By Michael Bower
There is lots of returning talent to the Poway High and Del Norte girls basketball teams.
Arguably the top point guard in the county, Mandy Castro, will lead the Titans, while returning leading scorer Lexi Reddick leads the way for the Nighthawks.
Poway's string of three straight Palomar League titles was snapped last season by Mt. Carmel.
But the Titans are loaded again and should be in the mix with usual suspects Torrey Pines, Mt. Carmel and Westview.
“Unfortunately, there will be a good team that comes in fourth place in our league,” Poway coach Jay Trousdale said. “Our goal is to compete for a league title and a Division I championship.”
Rancho Bernardo is still trying to get its program back on track, while the door is open for Del Norte to win its first league title in the Valley League.
Maranatha Christian is coming off a 17-win season, but lost three of its starters and could have a challenging first year in the Pacific League.
Here is a closer look at the local teams:
Jay Trousdale, 26th year
22-8, eliminated in semifinals of Division I playoffs.
F, Sam Jones, Sr.; PG, Mandy Castro, Sr.; F/G, Brooke Hulett, Jr.; G, Bri Molnar, Sr.; F, Park Masterson, Sr.
The Titans came up one win short of reaching the Division I finals last season, but return seven players and have the talent to make another run at the crown this year.
Poway will be led by Castro, arguably the top point guard in the county. Castro has great vision, can distribute the ball and shoot with the best of them. She will often be feeding the ball to
forward Masterson and wing player Hulett. But as usual, the Titans’ strong play will start on the defensive end of the floor.
“We are always going to do what Poway teams do — play defense first,” Trousdale said. “We will play multiple defenses well and then we are going to fast break when it is there and share the ball offensively.”
Poway has five returning seniors, two juniors and four sophomores. It could take some time for the young players to find their groove at the varsity level, but Trousdale hopes the team will be firing on all cylinders by the time Palomar League play rolls around in January.
Kai Harris, 2nd year
2-22, did not make playoffs.
G, Kathy Rudkin, Jr.; G/F, Cara Reynolds, Sr.; Cassy Cunningham, Jr.; G, Haley Alexander, Jr.
The Broncos struggled through last year, but are hoping to turn the program in the right direction.
The record might not be stellar again this season, but being competitive in most games will be the goal.
The team is hoping to turn a corner in Palomar League play, too, as last season it went 0-10.
Finding scorers could be tough after the loss of Aliyah Potts to graduation. Returners Cunningham and Rudkin figure to do most of the scoring.
Jake McNeely, 4th year
15-14, eliminated in second round of Division III playoffs.
F, Lexi Reddick, Sr.; C/F, Caitlin Cole, Jr.; G, Monica Dutta, Sr.; G, Kaitlin Manuel, Sr.; G, Kayla Evans, Soph.
Losing point guard Muniphe Green, an All-Valley League Second-Team selection, to graduation will be tough to overcome for the Nighthawks, but getting back a healthy Kaitlin Manuel will certainly help.
Manuel, who played only nine games last season due to a broken hand and then a torn ACL, should help at the guard position. Also, Evans has another year under her belt and should play a key role in helping Del Norte compete for the Valley League crown.
Reddick, the leading scorer the past two years, will likely lead the team in scoring again this season. Cole, a three-year starter, should also give the Nighthawks an offensive boost. Evans, Reddick and Cole were part of the Nighthawks’ volleyball team, which reached the SoCal Regional semifinals, so it could take them some time to get into playing shape.
“Three of our starters were on the volleyball team and haven’t touched a ball for a long time,” McNeely said before the season started. “When we get them back, we probably will spend the whole month of December just getting them back into the game.”
Valley Center is the defending Valley League champions, but lost most of its team to graduation. San Dieguito Academy and Canyon Crest Academy, the second- and third-place finishers, respectively, are no longer in the league. That opens the door for the Nighthawks to claim their first league championship.
Newcomers to the league are Oceanside and Ramona. The Pirates and Nighthawks are considered the preseason front runners.
Tim Shelton, 3rd year
17-8, eliminated in first round of Division V playoffs.
G, Jessica Sanchez, Sr.; G/F, Amber Weatherford, Sr.; C, Katie Cook, Sr.
The Eagles are coming off a tremendous season, but are in the rebuilding process after losing their three tallest starters from last year.
Weatherford and Sanchez are the lone returning starters. Those two along with Cook should be the leading scoring threats for the Eagles.
Maranatha will have stiff competition in its first year in the Pacific League, where Tri-City Christian is the favorite.
Rock Academy should also be near the top of the standings. The Eagles expect to be in the middle of the pack.
“We have a great group of kids that are fun to work with,” Shelton said. “It is always exciting to get a fresh start.”