Last year, the Arroyo Grande High girls basketball team was all about balance.
The Eagles had seven players average between five and 8.4 points per game as they went 12-0 in PAC 7 league play and advanced to the third round of the CIF-Southern Section Division III-AA playoffs.
Arroyo Grande’s new coach, Dwight MacDonald, now sees plenty of balance throughout the PAC 7 entering this season, which tips off Tuesday.
“There’s no real weak link,” MacDonald said. “I don’t think anybody is going to be overmatched. The talent is equally distributed throughout the league.”
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It sure seems that way.
Righetti, for instance, is led by 6-foot-5 senior center Molly Schlemer, a Cal Poly signee who averaged 11.7 points and 8.4 rebounds as a junior — but the Warriors graduated Hannah Cooper, who led the team in scoring and assists.
Atascadero, meanwhile, returns nearly its entire roster from last year, including all-county juniors in Shannon Berwick and Alyssa Palma, not to mention last season’s league leader in assists, sophomore guard Casey Nero.
San Luis Obispo returns senior all-county center Hannah Kenny, who pulled down 10 rebounds a game as a junior, while Nipomo welcomes back junior forward Tessa Underwood, who led the Titans in scoring and assists last season.
“Every team in the league has some really strong players,” MacDonald said.
The Los Padres League figures to have a more clear-cut favorite in St. Joseph, which is led by 6-3 sophomore Aly Beebe, last year’s CalHiSports.com female California Freshman Athlete of the Year and a Sporting News preseason fifth-team All-American.
“We’re all chasing St. Joe,” Morro Bay coach Cary Nerelli said. “The rest of the league is up for grabs, and there seems to be parity. It’s just going to depend on which teams gel at the right time as we move into league play.”
In the smaller-school ranks, Coast Union is looking to make up for the graduation of several of its key cogs from last year’s Central Section Division V championship squad, while Mission Prep also appears poised to make a postseason run.
A look at the county’s girls basketball teams, with 2008-09 records in parentheses:
PAC 7Arroyo Grande (23-4, 12-0)The Eagles have three fewer players than they did a year ago, and graduated the County Player of the Year in forward Kelsey Wagner, as well as all-county guard Olivia Trudeau.
They do, however, bring back strong contributors in senior all-county forward Jenna Sverchek, junior guard Madi Ventura and 6-foot senior post presence Rachel Ventura.
“We have a roster of 10 girls and all of them can contribute in their own ways. They’re all very versatile,” MacDonald said. “We’ll be running at teams in waves.”
MacDonald, also the Eagles’ athletic director, took over for five-year, largely successful coach Vard Ikeda, who retired following the season in order to spend more time with his family.
Atascadero (16-9, 5-7)Atascadero could be the league’s deepest team thanks to the continued improvement of Berwick (who averaged 10.7 points and seven rebounds per game last year), Palma (10.5 points), Nero (4.1 assists) and senior forward Raven Taylor (10.2 rebounds).
Nipomo (8-17, 1-11)The Titans are adding two underclass point guards — freshman Tess Lattimer and sophomore Missi Ramsey — to an experienced mix of seven seniors and Underwood.
Last season, Underwood led the Titans in scoring (9.4 points per game) and assists (2.4 per game) while also grabbing 4.8 rebounds per contest. Senior guard Cami Castillo is also back after adding 5.8 points per game last year.
Speed and athleticism will be the Titans’ primary strengths, coach P.J. Deichler said.
Paso Robles (4-19, 2-10)The Bearcats will need to make up for losing their two leading scorers from last year in Nicole Andersen and Andreka Robbins.
Senior forward Kati Sheldon pulled down 5.2 rebounds per game as a junior, and senior point guard Chelsea Merrill is also back after leading the Bearcats in assists and steals a year ago.
San Luis Obispo (16-12, 7-5)San Luis Obispo made the postseason for the first time in five years in 2009 but will be without dynamic forward Abrianna Torres, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore last season. Torres, who also averaged a team-high 12.1 points per game, has elected to focus solely on track.
The Tigers do, however, bring back the 5-11 Kenny, who scored 9.6 points per game last year in addition to her 10 rebounds per game.
LPLMorro Bay (16-10, 9-3)Although the Pirates feature six underclassmen, they do return one of the area’s most promising inside-out combos in Ciara Ramos and Megan Hansen. Hansen, a 5-6 junior combo guard, earned first-team all-league honors as a sophomore last year after scoring a team-high 13.3 points per game.
Ramos, a 5-11 senior forward, was a second-team all-league member last year after coming up with a team-best 5.5 rebounds per game to go with her 7.9 points per contest.
“That can be the foundation of any good team,” Nerelli said of the offensive balance the two can provide. “If you’re going to have only a couple players back, we’re lucky to have some of that caliber.”
Templeton (1-18, 0-12)The Eagles have a new coach this year in Shawn Koehler after winning one game a year ago. Senior wing Molly Wren-Holmes is back after averaging a team-high 5.3 points per game last season.
Additionally, senior guard Shelby Dutra is also a third-year varsity player who’ll be expected to lead after missing much of last season with an injury.
IndependentsCoast Union (20-7)Coast Union graduated six players from its divisional championship team, including all-county stars in guards MacKenzie Cunningham and Lilly Takahashi, as well as forward Emily Dunn.
But senior guard Faye Watson, a starter for most of last season, returns after averaging 2.2 steals per game last year. Also back are senior guard Tess Watson and junior forward Ashley Lorenz. Sophomore center Nicki Ortiz is expected to add a defensive presence in the key.
Mission Prep (18-10)The Royals lost all-county stars in guard Jenna Caruso and forward Natalie Fernandez, but they have eight players back from last year’s Central Section Division IV semifinalist. (Last year, their run of 16 straight divisional championships came to an end after moving up from Division V.)
Sophomore point guard Jenna Dunbar figures to be a leader after averaging 9.1 points per game and shooting 35 percent from 3-point territory as a freshman. Senior guard Ally Kersthold claimed 1.7 steals per game a year ago.
Coast Valley LeagueCoastal Christian (5-11, 3-5)No information was provided.
North County Christian (8-12, 4-4)Hopes are high for the Crusaders, who return as much talent as anyone in the CVL and are led by first-year coach Alan Scarson.
Sophomore wing Brianna Feld set a Crusaders freshman scoring record last year while averaging a team-best 11.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
Senior forward Kelsey Paulus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game as a junior.
Shandon (NA)No information was provided.
Scott Silvey and Will Vigliotti contributed to this preview.