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League Streaks Are in Peril Because of Balancing Acts

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They’ve climbed high enough on the ladder to cut down more than their share of championship nets.

But now some of the region’s traditionally strong girls basketball programs are on lower rungs as the balance of power shifts.

Defending champions Palmdale, Alemany, Thousand Oaks, Village Christian and Fillmore could be felled from the top of their respective leagues.

“Everybody wants to knock off the team that has been champion year after year,” Palmdale Coach George Corisis said. “That’s the fun of athletics.”

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If that’s the case, the Golden League should be plenty of fun for almost everyone.

Palmdale has won 30 consecutive Golden League games and three consecutive league titles, but Corisis lost his top eight players from a team that spent most of last season ranked No. 1 in Southern Section Division I-AA.

Loaded with inexperienced players, the Falcons had a 4-33 record during the summer.

“I’m sure the Golden League schools have heard all about that and are really looking forward to playing us,” said Corisis, who guided Palmdale to the 1995-96 section final.

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Perennial league runner-up Quartz Hill also was hit hard by graduation, leaving Coach Tom Hegre’s Littlerock team as the Golden League’s most experienced group and the favorite.

Highland post player Tiffany Winkfield returns from two knee operations and could be the league’s best player. Former Highland boys’ co-Coach Tim Knight takes over the girls’ program and expects to have the Bulldogs contending almost immediately.

Alemany might be better than it was last season when it won a share of its fifth consecutive Mission League title and advanced to its fifth section final in six seasons. But the Indians proved vulnerable when their 42-game league winning streak was ended by upstart Harvard-Westlake.

Alemany senior Kelli Kobayashi and sophomore Kate Beckler are among the region’s best guard tandems, and freshman Karina Siam, a 5-foot-10 post player, adds much-needed size.

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But the league favorite is Harvard-Westlake, which tied for the league championship last season and returns starters Corrie Roberts, Brooke Porter, Omelogo Udeze and Rolake Bamgbose.

The Wolverines have been bolstered by the addition of L’Tanya Robnett, who started last season at Palmdale as a freshman.

Royal, the youngest team in the Marmonte League the past two seasons, is the consensus choice among league coaches to unseat Thousand Oaks, the two-time co-champion.

Village Christian, winner of six consecutive Alpha League titles, starts the season with a 56-game league winning streak in peril.

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The resignation of former Coach John Domkeprompted three starters to transfer and another to decide not to play for the Crusaders.

Junior guard Shannon Spielbuehler transferred to Hart, junior forward Amy Feola left for Burroughs and sophomore guard Amy Lowe enrolled at Alemany. Senior Jackie Aranda, the team’s center, decided to focus on softball.

Brent Smith is the new coach at Village Christian and Domke has taken over coaching duties at Frazier Mountain, which is a prime candidate to assume Village Christian’s old spot atop the Alpha League standings.

“I definitely have mixed emotions about that,” Domke said. “I have very strong ties to Village Christian, but my new loyalties are to my players and my new school.”

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In the Tri-Valley League, Fillmore has lost four of five starters to graduation and probably won’t challenge for a fourth consecutive league title.

La Reina tied the Flashes for the league championship last season and should claim the outright league title behind sophomore post player MacKenzie Vandergeest.

Of course, not every local league expects to crown a new champion.

Buena should outlast a strong Ventura team to claim its 10th consecutive Channel League title under Coach Joe Vaughan.

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Renae Hoffman and Kelly Murray return from a team that won the Division I-A championship last season. They are joined by 6-foot-2 freshman center Kelly Greathouse, the younger sister of 1996-97 Ventura County player of the year Nicole Greathouse.

Buena has won four of the last five division championships, is 134-6 in league play the past 10 seasons and has a 44-game league winning streak.

Ventura has the ability to end that streak. With All-County guard Rhiannon Potkey and Erin Oshita in the back court and Alex Gientke and Kristine Gleisberg in the post, the Cougars have their best team in several years.

Crescenta Valley has four starters back from a team that last season finished 29-4 and second to Buena in Division I-A.

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Tara Gregory and Sinnamonn Garrett would be marquee attractions on a team that didn’t already feature UCLA-bound All-American guard Michelle Greco.

