There was little doubt that the Bellarmine-Jefferson High and Providence girls’ basketball teams were the class of their respective leagues.
While the Guards went undefeated to earn their fifth straight Santa Cruz League championship, the Pioneers also didn’t drop a game in the Liberty League, notching a second-straight title.
The squads had something else in common: they both featured a key player who could step up and make the big play when their team needed them. For Bell-Jeff it was senior Rishonda Napier and for Providence it was junior Bea Benedicto.
Fittingly, the pair both garnered their respective league’s top honor. Napier was named the Santa Cruz Player of the Year and Benedicto shared co-Liberty League Player of the Year honors with Leah Purvis of Buckley.
Napier enjoyed a wildly successful season and leaves Bell-Jeff as one of the most decorated basketball players in program history. Earlier this week, she earned her third All-CIF Southern Section first-team honor. During the season, she was nominated as a McDonald’s All-American.
Napier averaged 21.7 points a game to go along with nearly three assists and three steals a game.
“Just her presence in a lot of games was the reason why we were able to have as successful season as we had,” Bell-Jeff Coach Jaclyn Johnson said. “No one had anyone who could guard her in league.”
Earning first-team all-league accolades for the Guards were seniors Jasmine Smith (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Averie Guzman (six points, five rebounds). The pair, along with Napier, are the last holdovers from a Bell-Jeff team that won Southern Section and state championships in 2009.
Making the second team for Bell-Jeff was senior Kiah Jones and junior Tiffany Kho.
The No. 6 Guards (24-6) advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA semifinals where they fell to No. 7 Gardena Serra, 71-54. The team also won a game in the Division IV state playoffs against Los Angeles Baptist, 70-60, before falling St. Bernard, 65-51.
Benedicto led a team that made history by advancing to the semifinals in the postseason, earning a state playoff bid for the first time and notching two victories in state competition.
Benedicto, who earned second-team All-CIF honors, averaged 11.7 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.
“She is the person teams really, really prepared for,” Providence Coach Andrew Bencze said. “She just worked so hard under the boards and she was a very tough player to contain.”
Senior Catherine Saint (9.8 points and 2.9 steals) and freshman Katia Dabbaghian (7.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.6 steals and three assists) were all-league first-team picks for the Pioneers. The two also earned All-CIF second-team honors.
The No. 3 Pioneers (27-6) went on to the Division V-AA semifinals for the first time in program history, losing to No. 1 Villanova Prep, 48-35. Providence received an invitation to state play and defeated Rock Academy, 68-35, and Orangewood Academy, 44-34, to advance to the regional semifinal. In the game, Providence saw its season come to an end with a 64-28 loss to Mission Prep.
Burbank also enjoyed a historic season, advancing to the semifinals of the playoffs for the first time.
Burbank (19-14) finished second in the Pacific League and qualified to the Division I-A playoffs as the No. 13 seed. The Bulldogs worked their way to the semifinals, losing to No. 1 Summit, 72-49. In the Southern California Regional of the CIF State Basketball Championships, Burbank was defeated in the first round by No. 1 Mater Dei, 77-35.
Senior Damarie Gonzalez, a four-year varsity player who earned All-CIF Southern Section Division I-A first-team honors, was the Bulldogs’ lone first-team all-league pick. Along with averaging 12.2 points a game, Gonzalez also averaged 4.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.4 steals.
Junior Jamie Gonzalez was a second-team pick and senior Sylvia Granados was honorable mention for the Bulldogs.
Burroughs (12-16) made the playoffs after tying for fourth place in the Pacific League. The Indians had a first-team all-league honoree in junior Aysia Shellmire. Shellmire averaged 15.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.7 blocks and 1.6 steals a game.
“She definitely deserved it with the numbers she had,” Burroughs Coach Vicky Oganyan said. “I think she grew a lot as a player this year, having to step up for us this season. Also, leadership wise, I think what she did this year is going to help her next season.”
Freshman Davina Del Castillo was an honorable mention selection.