Two of the county’s best girls basketball teams this season — Morro Bay and Templeton highs — come from the Los Padres League.
Morro Bay went 12-0 in the LPL last year and finished 20-4 overall. The Pirates bring back one of the county’s top players in Hannah Gilbert, a 6-foot-3 center who has signed to play basketball at Cal Poly.
Gilbert, who has averaged a double-double in points and rebounds the past two seasons, is among the favorites for county player of the year honors
Pirates coach Cary Nerelli said that he wanted a tough nonleague schedule and already has played Garces and Ridgeview, two top teams from Bakersfield, and lost 53-44 and 52-50, respectively.
“We want to be good and we need to be tested,” Nerelli said. “We expect teams to bring their best against us this season and we have to come into every game ready to play.”
Junior point guard Sierra Schwellenbach has emerged as a key contributor, averaging 16 points and five steals per game early in the season.
Templeton is coming off an impressive 23-8 overall record and 10-2 league mark last year, ending with a loss to Mission Prep in a CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA semifinal game. Mission Prep went on to play in the Division 5 state championship game.
The Eagles, who have already beaten defending PAC 7 and CIF-Southern Section Division 3AAA champ Arroyo Grande, return several key players on a young team with only one senior.
Junior Mari Stewart, a 5-foot-11 power forward, averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds last year, earning second team all-county honors. Teammate Autumn Russell, also a junior, brings a strong post presence and athleticism, earning an honorable mention all-county honors last season.
Junior guard Megan Hattar is averaging about 11 points per game thus far, coming off of a knee injury she suffered in the first game of last year.
“We’re a young team and still getting better,” Templeton coach Shawn Koehler said. “But one of the main things I’ve impressed on the girls is toughness and to really get out there and stick our nose into it.”
Templeton’s best player last year was Lauren Stuedemann, a first team all-county player, who is in an independent studies program and not playing this year, Koehler said.
Mission Prep and Arroyo Grande graduated some of the county’s top players and will look for new stars to carry their teams.
The Royals, who went 32-2 last year, had a talented cast of seniors led by Tribune county player of the year Jenna Dunbar and first team selection Bri Harvey, who each averaged 14 points per game.
The Royals are 1-8 this season. Junior Connor Storlie has led Mission Prep so far this season with about 12 points per game.
“We’re working to get better every day,” Mission Prep coach John Krossa said. “Particularly on the defensive side of the ball, we have a lot to learn, like not relaxing and allowing easy layups. Everybody has new roles. But I think we’ll get better and better and by the end of the season I think we’ll make a lot of progress as a team.”
Arroyo Grande went to the state quarterfinals last year, finishing with a 27-6 overall record and 12-0 in the PAC 7.
But the Eagles also graduated stellar athletes in Heather Madrigal who averaged 16 points and nine rebounds, and Lindsey Wolf, who tallied 13 and 9, both earning Tribune all-county first team honors. Madrigal is now at Cal Poly, and fellow classmate Emma Weinreich is at North Dakota.
This year, point guard Olivia Galindo will drive the offense.
“She’s kind of the throttle that makes us go,” new Arroyo Grande coach Bryan Hutchens said. “She has very good court awareness.”
Freshman Ashlyn Herihy, at 6-1, and also a standout in volleyball, will be a force inside and a double-double threat for the Eagles every game.
Other key players to watch in the PAC 7 will be seniors Mary Kate Evans of Atascadero and Molly Donovan of Paso Robles.
Evans will join Gilbert as a scholarship player for Cal Poly next year and, at 6-1, with a complete range of basketball skills, presents a formidable offensive threat. Evans averaged 17 points and 12 rebounds last season.
“She can play the low post and pop outside and hit the jumper,” Atascadero coach Jim Stecher said. “We can play her in so many different spots.”
The Greyhounds, at 18-9 overall last year, finished second in the PAC 7 at 9-3 and have a goal of “winning the league this year and advancing in playoffs,” Stecher said. Atascadero advanced to the Division 3A semifinals last year.
Donovan, at 6-foot and an all-county second-team selection last year, will be the top scoring threat for the Bearcats. She’ll lead a team that’s trying to improve upon a fifth-place finish in league last year.
“Molly is a big, strong girl who finishes well,” second-year Paso Robles coach Heidi Sill said. “She has the ability to play basketball at the next level in college.”
San Luis Obispo, led by Jessica Judge and Erica Chandler, are looking to improve on last year’s 2-10 PAC 7 record.
Tigers coach Dan Monroe said the Santa Maria teams will present tough challenges for the San Luis Obispo County teams in the PAC 7, but it’s anyone’s league to take.
“I think in the PAC 7, on any given night, any team can compete with anybody,” Monroe said. “There will be no easy game for any team. We have played hard so far this year. We just need to play smart.”