First prep basketball games tip off and doing it safely

Kiki Iriafen of Harvard-Westlake skies on the opening jump ball.
Kiki Iriafen of Harvard-Westlake skies on the opening jump ball of girls’ basketball game Thursday night against host Sierra Canyon.
(Nick Koza / For The Times)

After months of waiting, the indoor high school basketball season finally started Thursday in Los Angeles County. The protocols and precautions to actually play in a gym were plentiful.

At Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, 114 water bottles were distributed among the two teams. Studio City Harvard-Westlake players wore masks while playing. Basketballs were cleaned after each quarter.

All players underwent multiple COVID-19 testing just to enter the gym. Social distancing was in place as chairs were placed strategically where players sat and sanitizer was used on chairs after timeouts.


Whatever the obstacles, players and coaches welcomed the chance to finally play in a real game. Harvard-Westlake won the matchup of top girls’ programs 58-48, but there will be much to remember.

“Oh my gosh. We were so excited,” said Stanford-bound Kiki Iriafen, who scored 17 points for Harvard-Westlake. “It felt good after a year to finally play.”

Sierra Canyon unveiled two outstanding freshmen, MacKenly Randolph and Izela Arenas, whose fathers Zach and Gilbert, respectively, are former NBA players. Each scored 17 points.

“They played twice as hard as us,” said Harvard-Westlake coach Melissa Hearlihy, whose team has four starters returning. “They’re young and feisty.”

Kimiko Katzaroff helped out Iriafen with 15 points.

The L.A. County Department of Public Health finally adopted state guidelines last weekend, clearing the way for schools to play games in gyms if they followed protocols. Orange County and Ventura County teams have been playing for several weeks. It remains to be seen how many public schools in L.A. County will be able to catch up to the private schools in playing games by next month. Testing requirements could be the big obstacle.

“We hoped the time would come eventually,” Sierra Canyon coach Alicia Komaki said.

Harvard-Westlake players are under orders by school authorities to wear masks during games. Sierra Canyon players had the option not to wear masks on the court. Harvard-Westlake players began to practice with masks this week.


“It was rough. It was hard,” Iriafen said.

By the fourth quarter, Hearlihy was having trouble keeping her mask on while shouting to players. But whatever it takes to play games, she intends to do.

Harvard-Westlake’s boys’ team also opened its season at home with a 69-41 win over Agoura. Adam Hinton scored 20 points. And North Hills Heritage Christian hosted Simi Valley, winning 75-43. Freshman Isaiah Elohim scored 27 points.

Oak Park defeated Calabasas 49-46. Isaiah Sherrard scored 20 points for Oak Park.

In a game played on an outside court, Damien defeated Sierra Vista 88-45. RJ Smith scored 18 points.