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St. Vincent expected to lead NCL II

Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 11:14 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 11:14 a.m.

Empire prep small school girls' basketball has entered league play with very competitive races.

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Rincon Valley Christian's Adison Feickert and St. Vincent's Joy Cho, center, and Olivia DeGraca battle for a rebound during Tuesday night's game.

Conner Jay / The Press Democrat

Storylines abound as the Empire's top teams aim for league titles and spots in the North Coast Section playoffs across the three small school divisions.

St. Vincent deep, talented

Returning five starters and most of last year's team, St. Vincent is the NCL II league favorite.

Two All-Empire picks, Ursyla Baumgarten and Grace Jennings, lead a team that also returns a trio of All-League players: Rebecca Dodele, Maddie Perry and Jacalyn Murphy.

“This would be the year where we can go for it,” said St. Vincent coach Jim Fagundes.

An aggressive, confident team, St. Vincent can have a different leading scorer each game. The Mustangs are developing solid backups to provide the depth needed for an NCS Division 5 playoff run. St. Vincent has never won a girls section title.

Holding teams to 37 points a game, St. Vincent has been in every game against often very strong opponents.

St. Vincent bolstered nonleague scheduling to prepare for league play and the section playoffs. Larger schools included Archbishop Mitty and Redwood. St. Vincent also has played some top Bay Area teams in Division 5, including International, San Domenico and Urban.

Middletown seeks title

Coming off a strong run against a challenging nonleague schedule, Middletown is the early favorite in the NCL I.

Big and athletic, Middletown has the defense and rebounding to wear down opponents. With enough scoring to win consistently, Middletown has been beating teams by an average of 13 points a game. Leading the Mustangs is returning All-Empire selection Ashley Hart with solid scoring from Ashlyn Welton.

The loss of top post presence Allegra Macedo has hurt. Middletown hopes she can return toward season's end and help the Mustangs make an NCS Division 4 playoff push.

Middletown played a rugged nonleague schedule featuring mostly larger schools and trips out of the section. The goal is to prepare for a deep league and a very difficult NCS Division 4.

“You need to be ready to play at a high level,” said Middletown coach Anthony Bazzano. “I feel confident that we're able to compete at a high level.”

NCL I race

A handful of teams expect to challenge Middletown in the NCL I.

Cloverdale was tested by a typically difficult nonleague schedule and has opened league play with a pair of convincing wins. Back for the Eagles is All-Empire player Jazmin Orozco, a strong shooting guard. Also returning is All-League pick Angel Bernardi with point guard Kirstin Villacencio anchoring the offense.

A perennial power, Cloverdale is quick and finding more scoring.

“We should be right there in the league,” said Cloverdale coach Rick Berry.

St. Helena is improving and edged Middletown in an early upset. All-Empire selection Zaina Depina leads the Saints.

Kelseyville and Willits are getting better. Willits is two-time defending league champion.

“Right now everyone in this league thinks they're going to win this thing,” said Bazzano. “It's a tough league, for sure. I don't think the NCL I gets the credit it should.”

NCL II race

Sonoma Academy is the leading contender to challenge favorite St. Vincent.

Led by returning All-Empire player Savannah Stoughton, the Coyotes also have returning point guard Chloe Colbert.

Stoughton leads in scoring and steals.

Colbert is the league's fastest player and has improved her shooting.

“We're successful when we can get out and force an up-tempo game. We are getting better every day,” said Sonoma Academy coach Kevin Christensen.

Roseland University Prep again is among the league's best. The Knights play hard and put pressure on opponents. All-League returner Stephanie Martinez is joined by Daniela Garcia and Gaby Roldan to lead Roseland Prep.

Young and improving, Tomales aims for a winning mark in league play and return to the section playoffs.

Rincon Valley Christian is winning again following a down year. Upper Lake is better than in recent seasons.

The others

Point Arena's defense of the NCL III title will be tested with Laytonville, Mendocino, Round Valley and Anderson Valley all closing the gap on the Pirates.

With only one returning starter and five players new to varsity, Point Arena is gaining confidence early in league play.

Point Arena is developing depth to make a run for the league title.

Leading the Pirates are Savanna Dilks and Sabrina Sundstrom.

The pair can go for double-doubles in scoring and rebounding, creating matchup problems for opposing teams.

With challengers returning All-League players, the NCL III is balanced.

Summerfield Waldorf, in Santa Rosa, and Rio Lindo Adventist, in Healdsburg seek returns to the NCS Division 6 playoffs.

Playing in the Small School Bridge League, the Sonoma County squads return a handful of All-League players.

Raegan Williams is back at Rio Lindo Adventist, leading the Spartans in scoring.

Rio Lindo Adventists has been strong defensively, holding teams under 30 points a game.

A dynamic trio again leads Summerfield Waldorf with Zoe Hunt, Maya McNichol and Phoebe Rogers sharing the load.

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