Looking ahead at league hoops season
The Sacramento Valley League boys basketball title will likely come down to Pierce High and Live Oak, but newcomer Hamilton could play spoiler in their first season in the league.
Led by seniors Andy Corona (18 points per game), Oscar Dorantes (12.8) and Hayden Kalfsbeek (8.9), Pierce is a veteran team hungry for another league title after winning one in football in the fall.
Live Oak is senior-heavy and dangerous. Romario Acosta leads the Lions with 18.3 points a game and Aaron Pamma scores at a 15.1 clip. Gurbeer Kooner (9.5) and Tyler Raymond (5.5) provide experience, depth and scoring.
Pierce beat Hamilton 60-55 on Dec. 19, but the Braves played against tough competition early in the season and will have a chance to measure up against Live Oak on Tuesday. The Braves spread the ball around on offense and have eight players who average at least three points a game. Senior Shea Shull leads the team with 12 points per contest.
After losing most of last season's league-winning team to graduation, Willows is in rebuild mode. Though the Honkers have struggled early in the season against opponents such as Corning, Orland and Yreka, they are a well-coached and dangerous team. On Nov. 29, the Honkers nearly beat Pierce in their own tournament, losing 51-50, and opened league play with a 52-48 loss to Live Oak.
Like the Honkers, Durham is rebuilding. A tough strength-of-schedule and their inexperience make the Trojans an outsider looking in at the title picture, but they played Pierce and Live Oak tough during preseason tournaments.
East Nicolaus has one of the league's better players in senior guard Drew Orr, but the Spartans struggle around him. Esparto won its first game of the season, against winless Champion Christian, but lost the next six games by 24 points or more.
The Mid-Valley League title is up for grabs and any of four teams have a legitimate shot to win.
Maxwell looked unstoppable at times this season but consistency has been an issue for the Panthers. When they are on, the Panthers are a sharp-shooting team with strong post play. Zach Troughton (11.1 points, 8.3 rebounds) and George Barajas (10 points, 8.6 rebounds) lead a young team. Sophomore sniper Isaias Martinez averages 8.2 points a game and the Panthers have surprising depth on their bench, often using all 10 players even in contested games.
Colusa struggles with consistency as well, but when R.J. Phillips (11.9 points) and Destin Smith (11.2) get going, the RedHawks are tough to beat. Hayden Bailey gives Colusa a threat from long-range and Kevin Buenrostro is a strong presence in the paint. If the RedHawks find their stride, they will contend for the title.
Williams already has preseason losses to Colusa and Biggs, but the Yellowjackets are much improved this year. Forward Eduardo Velazquez, and guards Sal Garcia and Ismeal Larios make Williams a dangerous team to keep an eye on.
Biggs started out 1-4 before rattling off six consecutive wins. The Wolverines played smaller schools during the win streak after playing larger schools in the Pierce Tournament.
Portola and Quincy have struggled early in the season against other mountain schools, but both teams are coming off strong seasons. Quincy won the MVL-North last year and beat Colusa in the playoffs so they can't be counted out.
Paradise Adventist Academy is the early favorite in the Pioneer-Valley League after winning the title last year. Redding Adventist is a dangerous team that beat American Christian Academy, a team which beat Princeton and Providence.
Princeton picked up tournament victories against Elk Creek and Providence during the preseason. Oscar Espinoza leads the Eagles with 11.1 points a game, and Rod Angus chips in 8.9 points and 8 rebounds a game.
Matthew Reese leads a much-improved Providence team and averages 21.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.4 steals a game. Reese, a junior, has made 22 3-pointers so far this season. The Lions two wins came against Elk Creek, but they played close games against Westwood and Princeton this year.
Winless Elk Creek played a close game against Providence and have several players who can score as they seek to improve on their 0-9 season last year. Keith Morinda (14 points), Nate Bill (8.3) and Brian Morales (6.2) lead the Elks offense.
The Sacramento Valley League girls basketball title will likely be decided by the games between Durham and Willows.
