There has not been much change in the hierarchy of girls high school basketball in the San Gabriel Valley in recent years.
For the most part it has been Muir, Muir and more Muir. The Muir the merrier, you could say.
The Mustangs have been the top team in the valley for the last four years but, with the graduation of front-line stars Pauline and Geannine Jordan, Muir may have company at the top this season.
The two most likely candidates to unseat the Mustangs are San Gabriel, one of the top teams in the valley for the last 10 years, and Pasadena, Muir's rapidly improving cross-town rival.
Other teams expected to prosper are Monrovia, Wilson, Marshall Fundamental and Rowland. The season starts Monday.
The Top Teams
Muir (Pacific League; 4-A Division)--With the graduation of the Jordan twins, who led the Mustangs to a phenomenal 102-6 record over four seasons, many people forecast a decline at Muir. But that kind of talk may be premature.
While the Mustangs return only two starters from a team that was 29-1 and finished second in the CIF 4-A Division, they still have as much talent as any team in the valley.
Muir has one of the top centers in 6-3 junior Tasha Bradley, who averaged 10 points and six rebounds and earned All-CIF honors as a sophomore, and 5-9 junior guard Angie Grant, a floor leader whom Coach Archie Newton calls one of the quickest players in the state.
The Mustangs have also added two promising transfers since posting a 17-5 summer league record: sophomores Taja Davidson, a 5-7 guard from Tennessee, and Lisa Salsman, a 6-3 center from Maranatha High.
The youthful Mustangs have junior forward Holly Jones (5-10) and junior swingman Kris Collins (5-10) and senior Tracy Frazier (5-9) among their top seven players.
"They're young and Tasha certainly hasn't been tested, but we have more depth than we've ever had before here," Newton said.
Newton, impressed with pre-season practices, says the Mustangs are stronger than during the summer. "We were a skeleton crew in the summer," he said. "I have seen tremendous improvement since then."
Pasadena (Pacific League; 4-A Division)--For the last four years, the Bulldogs have watched as cross-town rival Muir has dominated the league.
Coach Dudley Stewart is hoping his team can halt Muir's reign, and he may have the players to do the trick.
The Bulldogs, 16-10 last year, are not the biggest team in the valley but may be quickest.
They also could be among the best shooting teams, led by 5-6 senior guard Rachonne Jones, who averaged 20.5 points a game last season. Pasadena has two other outstanding shooters in junior forwards Anitra Wilkins (5-8) and Marilyn Robinson (5-7) and a solid playmaker in junior guard Stephanie Bennett (5-7).
Pasadena, which does not start a player taller than 5-9, is also counting on junior center Lanette Frankin (5-9) and sophomore forward Karen McGoldrick (5-7).
"We have to use our quickness to be effective," Stewart said. "I don't see a team being able to shoot with us, but if we don't hit our first shot we'll be in trouble."
Stewart said this is his best team in seven years as coach of the Bulldogs. "They work very hard and they know what to expect from me."
Stewart is also encouraged because his team won two of three games against Muir in summer league play.
San Gabriel (Foothill League; 3-A Division)--It is difficult to believe that 6-4 junior center Rachel Norris could be much better than last season when she averaged 23 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots a game and earned All-CIF honors.
But Coach Bob Stand thinks she is.
"I've had her out from volleyball for only a short time," Stand said of Norris, an All-West selection on the Street & Smith Pre-Season All-American Team. "But if her basketball improvement matches her volleyball improvement, she's going to have a tremendous year."
The Matadors, who have won 77 straight league games and 10 consecutive league titles, will pose a lot of problems for opponents if their guards also play as well as Stand expects.
"In Erin Longo, Christine Martinez and Shari Oba, I think we have an excellent group of guards," he said. Longo is a 5-5 senior who has started for three years, Oba is a 5-1 sophomore and Martinez a 5-3 senior.
Several other key players for San Gabriel, 20-5 last season, are senior forwards Bea Fernandez (5-5) and Dioni Rovello (5-8), freshman forward Ramona Caro (5-8) and sophomore Tina Tu (5-0).
"I think there's a good chemistry of people working together," Stand said. "If everybody stays healthy, I'll feel real good about things."
Others to Watch
Marshall Fundamental (Alpha League; 1-A Division)--The Eagles may be a 1-A team but do not play like one.
With most of their top players returning from last year's team, which finished 16-5 and made the 1-A playoffs, Marshall can play with most teams in the valley.
The leader is 5-9 senior guard Kelly Collins, an All-CIF performer who averaged 28 points, including a 59-point game, and 14 rebounds.