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High School Girls’ Basketball Preview: Marina, Laguna Beach among area’s pleasant surprises

Marina High’s Katie Nguyen (32) attempts to lay the ball in against Buena Park during the first half
Katie Nguyen (32) has led the Marina High girls’ basketball team to a 10-3 start, a season after the Vikings went 4-22.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The high school girls’ basketball season has offered several nice stories so far, including a pair of torrential turnarounds.

Marina hired Daniel Roussel in May, and his team got off to a surprising 10-3 start.

The Vikings have not had a winning season since the 2013-14 campaign, their only winning season in the past seven years. Roussel said that he wanted to restore the program to its former glory during the hiring process.

“I grew up in the area,” Roussel said. “I went to Westminster High School, and I know how good the girls’ program was when I was in high school, through the 90s, and even into the early 2000s.

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“I just told [Vikings athletic director] Michelle [Spencer] that I was hoping to restore this program back to one of the top programs in Orange County and in the Sunset League.”

Last season, Marina went 4-22. The Vikings appeared then as though they could only play through Katie Nguyen. It was not a bad option, as Nguyen was a Daily Pilot Dream Team selection as a junior.

Marina High’s Emily Sakamoto (11) scores against Buena Park during the first half in the Soaring Fli
Marina High’s Emily Sakamoto (11) scores against Buena Park in the first half of the Hawk Holiday Classic Soaring Flight game at Pacifica High on Dec. 6.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The high-energy guard has help now, most notably in the form of senior Westminster transfer Emily Sakamoto. The senior small forward is averaging 12.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, a nice complement to Nguyen’s 14.8 points and 6.3 rebounds on a nightly basis.

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“We’re trying to change the culture, and we’ve got some confidence right now,” Roussel added. “We’re playing good basketball, for the most part. We set some goals for ourselves to win the Wave League and to make the playoffs this year.”

The new Wave League houses Laguna Beach, Newport Harbor and Fountain Valley.

Laguna Beach is another surprise, as the Breakers began the season 14-0, until suffering their first loss on Thursday to Century. The Breakers’ schedule has been benign, to say the least, but one has to take note of the improvement after Laguna Beach went winless at 0-24 last season.

Freshman guard Anna Cheng leads the Breakers, sporting averages of 12.7 points and four steals per game.

Fountain Valley (8-5) and Newport Harbor (7-6) also look to be competitive in the Wave League. The Barons’ strength lies in a young corps that can shoot and make plays off the dribble, while the Sailors have myriad options in the post to control the glass.

Los Alamitos High’s Molly Clarke (21) and Asia Avinger (2) trap and force a turnover by Huntington B
Huntington Beach High’s Alyssa Real is trapped by two Los Alamitos defenders during the first half of a Sunset League game on Feb. 5, 2018.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Huntington Beach (6-2) should be the primary challenger to Los Alamitos (8-3) in the Surf League. The Griffins won the Supreme Flight of the Hawk Holiday Classic on Dec. 8 after advancing to the final of the South Coast Classic the week before.

The Oilers only lost two rotation players from last season. They hope to see sophomore guards Alyssa Real and Meghan McIntyre take another step forward. Early returns are favorable, as Real made a buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat host University in the South Coast Classic.

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Edison (5-5) had a great strength in rebounding last year, but with the graduation of Dream Team post players Finley Garnett and Ashley Niemand, the Chargers are looking for new ways to stay competitive.

The Chargers will need to be locked in from beyond the arc, with sisters Irene and Gwen Ontiveros serving as primary options.

CDM’s Tatiana Bruening pulls back for a two point jumper against two Mission Viejo defenders during
Corona del Mar High’s Tatiana Bruening pulls back for a jumper against two Mission Viejo defenders in the CdM Tip-Off Tournament on Nov. 28, 2017.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Corona del Mar (7-7) should bring an element of toughness to the Surf League. The Sea Kings return senior center Tatiana Bruening and senior shooting guard Samantha Uehara.

Alara Ersu, a senior transfer from Turkey who is 5-foot-11, can help the Sea Kings defend the paint and win the battle of the boards.

Sage Hill (7-3) is once again one of the area’s best teams. The Lightning are led by sophomore forward Emily Elliott, who was a Dream Team selection as a freshman.

In addition, the Lightning have freshman guard Isabel Gomez running the point. She has demonstrated an ability to create space for her shot and knock it down, which has spaced the floor.

“She’s a high-intelligence basketball player,” Lightning coach Kerwin Walters said of Gomez. “It’s good to get someone in, a freshman in that can just simply run the team when need be or score when needed. She’s a smart player, a very heady player.

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“I’m very fortunate that we have her in our program right now. It’s just going to take some time. When she starts seeing what she’s really capable of, she’s going to be really dangerous.”

Ocean View (6-7) is on the rise, having won the Premier Flight of its host tournament, the Hawk Holiday Classic, on Dec. 8. Senior center Helen Reynolds averaged 27.8 points per game for the Seahawks in being named the Premier Flight MVP.

Costa Mesa High’s Katie Belmontes, right, is fouled by Estancia’s Cielo Cruz as the Eagles turn the
Costa Mesa High’s Katie Belmontes, right, is fouled in the first half of the Battle for the Bell rivalry game against Estancia on Feb. 7, 2018.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The numbers in the Costa Mesa program had dwindled last season. The Mustangs had just six players in their rotation then.

With a new coach installed in Samantha Doucette, the Mustangs program is thriving again, as Costa Mesa (6-8) has put together teams at multiple levels. The Mustangs are also starting to hit their stride on the court, having won four straight games.

“I think that Costa Mesa is just filled with a bunch of girls that are just motivated,” Doucette said. “They want to play basketball, and they want to be coached by someone who is going to motivate them and teach them and care about them.”

The Mustangs are led by senior small forward Katie Belmontes, who is not afraid to draw contact in the lane.

On the other side of town, Estancia (4-8) will look to have the better of the Battle for the Bell rivalry again. The Eagles beat the visiting Mustangs in the regular-season finale last season, punching their ticket to the CIF Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs.

Pacifica Christian Orange County (7-2, 5-0 in Western League) sits atop a seven-team league that also includes Liberty Christian (1-5, 1-2).

andrew.turner@latimes.com

Twitter: @ProfessorTurner


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