First published in the Nov. 17 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
The La Cañada High School varsity girls’ basketball team is hard at work preparing for the 2022-23 campaign as it seeks to topple the back-to-back defending Rio Hondo League champion South Pasadena and claim its first title since 2019.
The first major hurdle the Spartans have to address is the loss of 10 seniors to graduation last academic year. However, head coach Jonathan Saavedra has high hopes for the varsity team which is led by a pair of senior returners Niloofar Sahimi and Mia Oakley-Stilson, the latter being a fourth-year varsity player.
“We want to win league, we want to go undefeated and we definitely think that’s a possibility,” Saavedra said. “Even though we graduated 10 seniors, we feel that we’re going to take a step up even higher. You’d think losing 10 seniors would put our program in shambles but we don’t feel that way. We truly feel that we can win league and make a strong CIF playoff push.”
Co-head coach Nick Alequin piggybacked on Saavedra’s statement, emphasizing that what the Spartans lost in height and experience was regained in basketball IQ and raw talent.
Last year’s winning season produced a third-place finish in league with a 7-3 record (15-7 overall) as well as a playoff berth. The Spartans defeated a tough Burbank Providence team in the first round before falling to Canyon High of Canyon Country in the second round.
In addition to Oakley-Stilson, the varsity returners from last season include juniors Annabel Le, Talia Miyamoto, Isabella Chividjian and Adrianna Pitsos, and sophomore Jennifer Musso. Saavedra described the current team as extremely versatile, with any number of players coming off the bench who could score in double digits.
“Everybody has contributed this summer, everybody’s contributed this fall and put in a ton of work,” Saavedra said. “We have a lot of players who could play multiple positions so we’re comfortable everywhere on the court right now.”
While Saavedra acknowledged his team’s overall ability, he is looking for Oakley-Stilson, Musso and Pitsos to have standout performances this year.
“Mia is always one of our best offensive weapons. She brings experience and has a great all-around game,” Saavedra said. “Jennifer and Adrianna have both taken big steps on both ends of the court for us, so those three are our biggest scoring threats.”
Saavedra is returning to the helm for his second season along with Alequin in his first year at LCHS. Saavedra will take a step back later this year for family reasons, so Alequin will be sharing the managerial duties as the season progresses. Saavedra emphasized that he is not departing permanently and the varsity squad will remain in excellent hands.
“People are going to count us out and we accept that,” Alequin said. “People come in the gym thinking they are going to walk all over us and we slap them in the mouth and they don’t know what to do. That’s kind of the story we are going to be telling over the season — it’s David versus Goliath.”
The Spartans will open the regular season by visiting Pasadena for a nonleague game on Tuesday, Nov. 15, at 6 p.m. La Cañada’s home opener is scheduled against Sonora High of La Habra on Dec. 8.