One of the themes of CIF Southern Section high school girls basketball in 2019-2020 was that many of the best teams were comprised largely of non-seniors. Several of the best teams throughout the section, including in the top division, will be back and better than ever come playoff time next season.

These five Southern Section Open Division/Division 1 heavyweights were all strong playoff contenders this past season, and will return the vast majority of their cores in 2020-2021. Most of them had one or two seniors among their key players in 2019-2020, but all of them will return their best player and the majority of their main producers.

Harvard-Westlake – Division 1

H-W won a Division 1 title and won two more state Division I playoff games all by double-digits before falling narrowly to Cathedral Catholic the state quarterfinals. And that was with not one senior in the main rotation. On paper, they should be markedly better in 2020-2021. Their entire core will be comprised of experienced upperclasswomen, and their best players are going to be seniors.

It all starts with 5-star C/PF Kiki Iriafen, the best post player in California this past season and maybe more than just California. She averaged 23.5 points, 15.1 rebounds, and 2.1 steals per game on a huge 57% from the field. Those numbers are great, and then factor in that she was item A on every foe’s scouting report with one of the hardest schedules in the country. Were she not a junior, she’d be a lock for the McDonald’s All-American game.

Harvard-Westlake also has an excellent trio of guards in Melissa Zozulenko, Krista Semaan, and Kimiko Katzaroff, who will all be seniors. Between the three of them, they have an abundance of playmaking, outside scoring, and perimeter defense–they combined for about 26 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, and four steals per game.

Lastly, they’ll return yet another senior G in the rotation, Paula Gonzalez, and a strong contributor at C/PF with high upside in 6-1 sophomore Amelia Scarf. If all the returners keep developing this offseason, they could contend for Open Division titles in section and state.

West (Torrance) – Division 1

As usual, West was one of the more formidable teams in the section in 2019-2020. And after making the Division 1 semifinals and winning a playoff game at the state Division 1 level, they’re returning all four of their all-league honorees next season.

PG Anaya James is the back-to-back reigning Pioneer League MVP now and one of the best point guards in the section. She averaged 18.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, four assists, and 3.1 steals per game for the Warriors. First Team All-League F Piper Takenaka will be a senior as well. And West will return two all-league underclasswomen. Versatile W Ella Estabrook was a sophomore first-teamer, and freshman SG Nicole Chuang also averaged close to 10 PPG shooting 38% from deep.

Lynwood – Open Division

Despite their great year this past season, we have Lynwood pegged as the biggest breakout candidate in the section going into 2020-2021. After making the Southern Section Open Division and taking Sierra Canyon, Mater Dei, and Etiwanda all down to the wire in pool play. While Lynwood has already gotten overlooked in a lot of season-end rankings out there, there wasn’t much separating them from the top of the top in 2019-2020. And they’re only going to get better.

The Knights will return one of the top recruits in the country, Rayah Marshall, who averaged 18.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.4 steals, and 2.6 blocks per game playing two through five. PG Briliyah Taylor will also be back after averaging 10.6 points, 1.9 steals, and a team-high 4.8 assists per game last season. Two more key guards will be back in Jada Turner and Jada Laiti to round out an extremely deep, talented backcourt.

Corona Centennial – Open Division

Cen10 just had one of their most successful girls basketball seasons in recent history. They made the CIFSS Open Division bracket and very nearly the finals, and also made the state Open Division playoffs. They’ll have to replace the losses of G Madison Green and F/C Brook Svoboda, but should still be able to improve if they keep developing. The fact that they will likely be significantly better in 2020-2021 should–and might already–have the whole state on notice.

PG Jayda Curry was one of the better guards in the entire country last year, and should be a preseason All-American candidate on anyone’s list. She’ll be back as a senior after averaging 22.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 2.1 steals last year.

Also coming back for their senior years are W Trinity San Antonio and PF Katherine Davis. San Antonio averaged 8.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and a team-high 4.3 steals per game as a junior. And Centennial is complete with depth with players who got good minutes as underclasswomen, particularly Gs Sydni Summers and Bella Law, and W Layla Curry.

Mater Dei – Open Division

The fact that Mater Dei was one of the best few teams in the country all season and will return nearly the whole core next year is downright scary. We are talking about the Southern Section Open Division champion, a team that went 30-3 with arguably the hardest schedule in the country, losing only two seniors and potentially being significantly better next season.

Gone will be starting wing Camryn Kiernan and another guard in the rotation in Anna Bradley. Back will be everyone else. F Brooke Demetre, one of the top prospects and players in the country, will be back as a senior. She will be on everyone’s preseason All-American lists, and SG Alyssa Frescas and PF/C Meaali’i Amosa will be elite seniors as well. Starting PG Caia Elisaldez was one of the better players in Orange County already as a freshman.

Joining them will be 12 bench players returning. Yes, twelve, many of whom were key players and would be star players on almost any other team in the country. That includes Ws Ayanna Johnson, Lani White, and Soleil Montrose–one of whom is likely to fill Kiernan’s void in the starting lineup–and SF/PF Jamie Mackay.

By no means is Mater Dei a lock to win it all, but next year’s team could potentially be one of the best of this generation if all goes well. If we did a national power rankings, there’s no question that Mater Dei would open the season at No. 1.

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