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Girls' Basketball Preview: La Cañada ushers in new era

Girls' Basketball Preview: La Cañada ushers in new era
Brooke Yasuda is a key returner this season for the La Cañada High girls' basketball team. (File Photo)

New La Cañada girls’ basketball head coach Owen Keenan is tired of one question: with the success the team had in the last three years, how will your coaching methods fit in?

“I wish people would stop saying that, but it is true,” Keenan said. “We’ve had our team meetings and the girls have said they want to win league. That’s our overall focus.

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“Though that’s not necessarily my goal — I would like to win league — but I’d also like to win a playoff game. Making CIF and winning league are the two goals we have. My coaching style is to have them achieve their goals.”

La Cañada has experienced unrivaled Rio Hondo League success in the last three years and the team looks to continue that this season.

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Flintridge Prep marched to the CIF Southern Section Division III-A championship with a core of young players and advanced to the state tournament.

Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy makes the jump to the more-manageable Sunshine League and hopes for a playoff run.

Here is a look at the teams.

LA CAÑADA

The three-time Rio Hondo League champions haven’t dropped a league game in the last three years and finished 23-5 last season under former head coach Sarah Beattie.

Beattie, who resigned at the end of last season, capped the three-straight league championships with a 72-16 record.

Keenan’s coaching pedigree speaks for itself as well.

With more than two decades of experience, Keenan is coming off two undefeated league seasons at St. Monica Academy.

He’s also had stints as an assistant at Crescenta Valley and as head coach at Ramona Convent.

To accomplish postseason success, Keenan said, maturity and consistency will be a big part of the team’s focus.

“I”m giving them a lot of freedom,” Keenan said. “But if we want to make any kind of run in the playoffs — one game, two games, or a deep run — we’re going to have to fix our turnovers and just have to be more consistent and become better players.

“Right now, we’re very skilled, but when we play teams that are as skilled, they have a little more experience. That’s what we need — more experience.”

The loss of Rio Hondo League Player of the Year Tess Oakley-Stilson will leave a gap in the Spartans all-around game.

The All-CIF Division II-A second-team player averaged 14 points, five rebounds, 3.1 steals and 2.1 assists, as La Cañada fell to Newbury Park 51-46 in the second round of the playoffs.

But Keenan already has an answer to the loss: depth.

“I think we’re a young team, but deep at the same time,” Keenan said.

The Spartans will see all-league first-team pick Brooke Yasuda return for her senior year. The guard averaged 10.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.2 steals and two assists last season.

League honorable-mention Emmie Lew will look to improve on her season averages of 4.1 points and 1.4 steals as she enters her junior year as the Spartans perimeter player.

Junior guard Morgan Tsujihara, sophomore forward Lauren Scoville and sophomore guard Bethany Co are also expected to contribute.

The Spartans will open league Jan. 5 against Monrovia, and one team that Keenan said will pose a challenge is South Pasadena.

“They’re our stiffest competition,” Keenan said. “They’re very much improved, and the question is, are we?”

FLINTRIDGE PREP

The Rebels enjoyed a splendid season, culminating in a fifth straight Prep League championship and a trip to the championship game before competing in the CIF State Division III tournament. Fourth-seeded Flintridge Prep lost to second-seed Beverly Hills in the Division III-A title game, but the Rebels picked up plenty of experience as they will look to carry that over under co-coaches Kevin Kiyomura and Jayme Chan.

The prospects appear bright again for the Rebels, who earned berths in CIF finals games two of the last three seasons.

“We hope to start where we left off,” said Kiyomura, whose team was moved to Division II-A. “We have 11 returners in the mix and most of them have a lot of experience and we’ll look to use that to our advantage.

“The goal early on is to get prepared for league and it will be better with the addition of Providence. We have a lot of good players who are set to try to win league again.”

Of great significance, Flintridge Prep (24-7, 12-0 in the Prep League last season) returns junior forward Kaitlyn Chen, who averaged an area-best 21.2 points per game and registered 8.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.8 steals Chen, the league's most valuable player, added 24 points, eight rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.8 steals per game in the playoffs and picked up All-CIF Southern Section first-team recognition before being selected the All-Area Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year.

Chen will be flocked by senior forward Madison Manning, junior guard Andie Kim and sophomore guard/forward Sofia Gonzalez, who also received All-Area and All-CIF accolades after averaging 10.1 points per contest.

FLINTRIDGE SACRED HEART ACADEMY

Following two straight seasons in the difficult Mission League, Flintridge Sacred Heart will spend the next two seasons in the Sunshine League. When the Tologs were last in the Sunshine League in 2016, they advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2011.

Flintridge Sacred Heart (2-19, 0-8) will go against Marymount, Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, Louisville and Immaculate Heart in league.

“All of the teams in our league are at about the same level,” said Tologs coach Ty Buxman, whose team finished last in league last season. “it’s quite a difference from when playing teams like Harvard-Westlake in the Mission League.

“We have a good mix of juniors and we have some experience. We’ll look to head into league prepared.”

Expected to lead the Tologs, who are Division IV-AA, are junior guards Janna De Vera, Kisa Hayashi and Manami Hayashi.

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