SBLive’s California Girls Basketball Rankings: Full breakdown of our preseason top 20; Etiwanda and LJCD start at the top

California high school basketball is officially back, and we didn’t have to wait over a year for its return this time. This season, girls hoops is deep with great teams that are ready to turn heads throughout the state.

While some teams’ seasons are already underway, we are launching our first weekly statewide girls basketball rankings from a pre-season perspective, so it doesn’t factor in games that have already been played this season. Our start-of-season rankings are based partially on where teams ended last season, and also on the projected effects of roster additions and losses. To begin the season, the rankings include 20 teams, and we will extend it out to 25 teams before long.

SBLive’s statewide California high school girls basketball rankings are released weekly throughout the season. Here are the first rankings of the 2021-2022 season. Each team’s name is followed by its 2021 spring season record and season-end ranking.

SBLIVE CALIFORNIA TOP 20 GIRLS BASKETBALL RANKINGS

Nov. 23, 2021

1. Etiwanda (2021: 18-5 – 13th)

Etiwanda girls basketball

Etiwanda’s jump from 13th to first would be a massive leap – but 13th doesn’t tell any of the story. The Eagles were an unbeaten consensus top-three team in the state before injuries derailed their Open Division title hopes, and they still managed to make the CIF State 1-AA SoCal championship. Now they’re healthy, and they’re still fully loaded.

PF Kennedy Smith is a reigning SBLive First Team All-state member after averaging 22.4 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.8 steals as just a freshman. G/F Destiny Agubata, also a sophomore, is another preseason all-state candidate who averaged over 17 PPG last season, and senior W Daisia Mitchell is all the way back after playing only a few games last season due to injuries. That forms one of the best big threes in the state, and it doesn’t stop there.

Versatile G/F Sa’lah Hemingway is now at Etiwanda after averaging 18.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.8 blocks, and 2.8 steals per game at Eisenhower as a sophomore, and leading the team to a CIFSS 3A finals appearance as a freshman. Guards Talia Garner, Jaiya Mix, Aliyahna Morris, and Majesty Cade give the Eagles a plethora of backcourt depth. No team in the state is better-positioned to compete for the top spot both this season and in the seasons to come than Etiwanda.

2. La Jolla Country Day (2021: 16-5 – 9th)

The Torreys were a clear top-10 team in the state to end the 2021 season when they only had one senior on the team. Leading the returners are 5-star C Breya Cunningham, the top-ranked post in the Class of 2023, who averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds per game on a whopping 63% FG as a sophomore. 4-star SG Tajianna Avant-Roberts averaged 11 points per game as a freshman and was second on the team in RPG, and has massive two-way upside yet to tap into. With a couple other versatile backcourt players who averaged nearly 10 PPG returning in Sumayah Sugapong and Naomi Paganiban, the Torreys return enough talent to improve on last season.

And now, they’ve added 4-star PG and UCLA commit Jada Williams, a USA national team member who averaged 19.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.2 steals at Blue Springs (MO) last season. Even still, a leap from ninth to second over a short offseason is a tough call to make given the prestige of the champions they’re surpassing, but how they looked at the Hope Scholastic Showcase – which included a win over last season’s top team, Corona Centennial – sealed it.

Don’t forget, La Jolla Country Day was the top-ranked team in the nation in the 2019-2020 season, when they went 32-1 and won both the San Diego Section title and made the state open division championship game. Had it not been canceled, the Torreys likely would’ve finished the season with even more separation between them and the rest. The formula was Cunningham, one of the best players/point guards in the country (Te-Hina Paopao), and a montage of well-rounded wings who shined in their roles. This season’s iteration might have even more upside.

