Los Angeles Times

Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy follows new leader

Often times, there's an elongated time frame with players adjusting to a new coach. That doesn't figure to be the case for the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy basketball team this season.

When Gino Pacella resigned his coaching post after guiding the Tologs to their fourth straight playoff appearance last season, the Tologs wasted little time in promoting assistant Ty Buxman to the lead role. Buxman served as Pacella's assistant the past four seasons and played a role in cultivating talent at the junior varsity level so it would be ready to compete on the varsity stage.

Buxman said he's eager to see how things work out for the Tologs.

"The transition has been a good one since we got going last summer," Buxman said. "We've all been getting used to each other, and they are starting to respond.

"We will be young, but, at the same time, that can be a good thing. We are trying to see who can step up and be a full-time varsity player. It's intriguing and exciting."

With the loss of center Lana Haddad, an All-Area second-team pick, to graduation, there's plenty of opportunities for the current cast to grab the baton in attempting to lead the Tologs to another playoff spot while also participating in the ultra-competitive Mission League that's expected to again boast a potent gauntlet of strong squads.

The most logical choice might be senior guard Dana Budzyn, the lone returning starter and a reigning All-Mission League second-team honoree who averaged 6.7 points, 2.9 assists and 2.5 steals per game last season.

"She's going to be a four-year varsity starter," Buxman said. "She's been a real solid and consistent player since she's been here, so we are going to need for her to step up and be a scorer."

Crescenta Valley would be happy just to field a healthy team. That doesn't figure to be in the cards, as the Falcons will in all likelihood be without starting junior guard Ella Stepanian for the season.

Stepanian, a reigning All-Pacific League pick, tore her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus early in the summer. Stepanian hurt her knee and suffered an elbow injury June 30 while competing in an Ararat Homenetmen game. She averaged 14.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.2 steals per game for the Falcons last season.

After learning about Stepanian's injury, Crescenta Valley Coach Jason Perez began making a new set of plans in remodeling the team.

"It's a tough loss because she's led in every category the last two seasons," said Perez, who led the Falcons to a playoff appearance last season. "When you lose a player like that, you have to go about drawing up new plans."

Perez said it wasn't clear if two other starters — senior guard Grace Trueblood and junior forward Lindsey Heckmann — would suit up this season. Trueblood and Heckmann are recovering from knee and back injuries, respectively.

The Falcons will turn to junior guards Tanisha Minasian and Jackie Wilson, senior guard Sydney Cummings and junior forward Emily Beglarian to help soften the blow and fill some of the void left by Stepanian, Trueblood and Heckmann.

Glendale will feature its share of varsity experience. The Nitros, who didn't qualify for the postseason last season, will carry a 12-member squad that will include eight seniors.

It's given Glendale Coach Tania Adary reason for hope that the Nitros will be among the teams in the upper half of the Pacific League and also contending for a playoff berth.

"We have a lot of experience, and all of them have started at some point before," Adary said. "For us to be successful, we are going to have to be strong in defending and using our speed."

Glendale's top players will probably consist of senior guards Kris Zadourian, Tara Abdul-Ahad, Lala Karimian and Ellin Avanesian and senior forward Erlin Kezhishzadeh.

Flintridge Prep will begin a new era, as coach Todd Frost resigned following 13 years with the program. Frost spent the last three seasons as head coach after previously serving as an assistant from 1999-2009 under Kenny Fisher.

Flintridge Prep, which reached the playoffs last season, will now have a pair of coaches roaming the sidelines in Kevin Kiyomura and Jayme Kiyomura-Chan. The duo ran the team during the summer, providing the players with a glimpse of what they expect to accomplish.

"There's optimism building that Jayme and I can see," Kiyomura said. "The practices have been getting a lot better and I think we have a good mixture of players.

"The Prep League will again be tough. From top to bottom, I think it will be fairly equal."

The Rebels will turn to junior guard Maya Okamoto, who secured a spot on the all-league team last season. Looking to provide Okamoto some support will be senior guard Gabby Zen and freshman guard/forward Tala Ismail.

Holy Family will look to qualify for the playoffs again under coach Ernest Siy. The Gaels will return senior forward Natalia Neris and junior guard Alex Mata. The Gaels dipped into the recruiting pool by bringing in junior guard Melissa Chan and junior forward Melody Escobedo. Chan and Escobedo attended Ramona Convent and L.A. Sacred Heart of Jesus, respectively, last season.

Siy said Chan will be the Gaels' go-to player.

"She will be a big-time asset for us," Siy said. "She's a very special player who sees the floor well and has good court awareness."

Glendale Adventist and Hoover will look to bounce back after missing the playoffs last season.

Glendale Adventist's top player will be Madi Federici, a junior forward. She will be joined by junior center Melissa Lopez and junior forward Brittney Gross and freshman guard Isabella Naguit.

"We want to be able to provide Madi [Federici] with a lot of support," Glendale Adventist Coach Stephen Nelson said.

Hoover, which didn't win a Pacific League game last season, appears to be putting the building blocks in place under coach Stan Watson.

Watson said the Tornadoes will have a good variety of players who can provide stability, including senior center Allison Zalin, junior guard Preny Sarkissian and junior guard/forward Nairi Serajian.

"We are trying to be more competitive, and we want to pick up some more wins," Watson said.


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