Mark Hurtado, who takes over for Mark Anger as head coach, was in charge of the freshman team last year and assisted Anger during the varsity season, so he’s familiar with the girls. Last season, the Wolverines finished 20-8 and a perfect 10-0 in league play.
“We’re looking good,” Hurtado said. “We do a lot of up and down. I think they’re adjusting well. I told them that I’m here to build a program. I live in the area. This isn’t a part-time thing for me.”
The style of play is similar to what Anger ran a season ago. Senior guard Monique Mulder, one of the top players on the team last year, anchors a talented group of players hoping to hoist another BVAL title and make a deep North Coast Section run.
Another new coach in the league is Heritage’s Dan Swan. Like Hurtado, he’s the third coach in three seasons and taking over a team with great expectations. Swan inherits a squad that finished 17-10 last season (6-4 BVAL).
As sophomores last season, point guard Erin Asher and center Sabrina Engelstad accounted for much of the Patriots’ offense. Swan expects the same this season, but also has high hopes for forward Miranda Nelson and guard Sheila Luangrath, both juniors. Nine of the 11 players on the Heritage team played for coach Lexy Tamony a season ago.
“We’re working hard, but it’s a work in progress,” Swan said. “It’s hard to gauge what we’re going to be like. On paper it looks good. We’ve got a lot of work to do and more reps to put in. Hopefully it clicks earlier rather than later.”
One school that hasn’t undergone much change is Liberty. Debbi Weil leads a team that graduated only three players from a season ago. The Lions finished the regular season 16-11 (6-4 BVAL) and like Heritage and Deer Valley, qualified for the playoffs.
Liberty gets most of its scoring from senior center Bernadette Fong, a “matchup horror,” according to Deer Valley’s Hurtado. Fong’s size and strength makes her extremely difficult to stop when she’s given time to set up.
The Lions aren’t exactly lost without Fong. While she’s their leading scorer and rebounder, their roster boasts eight seniors – including guard Shaunike Lee and forward Megan Carvajal. Liberty is taking dead aim on a return trip to postseason play.
The 2010-11 Pirates were one of four BVAL teams that qualified for the NCS playoffs. Like the other three, Pittsburg lost little of its punch. Last season, Pittsburg compiled a mediocre 13-14 overall record – but went 6-4 against league foes.
One of the Pirates’ key returning players is senior Myeshia Ward, who at 6 feet, 2 inches is one of the few players in the league who can match Fong’s size and strength. Also returning is 5-10 Keisha Ward, who averaged better than 14 points and eight rebounds per contest as a junior. Keisha and Myeshia give the Pirates a formidable inside duo.
Head coach Ventura Armenta returns an Antioch team that went 7-20 and 2-8 in BVAL play. The only league opponent the Panthers managed to beat – twice – was Freedom.
Armenta likes to run the floor, a dramatic contrast to most league teams except Deer Valley. But the Panthers know that to compete in the BVAL, they must rely on up-tempo play and keep the game out of the paint. The Panthers return sophomore Maranne Johnson, a second-team all-BVAL athlete last season.
In Albert Nunez’s first year as head coach at Freedom, the Falcons didn’t win a single league game, finishing 6-21 overall and 0-10 against BVAL teams.
The good news for Freedom is that the current roster learned from last year’s experience. Several players return from the previous squad and are motivated to improve.
Freshman guard Bria Greenhouse is the only underclassman on a team dominated by seniors and juniors. One of those, junior Elsa Ross, was the team’s leading scorer a season ago.