Getting ready to hit the floor

In the three years since Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy Coach Gino Pacella took over the program, the Tologs have qualified for the postseason each season.

While Pacella is proud of the progression, there's still room for improvement with the Tologs competing in the ultra-competitive Mission League. Even after falling to runner-up St. Bernard in a quarterfinal contest in the CIF Southern Section Division V-AA playoffs last season.

"We have enough talent now and it's gotten better," said Pacella, who added that Alemany and Chaminade are the favorites to battle for first place in league with Flintridge Sacred Heart, Harvard-Westlake and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame battling for third place. "We have enough talent to grab a top-three spot in the Mission League.

"I see our team developing. If we can continue to be able to put the pieces together, then there's no reason not to get an automatic playoff bid with a top-three finish in league."

Flintridge Sacred Heart will return three starters, including senior forward Ivy Fitzgerald, senior center Lana Haddad and junior guard Dana Budzyn. Fitzgerald, who missed eight games last season because of a knee injury, and Haddad will be expected to carry the rebounding load. Haddad averaged 13.4 points and 10.8 rebounds per game for the Tologs last season, earning all-league second-team accolades.

Budzyn will be in position to distribute the ball up court and help make the Tologs' transition game seamless.

The Tologs, who will also have senior guard Maddie Romero in the mix, will also look to a deeper bench than they have had in recent seasons.

"As a whole, I think we now have some more big-game experience," Pacella said. "It will be interesting to see what type of numbers we are able to put up.

"The biggest focus for December and January will be to put things together so we can go deep again in the playoffs."

Holy Family, one of six local squads to qualify for the playoffs last season, will look to build on its second-place finish in the Horizon League last season by aiming for a league championship.

The Gaels lost a couple of key players to graduation, but still have a nucleus featuring a trio of returners in senior guard Gaby Diaz and senior forwards Jennifer Rodriguez and Elena Lomeli.

Diaz averaged 6.2 points per game last season and was selected to the all-league first team.

"The challenge for us is to win league, and it's ours to lose," said Holy Family Coach Ernest Siy, who team fell to sixth-seeded Archer in a Division V-A first-round playoff contest. "We want to get back to the playoffs and advance further."

Pacific League rivals Glendale and Crescenta Valley tied for fourth in league last season before moving on to the postseason and falling in the first round.

Glendale will bring back four returners and look to several athletes who starred on its junior varsity team that captured the league title last season.

The returners will be senior center Nina Sahakian and senior guard Michelle Tomasian. They will be joined by junior guard Tara Abdul and junior guard/forward Kris Zadourian.

Glendale Coach Tania Adary, whose team lost to second-seeded Buena in the Division II-A playoffs last year, said league might be wide open this season.

"I think it's going to be very competitive and we can make the playoffs," Adary said. "I expect them to do as well as last year, if not better."

Crescenta Valley spent most of last season rebuilding after losing four starters from their 2009-10 team. Falcons Coach Jason Perez spent a good portion of the first half of last season finding the right lineup combinations to get the Falcons going. Crescenta Valley fell to Marlborough in the first round of the Division I-A playoffs.

Crescenta Valley had one player named to the all-league first team in forward Ella Stepanian, who averaged 9.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game last season as a freshman. Stepanian will be joined by a returning cast in senior guard Catherine Davis, senior forward Lexi Mirzaian and senior center Samira Seraji.

Perez said the Falcons' objectives will be to move up in league and move farther in the playoffs after gaining experience last season.

"We have a lot of new people, but we will definitely be looking to the returners to help guide them," Perez said. "Some of the players are new to the sport."

Flintridge Prep found itself in a similar position to Crescenta Valley.

Under Coach Todd Frost, the Rebels struggled into January, but then made a late-season charge to grab fourth place in the Prep League. With that came a trip to the first-round of the Division IV-AA playoffs, where it lost to Paso Robles.

Flintridge Prep will have virtually its entire starting lineup back, including sophomore guard Maya Okamoto, junior guard Katherine Bogaard, junior forward Gabby Ven and senior guard Kim Kim.

Okamoto was named to the all-league first team after she averaged a team-high 15.2 points per game. She finished with a team-best 48 three-pointers and averaged 1.5 steals per league contest.

"We now have a lot more playing experience," Frost said. "They now understand what it's going to take to get to the next level because most of them didn't understand the varsity level last year.

"We are not a tall team, but we know we'll have to be quick to be successful. We have to be quick and aggressive."

Glendale Adventist Academy finished third in its first season in the Liberty League under first-year Coach Stephen Nelson. Nelson shuffled around his lineup near the midway point of league, leading to the Cougars reaching the first round of the Division VI-AA playoffs, where they fell to Tarbut V'Torah.

Nelson said the Cougars are capable of returning to the postseason.

"We are excited that we can do that because we have a lot more seniors this time," Nelson said. "We have a much taller team now that will look to smother offenses."

Glendale Adventist's key players figure to be senior guard Jennifer Herrera and senior forward Chantel Robinson, sophomore guard Madison Federici and sophomore guard/forward Kristie Kawamoto.

At Hoover, the Tornadoes will look to improve after winning one game last season under Stan Watson. Hoover did not win a Pacific League game and was the lone local team to not qualify for the playoffs.

Watson said the Tornadoes' main objective will be to pick up a few more wins and gain valuable experience so that the building blocks are in place for the future.

"We want to look for better execution in certain situations," Watson said. "We must be able to play at a more competitive level."

Hoover will return senior guards Kariz Alberto and Samantha Barakat and senior Emineh Ghazarian will be the center.

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