High expectations again for Spartans

On the walls inside the foyer of the La Cañada High gymnasium are placards listing each All-Rio Hondo League and All-CIF player who has stood out for the school's girls' basketball team.

Among those to earn recognition last season was guard Courtney Chen, who averaged 14.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.4 steals and 3.3 assists per game.

There are big plans in store for Chen, a senior and the reigning All-Area Girls' Basketball Player of the Year. Chen will again be the go-to player for the Spartans in their quest to win the league championship and make a deep run in the playoffs.

“We want to keep her healthy,” said La Cañada Coach Tamar Hill, who guided the Spartans to the league championship and a trip to the CIF semifinals last season. “We know she can go out there and do a lot of things well because she's a special kind of player.

“She intimidating on defense and she sees the court well because she's relentless. At the same time, we want to have other people on the team involved who can help take some of the pressure off her.”

There figures to be plenty of talent to support Chen, including sophomore forward Amber Graves, senior guard Sarah Borland and junior guard Keilee

“There are high expectations because we have a lot of people coming back,” said Hill, who took over the program in 2000. “We are a year smarter and have more experience.

“We've got a lot of weapons. It's just making sure they are all working together.”

The Spartans weren't the only local team to advance to the semifinals last season.

Just up the street at Flintridge Prep, the Rebels enjoyed a breakthrough campaign under the direction of first-year co-coaches Kevin Kiyomura and Jayme Kiyomura-Chan. The duo was named All-Area Girls' co-Coaches of the Year after leading the Rebels to a second-place finish in the Prep League, followed by a semifinal appearance in the CIF Southern Section Division V-AA playoffs and a trip to the Division V state tournament.

The Rebels will look to follow that up with another successful season. They bring back senior guard Maya Okamoto, who averaged 8.9 points per game last season while earning all-league and All-CIF recognition.

Sophomore forward Tala Ismail, junior forward Lacy Coan and junior forward Tyler Faulkner will also be back for the Rebels, who will look to give freshmen guards Renae Tamura and Taylor Yoshida some playing time.

“It's about being able to validate all of that hard work,” Kiyomura said. “For the new people, they can work hard and persevere.

“If you put the time in, then great things can happen. When you aim high, anything is possible.”

At Flintridge Sacred Heart, the Tologs will look to bounce back after going 9-17, 0-10 in the Mission League. Flintridge Sacred Heart lost several key players to graduation, including standout Dana Budzyn.

Under second-year coach Ty Buxman, the Tologs will look to restock the shelf by turning to players with little varsity experience.

Among those expected to get plenty of playing time include sophomore guards Jenna Tran and Casey Johnson. They will be joined by senior forward Ellie DiPietro.

“They got some experience playing last year,” Buxman said. “We are going to look for them to step into their defined roles and make progress.

“When you lose seniors, you see who can step up and we feel like we have some people who can do that. The Mission League will be tough once

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