3. Cathedral Catholic (2021: 20-4 – 4th)

It’s no secret what the reigning San Diego Section champion is going to bring this season: a big three of 5-star F/C Ice Brady (16.3 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 1.9 BPG), G Izzy Navarro (18.2 PPG, 5.3 APG, 5.3 RPG, five SPG), and W Taryn Johnson (15.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.3 APG, 2.4 SPG) that could very well be the best in the state. The Dons have no shortage of quality role players, but don’t have as much depth as some of the state’s other star-studded contenders. If Cathedral stays healthy, peaks around playoff time, and makes all the right moves like last season, they still have a legitimate chance to finish the season atop the state.

4. Corona Centennial (2021: 25-1 – 1st)

The unquestionable top team in the state to finish last season, Centennial has some questions that will need to be answered in order to stay in the hunt for the very top spot. The Huskies remain the smallest team in the top 20 like last season, and they’ll sorely miss Jayda Curry and Trinity San Antonio. But with who they do have coming back, and their experience from last season, nobody should write them off from repeating as No. 1.

UCLA commit and 4-star G Londynn Jones already averaged 21.3 points, 2.4 assists, and four steals a game in the spring, and there is no question that she’s up for potentially carrying substantially larger of an offensive load this season. With G Sydni Summers also back after averaging 9.3 points, 7.4 assists, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.5 steals per game as a sophomore, Centennial will still have boundless playmaking. LMU commit F Layla Curry led the Huskies with nine rebounds and a block a game last season, and will probably be able to take on a significantly larger scoring load while remaining one of the highest-motor defensive players in the state. And they still have F Bella Law, an important role player in last season’s run who helps lock down the frontcourt. The addition of G Serenity Johnson from Windward gives them a ton more upside if the fit works out. Not only does she infuse them with more offensive firepower, but her size as a backcourt player could be a pivotal boost.

The margin for error is even thinner than it already was, but Centennial is still a legitimate threat to win it all.

5. Mater Dei (2021: 21-1 – 2nd)

The Monarchs went undefeated through the section playoffs last season to secure back-to-back CIFSS Open Division titles before falling to Centennial in the CIF Southern Region championship. They too have some major question marks because of the senior class they lost, but have too much talent and experience returning to be considered anything less than a top-flight contender.

Gatorade California Player of the Year F Brooke Demetre and 4-star SG Alyssa Durazo-Frescas leave a void that includes 30 PPG to be accounted for, and Ayana Johnson was another impact starter who helped anchor the frontcourt. However, PG Caia Elisaldez, W Lani White, and F Soleil Montrose still give them one of the top trios in the state, and all three have shown the ability to be more featured offensive options if needed, including in high-pressure situations. SG Gabby Robinson, a sophomore with a handful of D-1 offers already including Power-5, is the top candidate to emerge as another star. And no team anywhere is more likely to have numerous other solid role players ready to step up than Mater Dei.

The somewhat new-look Monarchs will need to overcome some challenges that they haven’t faced in their past few tremendous seasons, and even if they’re up for it, it might not be an instantaneous process. But nobody in their right mind would count them out from contending for more CIF Open Division hardware by the time the postseason comes.

6. Sierra Canyon (2021: 20-5 – 24th)

After making the CIFSS Division 1 quarterfinals with almost exclusively freshman and sophomores last season, it was no secret that Sierra Canyon had one of the brightest futures in the state. F/C MacKenly Randolph averaged 22.7 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game as a freshman, and guards Izela Arenas, Sofia Ruelas, and Christy Reynoso give the Trailblazers no shortage of both shooting and playmaking in the backcourt. That core alone would already make them a projected Open Division playoff team this fall just by virtue of returning.

Now, in case you haven’t heard, they’ve added arguably the best player in the country, 5-star G/F Juju Watkins, a transfer from Windward. Since they ended last season at 24th, they’ll have to start at sixth in our rankings, but the Trailblazers are as dangerous as any team in the state – if not the country.

