The first Bay Area News Group-East Bay basketball polls will debut in the paper this Tuesday (look for them Monday on the blog) and our No. 1 girls team will be no big mystery.
At the West Coast Jamboree this week, Carondelet looked just as good if not better than last year when it went to the CIF state Division II title game. In addition to wins over defending NCS champions Berkeley and St. Mary’s, the Cougars took Long Beach Poly to the wire in the Platinum championship game before falling 58-56. Poly had earned the No. 2 national ranking earlier this week after beating the country’s previous No. 1 team, Mater Dei-Santa Ana, at the Nike Tournament of Champions.
As expected, Hannah Huffman and Erica Payne played fantastic all week for Carondelet, but the entire starting five was terrific against Poly. Melissa Russi had a pair of incredibly clutch 3-pointers, Portia Velasco has emerged into a legitimate offensive threat and Natalie Romeo – is she really just a freshman?
The Cougars don’t have a ton of size after the graduation of center Erin Boettcher, so they’ve turned into a team that likes to run and plays strong defense. I chatted with Poly point guard Ariya Crook-Williams after the championship game and she said Carondelet’s zone really frustrated them and took them out of the flow of their offense. The zone D was also crucial to the Cougars’ big third quarter runs against Berkeley and St. Mary’s earlier in the week.
Don’t pencil Carondelet in for the state title game just yet. Thanks to a new rule, the Cougars move up to Division I after winning three consecutive North Coast Section Division II titles. That means they will have to go through Berkeley, which took third at the Jamboree after a two-point loss to Carondelet and has plenty of firepower as well. Carondelet and Berkeley meet again in a nonleague game at the Berkeley gym on Jan. 15. Two more playoff games are also likely. I certainly wouldn’t bet on a four-game sweep.
Also, a special thanks to Deer Valley coach Mark Anger and tournament co-director/announcer Harold Abend who kept the Platinum Division running on time all four days. As a reporter with tight deadlines, it made a huge difference (I think my bosses and I were still having nightmares from last season when a great semifinal between Carondelet and Potter’s House Christian didn’t make the paper because it ended well after 11 p.m.)