Area squads seek playoff returns

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."

La Cañada High Coach Tamar Hill has the challenge of returning to the playoffs while replacing the two pillars of her offense last season — senior Kristene Hossepian and junior Cailan Howey, who moved to North Carolina for her senior year during the summer.

The Spartans advanced to the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA playoffs last year after upsetting St. Lucy's, 52-40, in the first round and falling to Bishop Montgomery, 73-31, in the second. La Cañada leaned on Hossepian and Howey throughout 2010. Both were the team's top scorers and averaged 11.3 and 9.1 points per game, respectively.

Hill still returns several players that played significant minutes last year, though, and likes what they showed her during the offseason.

"Over the summer, a lot of the girls really stepped and learned what they needed to do without [Howey and Hossepian]," Hill said. "It's going to be a season where you can't really stop one girl. It's going to be a lot of team scoring that we're going to rely on. I don't expect anyone to be putting up 20 points a game."

Courtney Chen, a sophomore, will run La Cañada's offense, literally and figuratively, this year at point guard. As a freshman, she proved to be a quick, dangerous player that can get around any defender.

Chen, who averaged 6.7 points and 2.6 steals a game last year, will be joined by returning senior Sydney Zarate and junior Lauren Barsamian, at power forward and center, respectively. Micaela Anderson, a junior, also figures to split time with Barsamian at center. Sarah Borland and Abbey Neat are competing for the opportunity to fill La Cañada's final starting spot at shooting guard.

"We are going to be competitive and we are going to fight and do all those things you have to, to stay in games," said Hill, whose team tied San Marino for third place in the Rio Hondo League last year with an 8-20, 3-7 in league, record. "Last year, we lost a lot of close games and we are hoping we don't drop those this year."

Monrovia dominated Rio Hondo last season, going an undefeated 10-0 in league. Hill wants to see the Spartans return to the upper echelon of league again this year.

"For the most part, we just want to come out and get back to that winning tradition that we have had," she said. "Get back to that tradition and give Monrovia a run for its money."

Under Coach Todd Frost, Flintridge Prep 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."

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