7. Stockton St. Mary’s (2021: 8-1 – 7th)

While a few other teams are firmly planted in the conversation, there was no question who our top-ranked team in NorCal was going to be. The Rams’ only loss in the spring came against a top-three team in the state in Clovis West, and St. Mary’s beat both Archbishop Mitty and Salesian by double-digits. There was only one senior on that team, and while this squad is still young and inexperienced, the only way from here is up.

4-star F Jordan Lee (18.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG) and G Brooklyn Perry (19.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG) are two of the best players in NorCal, and G Nia Anderson (12.8 PPG), the team’s leader in assists, rounds out a big three that is untouchable among their area. G Sophia Lee and inbound transfers F Jamaya Perry and C Imani Morris lead the supporting cast, which can push the Rams over the top.

8. Troy (2021: 16-10 – Unranked)

Speaking of teams that had great offseasons, Troy got 4-star G Hannah Stines back after she spent a season at Orangewood Academy, and Colorado commit G/F Jada Wynn transferred in from Washington. The Warriors, while not in the discussion for the top 25, were already very good last season, and they return star G Isabella Pearson (15.9 PPG, 4.2 APG, 2.2 SPG), another one of their best players in G/W Aliyah Gonzalez (9.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG, two APG, 1.7 SPG), and an intriguing, versatile 6-0 forward ready to break out in Maggie Teven.

Depth is a bigger question mark for Troy than any other team in the top 10, but that starting five is one of the absolute best, and most unique, in the state. With Stines, Wynn, and Teven, it includes three six-footers who can all play anywhere on the floor. Stines and Pearson averaged a combined 35.4 points and 9.4 assists per game last season, in addition to over five made threes a night, and all five players can shoot jumpers, dribble, and see the floor. On paper, that’s an outstanding recipe for the modern basketball meta of defensive switch-ability and maximally spread offenses. And their impressive showings at the Hope Scholastic Showcase included beating Cathedral Catholic.

There is a catch: as reported by the OC Register’s Dan Albano, Stines is out for an indefinite amount of time due to transfer eligibility, and there is significant uncertainty around the situation. Troy is set for an outstanding season with or without her, but they’ll certainly need Stines in order to be a top-10 team in the state and open division playoff contender.

9. Salesian College Prep (2021: 14-1 – 14th)

Salesian wasn’t quite on the same level as St. Mary’s in the spring – the Rams gave them their only loss of the season, 69-50 – but it’s in a similar position as one NorCal’s incumbent best teams with most of its core returning. The Pride’s wins included St. Ignatius, Bishop O’Dowd, Antelope, and Heritage (Brentwood), and with only one double-digit scorer who led the team with 13.3 PPG, they did it with a balanced attack.

C Silvia Fongonaloa, the aforementioned leading scorer, also led the team with 6.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, and could’ve put up a lot more of everything if asked, except Salesian was blowing nearly all its opponents out. Alexsandra Alvarado will leave a big void in the backcourt, but F Nevaeh Asiasi, W Georgia Pournaras, and a litany of other impact players are returning. The Pride will need a clear second star to step up in order to stay in the mix for NorCal’s best team, but either way, they’re well-positioned to contend for some major hardware this season.

10. Pinewood (2021: 17-0 – 8th)

Seniors led the way to Pinewood’s 17-0 campaign and Central Coast Section title, capped off with a 50-48 win against Archbishop Mitty. 10th is a bit high on paper for a team that will have to count on last season’s role players to become this season’s stars, but the summer emergence of SG Elle Ladine is the biggest reason that no one should be surprised if the Panthers remain atop the section.

Ladine averaged 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game as an important contributor last season, but she really blew up during the club circuit over the summer. In the span of under a month, she went from zero D-1 offers to upwards of a dozen, and got a 4-star ranking. After the recent Washington commit absolutely dominated at the Hope Scholastic Showcase, averaging 23 points and five assists per game in two uber-fast exhibition matches against Troy and Esperanza, it’s clear she’s ready to do whatever is needed to keep them at the top.

