If you want to know for sure which girls prep basketball team is the best in the South Bay, you're probably going to have to wait, at least until just before Christmas.
That's the opinion of Palos Verdes Coach Wendell Yoshida.
By then Palos Verdes, the area's fourth-ranked team, will have played Morningside, Redondo and St. Mary's, the top three ranked teams in that order, according to a preseason poll of South Bay coaches.
For Palos Verdes to be the top team at that point, it must beat St. Mary's (Dec. 11) and Redondo (Dec. 16) at home and then topple Sarnia St. Patrick's of Canada in the first round of the Tournament of Champions in order to be undefeated for a showdown Dec. 21 against Morningside. Of the top four teams, only Palos Verdes plays all three others.
A look at the South Bay's Top 10 teams:
1. Morningside--There are high school coaches who hope that a few blue-chippers come along in their career. But that's not a problem of Morningside Coach Frank Scott.
"His starting five could go on to play at Division I schools," said Redondo Coach Tim Ammentorp, the Monarchs' Pioneer League rival.
"They are all blue-chippers," Scott said. "I guess I'm pretty lucky."
It's been five years since Scott hasn't won a league title, while not losing a league game during that span. Morningside finished 27-3 last year and lost in the semifinals of the CIF playoffs, but Scott says the team--returning four starters--can improve on that. All the components are there for a championship. Offense: All-state forward Shaunda Greene averaged 20 points a game last year, guard Carla Gladden 15, center Lisa Leslie 14 and Jo Jo Witherspoon 8. Defense: Try getting a shot off in the presence of 6-foot-4 Leslie, eight blocks a game, or 6-0 Greene, four per game. Greene and Leslie each averaged 10 rebounds a game and Witherspoon averaged 4 steals. The fifth starter is senior Althea Moses, who will probably opt for track in college.
"With our talent, you might think egos would be a problem," Scott said. "But we play team ball."
2. Redondo--Redondo ranks among the South Bay's best teams every year but can't win the Pioneer League, playing second fiddle to Morningside.
"Every year, we're playing for second place," Coach Tim Ammentorp said. "We gear up for the Morningside games every year, but no one has beaten them in a league game in five years, little alone come close."
The Sea Hawks return four starters from an 18-7 team that finished second in league.
If the experience of being beaten by Morningside is a sour one, four-year starters Janeen Guinn and Marlo Correa won't let their teammates forget it. Guinn, a 5-10 center, teams with Vanessa Vogelsang (6-1) and Krishna Christenson (5-11) to make an imposing front line. Lisa Wenker, the team's leading scorer with a 10-point average last year, joins Carrea in the back court.
"We are a strong and physical team," Ammentorp said. "But sometimes the team wants to run up and down the court and fast break. I tell them we have to take advantage of our size advantage."
3. St. Mary's--Perennial South Bay power St. Mary's, which finished 19-5 last year, has four starters returning who combined to average 50 points a game. "I must say, we are going to be hard to beat," second-year Coach Cedric Hurt said. "I think we can go all the way if we stay healthy."
If is the key word. Last season injuries riddled St. Mary's all season, including the playoffs when all-CIF guard Tammy Booker didn't play because of a dislocated finger and the Belles lost in the second round.
With a week until the start of the season, Booker and 6-foot-1 center Shunda Thompson have the flu. Until they are healthy, forwards Erin Banks and Raedon Turner will have to share the scoring and rebounding load. No problem: Banks averaged 14 points and a South Bay high of 16 rebounds a game, Turner 10 points and 8 rebounds. Unfortunately for Camino Real league teams, Booker and Thompson will likely be heathly when league play starts, and the Belles will be an easy favorite to win their fourth consecutive title.
4. Palos Verdes--After winning his first Bay League championship in eight years, Coach Yoshida may have Palos Verdes ready to challenge Morningside for South Bay supremacy, especially with 6-foot-4 twins, Heather and Heidi Burge, who dominated last year as sophomores.
The twins--who each averaged 13 points and 14 rebounds--led Palos Verdes to a 21-6 record, although the Sea Kings never cracked the Southern Section's Top 10 poll. However, that will be different this season.
"Everybody thinks we will be good," Yoshida said. "But I like being the underdog. When you are ranked sometimes you play games not to lose."
Yoshida will start two sophomores and doesn't know how his team will react to the rankings. "It's a lot of pressure to put on the kids," he said. "Hopefully, they don't become satisfied with it (ranking) because that's when you lose."