Duo earned stripes

Kassie Stratton played in the post because it fit a team need. Kasey Thompson played in the post because, well, that's expected when you're a 6-foot-2 girl.

Thompson took the scoring load upon herself for much of the season. Stratton made the Eagles successful because she didn't.

Stratton, a senior at Estancia, and Thompson, a Newport Harbor junior, displayed different kinds of leadership during the girls' basketball season. But each helped their team achieve its best season in years.

For that leadership, they share the Daily Pilot Dream Team Player of the Year honor.

Stratton earned it by herself last year when she averaged 19 points per game. This year, she averaged "only" 15.4 while battling a calf injury early in the season. But the Orange Coast League MVP, who has signed with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, was no less valuable.

She played the post. When opponents double-teamed, it opened up the three-point shot for Stratton's teammates.

"I didn't like playing post last year," said Stratton, a four-time Dream Team selection. "I kind of hated it. This year, it was fun for some reason. It was interesting. It was something new that I hadn't tried to be really good at. My scoring went down just because I didn't have to; I didn't have to score.

"[Freshman] Celia [Duran] came in and Yesenia [Maldonado] stepped it up, Brenda [Soto] stepped it up, Jenny [Boldizar] stepped it up, [Vanessa] Stafford stepped it up. We had two or three games in a row where we had five people in double digits [in points]. It's just all a team effort, you know?"

Co-Coach Xavier Castellano knew he had the ultimate team player in Stratton. She helped guide the Eagles to a 10-0 Orange Coast League record, their first league title since 2003. They finished 21-7 and won a playoff game for the first time in eight years as well, beating rival Corona del Mar, 44-38, in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division IV-A playoffs.

"She's been doing it for the last four years," Castellano said. "She was the best player in the league. She played out of position but she did a great job. Everyone's defense was focused on Kassie but she never complained. It was all about the team. She was like the third coach for us, always helping us and just being positive."

Newport Harbor didn't have much as much success in the ultra-competitive Sunset League, finishing 2-8. But that was still the most the Sailors had won since re-entering the league in 2006-07. They went 11-16 and won the CdM Tournament; the 11 total wins was also the most for the Tars in six years.

Thompson, a first-team all-league selection, led the way. Coach Justin Long said the junior, who also plays volleyball and competes in track and field for the Sailors, often carried the team on her back. Senior Alex Morton couldn't, as she was not at 100% for much of the season due to a strained back.

Thompson averaged a double-double, with a team-best 14.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. She was second in the area in rebounding, the leader being Morton, helping the team reach the Division I playoffs.

"It's nice being 6-2 because most of the time I have an advantage," Thompson said. "But they've watched film on us and they know it's coming in to the big posts. It gets hard sometimes when you get double-teamed. You've just got to look for that open [player]."

She's the third girl in her family to play basketball for the Sailors, following Kelly and Katey. Katey Thompson, a Dream Team basketball player in 2008-09, was the Player of the Year in girls' volleyball the following fall. She now plays volleyball at UC Santa Barbara; Kasey said she probably won't quit basketball to focus on volleyball her senior year like her sister did.

"I don't really know what's going to happen next year," Thompson said. "I've been playing with Alex since my freshman year. I'll just take whatever I get and work with it."

Working hard was never a problem this year for Stratton and Thompson.

Here's a look at the other five Dream Team players:

*

Annie Sturm

Costa Mesa

The 5-foot-9 senior forward averaged 13.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game for the Mustangs. Both were team-bests and helped Sturm earn first-team All-Orange Coast League recognition.

Sturm was an all-around player for Coach Nichole Maddox, able to shoot from the outside as well as rebound in the post. She helped Mesa go 12-15 and 7-3 in league, good for second place. Sturm and Mesa were the closest team in league to rival Estancia, narrowly falling to the Eagles, 51-46, in the league finale.

Maddox said Sturm plans to play at Orange Coast College next year.

*

Yesenia Maldonado

Estancia

The senior's game grew in her second year running the point for the Eagles. Maldonado, at 5-foot-11 the tallest player on the team, averaged 11.5 points, 5.7 assists, five rebounds and 3.2 steals per game in league. The point total was second on the team behind Stratton, and she led the league in assists.

Maldonado was also a key part of Estancia's press on defense. A four-year varsity player and team captain, Maldonado was a first-team All-Orange Coast League selection.

Maldonado said she also plans to play for Orange Coast next year.

*

Alex Morton

Newport Harbor

Morton battled a strained lower back for much of her senior season, and she hurt her ankle in the first league game against Fountain Valley. But the 6-foot-1 center pushed on and joined Thompson in averaging a double-double, with 10.8 points and an area-best 12.3 rebounds per game.

Morton, a second-team All-Sunset League selection, was the CdM Tournament MVP after helping the Sailors win the title. She came back strong at the end of the year and recorded her second varsity triple-double in a 56-49 CIF Southern Section Division II-A loss at Eisenhower of Rialto. Morton had a career-high 32 points, 18 rebounds and 11 blocks, nearly single-handedly helping the Sailors post the first-round upset.

Like Sturm and Maldonado, Morton plans to continue her career at OCC. This is her second straight Dream Team selection.

*

Ava Soleimany

Sage Hill

The steady 5-foot-4 junior point guard led the Lightning in scoring with 15.5 points per game. She also averaged 1.5 steals per game for Sage Hill (14-9, 5-5 in league), which finished fourth in the Academy League.

Coach Lou Silverman credited Soleimany for being more aggressive on offense this year. When she got to the free-throw line the first-team All-Academy League selection made opponents pay, hitting 87 of 101 free throws (86%).

Soleimany also made 51 three-pointers for Sage.

*

Jenny Boldizar

Estancia

Boldizar was the Eagles' most deadly three-point threat in her third year on varsity. The 5-foot-5 senior guard averaged 9.6 points a game in league for Estancia and she made an area-best 63 three-pointers.

Battling the flu, Boldizar made a huge three-pointer at the end of the third quarter in the Eagles' 44-38 win over district rival Corona del Mar in the CIF game, putting her team up seven. In the next CIF game for the No. 12-seeded Eagles, a 60-48 loss at No. 5 Duarte, Boldizar poured in a season-high 18 points.

Castellano also credited Boldizar for helping Estancia stay competitive while Stratton and senior guard Brenda Soto were limited with injuries in the start of the year. Boldizar is looking to walk-on at Sonoma State.

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