SCV Girls Basketball Experiences a Resurgence
April, 2017 - Issue #150
For the first time since 2006, a Foothill League girls basketball team captured a CIF-Southern Section championship.
But what happened March 4 in the Division 1-AA final at the Honda Center wasn't just about the pursuit of the first section crown for Canyon or Valencia; it was a bigger statement about the resurgence of girls basketball in the Santa Clarita Valley.
"Our league is one of the most competitive out there and we have a lot of talent that people might not get to see," Canyon junior guard Talia Taufaasau said. "We have a lot of good basketball players in our area that are helping put Santa Clarita back on the map."
The only other time two Foothill programs met for a girls basketball title was 2006, when Hart defeated Canyon 54-37 in the Division 1-A final.
It was the third section title for the Indians, along with 1989 and 1990, and the last championship in a legendary career for Hart coach Dave Munroe. It also capped a stretch of four finals appearances in five seasons for the Indians, the last Foothill program to reach consecutive finals before Canyon the past two years.
But for a decade following Hart's victory over Canyon, the Foothill League didn't have a significant presence among Southern California's top girls basketball programs.
Despite Canyon, Hart, Saugus and Valencia all winning outright or earning a share of at least one league championship during that span, postseason runs often ended in the quarterfinals and occasionally the semifinals.
Canyon finally ended the drought last year when it reached the Division 2-AA final, losing 47-33 to Newbury Park.
But when offseason realignment by Southern Section officials placed both Canyon and Valencia in the top girls basketball division along with 42 other elite programs, even after 16 teams were selected for the Open Division playoffs, it was uncertain whether either squad would be consistent and tough enough to survive four demanding rounds and reach the Division 1-AA final.
Valencia was expected to be the division's top seed, until the Vikings lost a coin flip to Canyon after sharing the league championship.
As a result, the Cowboys received the fourth seed and Valencia dropped to Number 6, but it didn't deter either team from achieving its season-long goal, with Canyon returning to the title game and the Vikings making their first appearance in coach Jerry Mike's 18-year tenure.
"I have seen it all in my career and sometimes you catch a really good group, which I have, but there's always things that happen," Mike said. "It could be a bounce here or a play there or a coin flip that results in you playing on the road that could make all the difference, so it's a credit to the girls that I have that they were the ones who finally got here."
Valencia had played Hart in Southern Section football finals in 1999, 2001 and 2013, in addition to the Vikings meeting the Indians in the Division I softball championship in 2007. Canyon squared off against Hart for the Division II football title in 2005.
But this year marked the first time Canyon and Valencia went head to head for a CIF crown in any sport, resulting in the fourth meeting among the rivals. The teams split their league showdowns, with Valencia adding a one-point victory December 10 in the final of the Magnolia Park Optimist Club tournament at Burroughs High.
"We looked at the possibilities early on and went 'Wow.' We kind of said, 'It might be us, too.' What better team to play against than our hometown rival and the team we know best," Canyon Coach Jessica Haayer said. "We're both strong, we've got competitors, we've got great fans, we've got support and these kids work hard and play good basketball, so why not show it off?"
Of the 24 Southern Section basketball finals, only two championship games featured teams from the same league, with Olympic League rivals Village Christian and Cerritos Valley Christian playing for the Division 4-AA girls title.
"It says a lot about Foothill basketball," Mike said. "It has been good from those [Hart] years until now, but now it's really impressive. There are a lot of young players in the fifth, sixth and seventh grades at the games and it's cool they are seeing this."
Although Valencia graduates veterans Ashlee Ane, Kenadee Honaker, Jade Jordan and Kayla Konrad, Canyon is expected to return Rachel Bowers, Gabby Sanchez, Selasi Mawugbe and Taufaasau next season, giving the Cowboys a legitimate opportunity to reach another final and continue to validate the Foothill League among the strongest in Southern California.
"It's not just about Orange County and those other areas people always talk about," Taufaasau said. "Pretty soon we're going to be in the conversation, if we're not already."