside Christian team that won a Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship, and reached the NorCal finals last March. In filling in for graduated guards Kameron Vales and Kenyon Williams, Barlow has delivered 17 points and four boards per game. He, senior post Phillip Patrick and freshman Jalen Williams give Brookside Christian a chance to reach the heights of last year and then some.
EVAN MADILL (St. Mary’s G, Sr.)
Madill, kind of like Spivey at Sierra, has impressively taken on a new leadership role, after the graduation of key seniors like Lance Coleman II, Devin Williams, Jacob Aruta and Alex Smith. The lefty is averaging 18 points for the Rams (6-6) and will be key as they try and repeat in a parity-filled Tri-City Athletic League.
JUNIOR BALLARD (Lathrop G/F, So.)
Ballard has come out of nowhere for the Spartans, averaging 27 points and 11 rebounds. He’ll be key as Lathrop opens Valley Oak League play against Manteca next week.
D’ANGELO FINLEY (Weston Ranch F, Sr.)
You can’t help but mention the newcomer, a 6-foot-5 force who’s averaging 17 points and seven boards. He, like Chavez transfer Anthony Booker, and Lavender, are key to giving the Weston Ranch lineup more versatility than it had last year when it was guard city.
MICHAEL HAYES (West G/F, So.)
Kind of like Ballard at Lathrop, Hayes has dazzled for a Wolf Pack team where the focus was on senior guard Isaiah Grady and junior forward Ephraim Estell. Hayes has averaged 21 points and nine rebounds for West, a contender in the TCAL.
ANDRE KELLY (Lincoln F, So.)
It’s scary to think that Kelly is only a sophomore. In fact, in my first draft of this list, I listed him as a “senior” because I imagined a 6-foot-6 forward who’s built like a 22-year-old. Kelly averages 17 points and nine boards for the Trojans, who have been inconsistent but shown flashes of promise this preseason, like in testing Manteca in a 59-54 home loss.
D.J. WYATT (Sierra G, Sr.)
Wyatt has wasted no time returning to Sierra’s lineup, and even though he got a very late start, he’s still one of the top guards and overall players in the area and a shoe-in to be on this list. Look for more on Wyatt as his season and Sierra’s VOL slate progresses.
MORE NAMES TO WATCH
COLE STEVENS (Ripon G, Jr.)
JIMMY BELTZ (Elliot Christian G, Sr.)
This dude has 53 POINTS IN A GAME IN A LOSS TO MCNAIR!
The Sierra football team poses after winning the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship game, 42-0 over Galt-Liberty Ranch, Nov. 28 at Elk Grove High. RECORD FILE 2015
The Sierra football team is 48 minutes away from becoming the first CIF State champion in the city of Manteca, and the second from San Joaquin County, following the 2010 Escalon Cougars.
To get there, Sierra (9-5) must beat host Chowchilla (12-2), the Central Section Division IV champion, which beat Los Angeles-Fairfax 28-16 in their Southern California bowl game. The Timberwolves beat host Sutter 17-13 in the NorCal Division IV-A game last Saturday at Yuba City-River Valley.
I’ll be in Chowchilla updating live on Twitter, with photos, scores, updates, videos and more, leading up to, and of course, after the 6 p.m. kickoff. I’ll also send photos from Sierra’s send-off, between 2:15 and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.
For now, here are a couple players to watch for each team:
ANDREW GUEVARA (Sierra DL, Sr.)
Guevara, an exceptional senior defensive end, who has a team-high 18.5 sacks, is a major key to the Timberwolves winning their first state championship.
He delivered 2.5 sacks at Sutter, and now he faces a Double Wing offense — a run-heavy scheme, that’s similar to the Wing-T, but out of the shotgun. So Guevara may not have a sack on Saturday, but if he can disrupt rushing plays before they really take off in the backfield Sierra could win the field-position battle.
ANTHONY STEWART (Chowchilla RB/CB, Sr.)
The North Sequoia League MVP is a true two-way star. Stewart, who wears No. 5, has 1,700 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, with 55 tackles, two interceptions, three pass deflections, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
Stewart, who was having some type of injury issue, has told the Merced Sun-Star he should be ready to play Sierra.
MARK PAULE JR. (Sierra RB, Sr.)
Paule Jr. isn’t just the featured running back for the team on a brink of a state banner. He can also become the program’s all-time leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns: potentially surpassing his idol Anthony Cota.
With one game left in his varsity career, Paule has 3,476 yards (67 behind Cota’s 3,543) and 60 TDs (two behind Cota’s 62).
DANNY CHAVEZ (Chowchilla LB, Sr.)
The Redskins, who must pressure Timberwolves junior quarterback Mark Vicente, lest he get comfortable and be the dual-threat he is, need guys like Chavez to show up big. Chavez has a team-high eight sacks, with 68 total tackles.
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
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
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