Moorpark High girls' basketball coach Brent Milburn does his best to remain low-key when discussing his Musketeers.
But press him long enough and Milburn will admit what the league's other teams don't want to hear. Moorpark, undefeated in league and 24-1 overall last season, is even better this season.
"We've got eight kids on this team who can score 20 points if you don't watch them," said Milburn, whose team is 12-1. "This team's more mature and has much better shooters. We commit fewer turnovers and our overall execution is better than last year."
The Musketeers advanced to the Southern Section Division III-AA semifinals and return four starters this season.
The best is senior point guard Tracey Milburn, Brent's daughter and the league's player of the year last season.
Milburn, who will play soccer at Pepperdine after graduation, averaged 16.6 points and 7.2 assists.
Sophomore wing Demaris Hinojosa averages 18.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 5.4 steals.
Rounding out the lineup are returning starters and senior guards Kelly Jaeger and Jennifer Plante and first-year starter Sonia Ceja on the wing.
Moorpark's chief league competition will again come from Nordhoff (11-3), which lost twice to the Musketeers by a combined 12 points and finished second.
The Rangers advanced to the Southern Section Division III-A final and the state playoffs and finished 21-10. They return two starters, junior point guard Nell Becker and junior forward Erin Barker, both all-league players. Barker was an All-Southern Section Division III selection and Becker made the second team.
Becker is averaging 16.3 points and Barker 17.8. The Rangers' other full-time starter is 6-foot-4 sophomore forward Christen Roper, who averages 10 rebounds.
Senior Deanna McCullah and junior Erin Brown share one wing position and juniors Laura Underwood and Rachel Tenpenny the other.
Strong defense and an ability to handle full-court pressure should keep Nordhoff relatively close in its games against Moorpark on Jan. 21 and Feb. 11.
But for the Rangers to upset the defending champions, their erratic shooting, both from the field and the free-throw line, must improve.
Calabasas and Santa Clara should battle for third place. Calabasas (7-4), which finished third last season, returns 6-1 senior center Heather Robertson and 6-foot senior forward Alyssa Love.
The Coyotes' missing link? Sophomore Cara Blumfield, an all-league point guard as a freshman last season who has transferred to El Camino Real.
"If we had her I think we'd be a contender for a [Southern Section] title," Coach Steve Spadaro said.
"We have a strong inside game and some height but we're missing an experienced ballhandler and shooter to take some of the pressure off [the talented front line]."
At Santa Clara (6-6), the fundamentals of third-year Coach Sherri Cvijanovich have begun to sink in.
The Saints return only two starters, but gained an experienced guard when senior Kelly Tobin transferred from Hueneme.
The returnees, both seniors, are forward Christi Hanson, averaging 10 points and 7.5 rebounds, and guard Michelle Mullen.
Senior guard-forward Niecee Madrigal has moved into a starting role and has averaged 14.3 points a game.
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AT A GLANCE
* THE PROVEN: Moorpark senior point guard Tracey Milburn, last season's player of the year, averages 15.2 points and 7.9 rebounds. . . . Nordhoff's leading scorer is junior forward Erin Barker, averaging 17.8 points. . . . Calabasas senior center Heather Robertson averages 14.9 points and 15.2 rebounds.
* THE PROMISING: Calabasas freshman guard Sara Hall starts and averages 8.2 rebounds and 3.2 steals. . . . Malibu senior point guard, Tahra Gabelmann, a transfer from Canada, averages 11 points and 6.8 steals. . . . Junior guards and twins Sam and Jenny Hayes are defensive standouts for Malibu in their second year of basketball.
* FAST FACT: Santa Clara senior swing player Niecee Madrigal, averaging 14.3 points, has been selected to all-league teams in volleyball, soccer and softball in her high school career.