Willows won seven of its last eight games after opening the season with losses to Corning and Placer. Led by sophomore Morgan Hughes (14.9 points per game) and junior Ally Brunner (14.5 points, 10.6 rebounds), the Honkers have a chance to improve on their second-place finish in league last year.
Durham will attempt to spoil the Honker's title bid with a balanced offensive attack featuring five players averaging more than six points a game. Led by Stephanie Husa (12.2) and Baylie Larson (10.9), the Trojans have victories against Paradise and Lassen.
Hamilton played a close game against Willows, losing 48-43 on Dec. 21, but the Braves need to be more consistent to challenge the Honkers and Trojans for the title. Led by senior Audra Jones, who averages 18.8 points and 14.8 rebounds, the Braves have three other players who average at least six points a game.
Early troubles have Pierce on the outside looking in, but the Bears play press defense and have had strong play from their guards. Macey Cox (7.9 points, 3.2 steals) and Nikki Hererra (4.4 points, 2.7 steals) can turn games in the Bears favor with their defense, but Pierce lacks height and has struggled against much taller teams.
East Nicolaus opened the season with wins in five of their first six games, but have now lost four straight, including a 33-32 loss to Live Oak in their second league game. The Lions snapped a seven-game losing streak with that victory. Esparto lost is last two league games by a combined score of 127-16, and has been held to fewer than 10 points four times this season.
There is no clear favorite in the Mid-Valley League this year, the team with the worst preseason record, Biggs High, has played well in losses to strong opponents.
Maxwell has the best preseason record. Led by senior guard Ashley Azevedo (11.2 points), junior center Kaily McKinley (10.2) and junior forward Jessie Otterson (9.2), the Panthers have plenty of scorers. Point guard Shelen Boyes is the catalyst for the offense even though she doesn't score much. A quick ball handler and opportunistic defender, Boyes is the motor behind much of their scoring.
Williams holds victories against Biggs, Quincy and Maxwell — the Panthers' lone defeat — and relies on the phenomenal play of junior forward Emilee Cranford, who averages 21.4 points and 8.6 rebounds a game. Lizeth Rivera (7) and Elizabeth Mendez (5.9) contribute on offense, and Carolina Mendiola is a great rebounder with 10.3 rebounds a game.
Colusa played a tough preseason but remains a top contender for the title. The RedHawks entered the holiday break with victories against Quincy and Hamilton. Their last two losses - to Orland and Las Plumas - came by a total of three points. Emily Mobley averages 11.5 points and 15.3 rebounds a game, and sophomore Teale Stacey averages 10 points a game.
Portola lost three of its last four games after starting the season 5-0. Quincy, which has losses to Portola, Williams and Colusa, went 1-4 in its last five games. Biggs lost its last four games but played competitively against Orland, Yreka and Williams this year.
Three of Princeton's four losses came against tough Mid-Valley League opponents and the Eagles should be battle-tested and ready to face Redding Adventist and Paradise Adventist for the league title. Three Eagles average more than 10 points a game: Maryssa Martin (15.5), Amanda Hansen (14.8) and Gaby Rodriguez (11.6).
Elk Creek won three of their last four games, including a tournament victory against Providence. Led by Kayleen Swearinger (10.1 points) and Taylor Munk (6.1), the Elks have already topped their win total from last season.
Providence, which didn't have a girls basketball team last year, has dealt with growing pains all season, but the Lions are young and hungry. Amanda Edmondson leads Providence with 7.6 points a game, and Kayla Tuma is a force on defense with 7.9 rebounds and 3 steals a game.
Redding Adventist has three dominant wins and a blowout loss but have five players who can score. Margo Moore leads the Lumberjacks with 13.8 points a game.
Most of Paradise Adventist's games are against teams from out of the area, but the Cougars have improved since last season. Leslie Cameron leads the Cougars with 9.4 points a game.
CONTACT Kirk Barron at 458-2121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.