That said, Pinewood is deep with talent. G Emily Lee, another major long-range threat, averaged 8.5 PPG as a junior. F/C Skylar Chui has the potential to have a big breakout season, and G Jade Ramirez is another Panther likely ready to make a leap. Expect Pinewood to keep doing what it does.

11. Clovis West (2021: 20-1 – 3rd)

With Nikki Tom graduated, it’s hard to see the Golden staying a clear top-five team in the state this season, but they’re in great position to remain elite. Heading into the season, they’re about as far ahead above the rest of the Central Section on paper as they were all of last season, which is head and shoulders. Much of the core that knocked off Bonita Vista and almost beat Corona Centennial in the state playoffs is returning, and it starts with G/F Etoyah Montgomery. The versatile all-state sophomore averaged 17.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game despite sitting in many second halves of blowouts. PG Athena Tomlinson averaged upwards of 10 points, three assists, and three steals a game last season as just a freshman. And while Clovis West could use another big-time offensive threat or interior anchor to compete at a state Open Division level, its roster is filled with other role players hungry to step up.

12. Rosary Academy (2021: 19-6 – 20th)

The Royals were a clear top-20 team in the state last season, they return literally the whole team, and they’ve even added some promising role players. Fresh off appearances in the CIFSS Division 1 semifinals and CIF Southern Region 1-A finals, they’re a very safe bet to, at minimum, improve markedly on last season’s showing.

PG Kaylee Byon, a Utah Valley commit, put up 26.7 points, 6.6 assists, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game as a junior, and is primed for another all-state season. Long SG Allison Clarke averaged over 13 PPG as a freshman in the spring, and is quickly becoming one of the better two-way wings in the Southern Section. Add in other starting wings Mary Larsen and Kaylani Barker, and F/C Ava Dominguez, all of whom are versatile impact defenders, and Rosary has a textbook team composition for a perimeter-centric, up-tempo squad. Offensively, that’s legitimate five-out spacing, a breadth of secondary playmakers who run the floor and make reads, and a big who finishes well to surround an unstoppable offensive engine in Byon. Defensively, that’s four perimeter defenders who help rebound, and a mobile, fluid defensive big, which gives them outstanding switch-ability and the option to run extended pressuring defensive schemes.

Rosary has a higher floor than multiple teams ranked ahead of it, health permitting. In order to up their ceiling, the Royals’ keys will be continual improvement shooting threes at the wings, and more secondary facilitation when defenses load up on Byon.

13. Archbishop Mitty (2021: 13-2 – 11th)

The Monarchs lost a ton of seniors from the spring squad that finished second in the Central Coast Section. They might struggle (especially in the early season) to back up this ranking, but Archbishop Mitty always has great players waiting in the wings (no pun intended) when the time comes. G Morgan Cheli averaged 7.6 points, 2.1 assists, and 2.9 steals per game in only 15 MPG as a freshman, and is likely to take a starring role this year. G Sienna Guttadauro, G Noemie Bariteau, G Haley Hernandez, C Jamaya Perry, SF Makayla Moore, and F Maya Hernandez are all good players who are candidates for major breakouts as well.

14. Mission Hills (2021: 21-7 – 18th)

For a team that spent all of last season easily inside the state’s top 20, and is returning almost all of its team, Mission Hills isn’t getting as much hype as it should this season.

Versatile, sweet-shooting SG Jessica Grant is looking to build on an all-state junior season in which she averaged 16 points, three assists, 2.9 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game while hitting 124 threes at a 38% clip. SF Kennan Ka, a Long Beach State commit with a highly intriguing combination of size, athleticism, and touch, was second on the Grizzlies with 12.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in the spring while also shooting 38% from downtown. Finding that third star will be key for Mission Hills to emerge as a real San Diego Section title contender – and you can pencil them into the Open Division if they stay healthy – but they’re deep with more good returners, including PG Mariah Brown, F/C Alina Tran, and F Sophia Bibbo.

