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Hart Will Finally Get Some Challenging Competition


The past few years in the Foothill League have shown a Hart High girls' basketball team focused and determined to meet one common objective: stay awake and dribble the basketball at the same time.

Not so anymore.

Hart, which has won 51 of its last 52 league games, is still a slight favorite this season, but will be severely challenged by Burroughs and may also be nudged awake by improving Canyon and Valencia.

Hart still has the best all-around player in Melissa Harrison, a 5-foot-10 senior forward who was the league most valuable player last season.

But the surrounding cast becomes more important with guard Christina Chao out for the season with an injured shoulder.

Sophomore Christina Sanchez has been handed Chao's spot and must come through, as must transfers Shannon Spielbuehler, a guard from Village Christian, and Brianna Kentfield, a center from Burnsville, Minn.

Kentfield, who moved with her mother to the region after her parents' divorce, stands 6-2 and could be the key player for Hart.

"With Melissa by herself, it would be very tough," Hart Coach Dave Munroe said. "But with two strong post players, it would leave Kentfield open if they double up on Melissa."

The strategy worked in a victory against Alemany. Kentfield scored 23 points, Harrison 22.

Burroughs, the last league team to defeat Hart (48-43, on Jan. 14, 1995), has a shot again.

Forward/guard Chantel Jiminez was an all-league selection last season, but the key for Burroughs may be the return to full health of 6-2 senior center JoAnna Garrick, who was only partly effective after sustaining a knee injury before last season began.

"[Garrick] didn't get to show people last season what she's all about," Burroughs Coach Doug Nicol said. "She's definitely the most dominating defensive post I've seen anywhere this year."

Is Burroughs dominating enough to down Hart?

"Anyone that wants to win the league title is going to have to go through Hart," Nicol said. "It's time to quit playing the tournaments and get out there."

Canyon is small but speedy.

The Cowboys also have experience, with 5-4 senior point guard Cheryl Grucelski and 5-11 senior forward/center Keisha Jordan, both of whom could merit all-league honors.

Valencia is coming into league play with a basketball-sized chip on its shoulder.

The Vikings missed a shot at third place and a guaranteed playoff spot last season when they dropped their last two league games, losing to Burroughs and Canyon by a combined five points.

"That's been an incentive for us the entire off-season," Valencia Coach Greg Hayes said.

Both Burbank and Saugus went 4-16 last season, but the Centurions have the better chance to improve.

Already surpassing their victory mark from last season, the Centurions (5-4) have 5-10 sophomore forward Lexi Phelps, who is averaging 19.3 points per game.



* THE PROVEN: Hart High senior Melissa Harrison, a Times' All-Valley selection last season when she averaged 17.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, is averaging 15.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game this season. Chantel Jimenez and JoAnna Garrick, both seniors at Burroughs, are averaging 15.5 and 13.0 points, respectively. Valencia junior forward Tiffany Morgan, a first-team all-league selection last season, is the best athlete in the league, according to one coach. Canyon senior point guard Cheryl Grucelski is scoring 12.0 points per game for the up-tempo Cowboys.

* THE PROMISING: At Hart, junior transfers Shannon Spielbuehler, a guard from Village Christian, and Brianna Kentfield, a center from Burnsville High (Minn.), are fitting in nicely. Saugus sophomore forward Lexi Phelps is the third-leading scorer in the region, averaging 19.3 points per game. Burroughs freshman Jody Gibbs and Canyon sophomore Justina Kahaku are seeing steady court time at the guard position.

* FAST FACT: Hart has won nine of the last 10 league titles.

* 1996-97 STANDINGS: 1. Hart 22-6 overall, 10-0 in league play; 2. Burroughs 17-9. 8-2; 3. Canyon 11-12, 6-4; 4. Valencia 13-12, 4-6; 5. Burbank 4-16, 2-8; 6. Saugus 4-16, 0-10.

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