With that trio, Crescenta Valley should have enough to win a third consecutive Pacific League title and extend its 22-game league winning streak.

Crescenta Valley’s stiffest challenges will probably come from Muir, which claimed the Division III-AA championship last season, and an improved Glendale team.

In the Foothill League, Hart is expected to continue its dominance and claim a sixth consecutive league title.

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The Indians, who have won 51 of their last 52 league games, have 6-1 Melissa Harrison, the league most valuable player last season, and Brianna Kentfield, a 6-2 transfer from Minnesota, in the post.

Nordhoff and Moorpark tied for the Frontier League title last season.

Nordhoff returns the bulk of its lineup, including guard Nell Becker.

Moorpark, which advanced to the Division III-A final, has junior forward Damaris Hinojosa, the league’s best player.

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Montclair Prep, which has won 24 consecutive league games and three titles since joining the Westside League, should continue to build on both of those streaks.

Paraclete has Jackie Kolesar, one of the region’s best freshmen.

The expected return of senior guard Alicia Parra from surgery later this month and the improved play of forward Christine Lambert should translate to a fourth consecutive High Desert League title for the Spirits.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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PLAYERS TO WATCH

Top returning Southern Section girls’ basketball players in the region, with comments from correspondent Dave Desmond.

Player, School: Kate Beckler, Alemany

Ht.: 5-8

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Yr.: So.

Comment: Area’s best freshman last season

*

Player, School: Sinnamonn Garrett, Crescenta Vly

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Ht.: 5-10

Yr.: So.

Comment: Unsung but pivotal to Falcons

*

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Player, School: JoAnna Garrick, Burroughs

Ht.: 6-2

Yr.: Sr.

Comment: Tower in middle, defensive force

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*

Player, School: Kelly Greathouse, Buena

Ht.: 6-2

Yr.: Fr.

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Comment: Great genes, good size, lots of promise

*

Player, School: Michelle Greco, Crescenta Valley

Ht.: 5-10

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Yr.: Sr.

Comment: Area’s best, committed to UCLA

*

Player, School: Tara Gregory, Crescenta Valley

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Ht.: 5-4

Yr.: Sr.

Comment: Quickest player in region

*

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Player, School: Melissa Harrison, Hart

Ht.: 5-11

Yr.: Sr.

Comment: Foothill’s most dominant natural post

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*

Player, School: Demaris Hinojosa, Moorpark

Ht.: 5-10

Yr.: Jr.

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Comment: Can do damage inside or outside

*

Player, School: Renae Hoffman, Buena

Ht.: 5-6

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Yr.: Sr.

Comment: Will try to lead Buena to 10th league title

*

Player, School: Kelli Kobayashi, Alemany

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Ht.: 5-4

Yr.: Sr.

Comment: Poised floor leader

*

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Player, School: Brooke Porter, Harvard-Westlake

Ht.: 5-5

Yr.: So.

Comment: All-Southern Section as freshman

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*

Player, School: Rhiannon Potkey, Ventura

Ht.: 5-11

Yr.: Sr.

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Comment: Could lead Cougars to upset of Buena

*

Player, School: Corrie Roberts, Harvard-Westlake

Ht.: 5-7

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Yr.: Sr.

Comment: Multi-sport star, great team leader

*

Player, School: Jessica Sanders, Royal

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Ht.: 5-9

Yr.: Sr.

Comment: Top player on Marmonte League favorite

*

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Player, School: Chene Tuimoloau, Channel Islands

Ht.: 5-9

Yr.: So.

Comment: Paced Raiders to league title as freshman

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Girls’ Basketball Top 10

Preseason rankings of regional high schools by The Times:

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RK TEAM (League) ’96-97 1 Crescenta Valley (Pacific) 29-4 2 Buena (Channel) 27-3 3 Harvard-Westlake (Mission) 21-8 4 Ventura (Channel) 18-6 5 Hart (Foothill) 22-6 6 No. Hollywood (Mid-Valley) 22-4 7 Moorpark (Frontier) 26-4 8 Royal (Marmonte) 15-9 9 Alemany (Mission) 24-6 10 Channel Islands (Marmonte) 19-8

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