15. San Ramon Valley (2021: 11-0 – Unranked)

The Wolves were constantly on the bubble of our top 25 last season, especially after knocking off Carondelet. They never quite cracked the list for us despite their undefeated campaign, but with a lot of teams between roughly 12th and 25th losing key players, SRV is a lock to take a leap. Essentially the whole core returns, with First Team All-State SF Natalie Pasco, a Boise State commit, back as a senior after putting up 28.3 points and 13 rebounds per game on absurd marks of 62% FG and 49% 3FG. G Sierra Chambers and W Allison Stern, who both averaged 11 PPG, and F Sadie Carter (9.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG) are all back as well.

16. Carondelet (2021: 10-1 – Unranked)

Speaking of the Cougars, they did at one point crack our top 25, and like their rival SRV, they spent the whole season on the bubble. PG Talana Lepolo, a 4-star Stanford commit, forms one of the top duos in NorCal with all-state UC Davis commit SG Nya Epps, who led Carondelet with 16 points and 5.7 assists per game in the spring to go with 5.5 RPG.

17. Esperanza (2021: 22-4 – 19th)

The Aztecs finished the spring ranked well inside the top 25 in the state, and they return most of their top players, so it’s fair to say they’ve been under-hyped coming into this season. Combo guard Alyssa Kubo, a Hope International University commit, averaged 16.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.2 steals per game last season for the CIFSS Division 1 finalist. F Julia Lavigne, a long, versatile forward, was Esperanza’s leading rebounder and a defensive Swiss Army knife as just a sophomore, and also averaged over 11 PPG. SG Kaiya Mack, also a junior, averaged over 12 points and five rebounds a night last season, and possesses one of the deadliest floaters around.

The pressing questions will be how Esperanza deals with the loss of PF Emily Briggs and its depth disadvantage relative to other top-20 teams. But with their incumbent big three, strong ball movement within an egalitarian five-out offense, and team-wide clutch gene, the Aztecs could even be a Southern Section Open Division team this season.

18. Bishop O’Dowd (2021: 1-3 – Unranked)

Bishop O’Dowd’s last season was hardly even a season – the team only played four games in due to COVID-19, and it wasn’t even healthy when it did. This season, the Dragons should be near or inside the state’s top-25 though, and they’re certainly one of the NorCal’s most formidable teams, with Cal commit G/F Amaya Bonner leading the way. PG Savannah Jones is likely to be their second star, with F Nyah Greenwood and some other talented underclassmen also likely to be in big roles.

19. Viewpoint (2021: 9-5 – Unranked)

Viewpoint spent some of last season inside our top 25 before an upset loss against Cajon in the playoffs. When the young Patriots were on, they could beat the likes of Windward and Serra (Gardena) by double-digits, and take Sierra Canyon to overtime. They return their whole starting five, led by the devastating backcourt of Kayla Keshmeshian and Karlee White, so they’re a safe bet to rise steadily.

20. Oak Ridge (2021: 8-4 – Unranked)

Literally every team listed below had a case to make for the last spot in our eyes, but Oak Ridge gets the nod. Last season’s good-but-not-great campaign came with injuries that cost them some games against other strong teams, and the Trojans are in great position to run it back much stronger this fall. 4-star G Teagan Brown was a clear all-state player when she was healthy in the spring, and is back as a senior, along with the imposing, productive frontcourt of Ella Ray and Kamryn Hall. With a lot of other role players returning and a formidable combination of size and star power, Oak Ridge should utilize its fresh slate this season to come out dominant.

Also in consideration:

Folsom, Antelope, Long Beach Poly, Windward, Bonita Vista, Roosevelt (Eastvale), Ontario Christian, Orangewood Academy, West (Torrance), St. Ignatius, Camarillo, Bonita Vista, Cajon, Serra (Gardena), Mater Dei Catholic, Mount Miguel, Clovis, Bishop’s

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