SCL girls basketball: Three recent champs favorites to repeat

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Three recent Sonoma County League girls basketball champions appear to be front-runners this season, though no easy wins are likely when the familiar foes begin tangling next month.

Casa Grande’s Stephanie Sack, an All-Empire guard last season, is averaging about 20 points a game. (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / PD)

“It would not surprise me if there was a three- or four-team tie at the top. There’s no real weak team,” said Analy coach Earl Pasamonte.

Analy won last year’s regular season title, dominating league play except when facing Casa Grande. The Gauchos won the SCL tournament title and again are a favorite despite the loss of All-Empire forward Gretchen Harri-gan to a suspension.

Sonoma Valley should be back near the top two years removed from sharing the league title.

Among the other contenders in the seven-team league, Windsor apparently has shaken off the loss of several top players to graduation. The Jaguars have been a high scoring unit in posting a winning record in non-league play. Petaluma also has replaced much of its lineup, but the Trojans should be tough come league play. Healdsburg is improved over last season, and El Molino should be competitive.

“It’s anybody’s game right now,” said Casa Grande coach Dan Sack.

Even without Harrigan in the lineup, Casa Grande has All-Empire guard Stephanie Sack, a sharp passer who can stop and pop shots from all over the court. Sack is averaging about 20 points a game.

Also returning is league co-freshman of the year Kiana Davis, an athletic wing improving on her inside scoring to help pick up the scoring slack.
Brooke Santander is the Gauchos’ best post player, a starter originally pegged as the top player off the bench. Only a freshman, she has been strong on rebounding, racking up double-digits rebound totals, and she can hit outside shots.

“We’ve had to make a lot of adjustments in a short period of time here,” Dan Sack said. “I’m real positive about the season.”

With only one senior — and she was injured in the first game — Casa Grande hopes to weather a tough schedule and enter the SCL slate playing their best basketball.

Sonoma Valley is poised to get back in the hunt for a league title with returning starters Ellie Ceja — 13 points a game — and guard Brittney Rachuy bolstered by Annie Studdert, a scoring and rebounding force near the basket.

After playing well as a freshman, Studdert missed last season due to illness. Her return with newcomers Jersey Witous and Lindsay Stewart beefs up a defense holding teams to fewer than 35 points per contest so far.

“If your defense is that good this early, it can only get better. That allows our offense to catch up,” said Sonoma Valley coach Sil Coccia. “Our biggest problem has been scoring. That will come. I am confident that we will shoot the ball well.”

Posting a losing record so far with a handful of difficult matchups against some of the Bay Area’s best, Analy appears to be in a rebuilding mode. But don’t tell the Tigers.

“We have a lot more experience than people think we do. We play tough across the board,” Pasamonte said.

Leading scorer Katy Lowry, at 18 points a game, is a stronger, more confident shooter at the off-guard. Molly Schuster is the other returning starter, a guard-forward second on the team in rebounding.

Last year’s top player off the bench is point guard Kelley Benck, a sharpshooter who has improved on defense.

“Those three are absolute bulldogs on defense. This is the best defensive team I’ve ever had. And we don’t drop in our defensive capabilities when I substitute,” Pasamonte said.

Post players again are an Analy strength. Chelsea Pricert, a spot starter last year, is second in scoring with 7 points a game and leads Analy with nearly 8 rebounds each outing. Ali Vanhouten is a skilled bookend down low with the energy of a player anxious to make up for a season lost to injury and illness.

Scoring is the focus for Windsor, a team not afraid to take three-point attempts quickly and scramble for loose balls. Leading in the scoring column are returning starter Cara Watts and fearless first year varsity starter Carrie Ann Noonan.

Petaluma lost a stable of all-league seniors. Still, the Trojans replenished from an outstanding junior varsity with returning starter Lindsey Stoll carrying the scoring load for now.

Quick, strong Cassidy Jourdan is playing with confidence to lead Healdsburg. Marcella Passalacqua has been most improved with Taylor Steadman another junior standout.

El Molino is working in a handful of new players to find a rhythm ahead of league play. Shana Levine has been a proven scorer early in the season.

There are several very good teams and the others are not far off,” Coccia said.