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El Camino Real Leads Field With Blumfield


Cara Blumfield has driven through the key and swished outside shots to the tune of 25 points per game while leading the El Camino Real High girls' basketball team to 10-0 record this season.

Nonetheless, Conquistador Coach Lori Chandler doesn't expect her team's run through the Northwest Valley Conference to be easy.

"I don't even know if we're the favorites," she said. "Teams are shooting for us every game, and there are some tough teams out there."

Cleveland, Granada Hills, Birmingham and Taft could challenge El Camino Real, which opens conference play against San Fernando on Wednesday.

Cleveland (7-3) is enjoying its best start in recent years with a speedy lineup that includes two freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors.

The Cavaliers are led by junior forward LaShanda Smiley, freshman guard Schquay Brignac and sophomore point guard Mishawn Simms.

Smiley, a 5-foot-9 transfer from Birmingham, leads the team in scoring (16.3 points per game) and rebounding (9.4). Brignac, the sister of former Cleveland High standout Junior Brignac, a minor-league player in the Atlanta Braves' organization, leads the team in steals (4.7) and is second in scoring (13.4) and third in rebounding (6.0). Simms averages a team-high 5.6 assists and 9.5 points. .

"Everybody's taller than us, but I don't think anybody has the kind of speed that we do," Cleveland Coach Kimberly Kelly said.

"We're playing well. The players are feeling good, they're working hard. My juniors that I have, they've been working for two years, and they're like, 'Wow, everything's really coming together.' "

While Cleveland employs speed, Granada Hills (6-3), with several players 5-9 or taller, will rely on height and rebounding prowess.

Seniors Jessica Cosby and Lindy Gayton rank first and second for the Highlanders in both scoring and rebounding, with Cosby averaging 18.3 points and 15.3 rebounds and Gayton at 9.3 points and 13 rebounds per game. "I expect to be competitive with most of the teams in our league," Granada Hills Coach Carolyn Gunny said. "But I think everybody is up this year. The quality of the league overall is better.

"Anybody on a given day could probably beat any of the other teams."

Hence, Chandler's caution, despite El Camino Real's record, which includes championships of the Van Nuys and Canoga Park tournaments. The Conquistadores are led by Blumfield, a junior shooting guard who leads the region in scoring. She also tops the team in assists (5.3) and steals (5.7).

Like Cleveland, El Camino Real has young players who are making key contributions.

Forwards Karen Shun, a freshman, and Chrissy McClain, a sophomore, are second and third on the team in scoring with 11.9 and 11.4 averages. Birmingham (6-3) also will look to several players for offense. Yvonne Velazquez, Tanya Silva, Octavia Askew and Ofalangi Mailangi all average at least nine points a game. Taft (6-4) has a new coach in Elliot Turret. Senior center Tynisha Howze (5-11) is the team's top scorer and rebounder.

The situation is the same at Kennedy, where the Golden Cougars (2-4) are starting over with a new coach, Kurt Keller, and an entirely new lineup.

San Fernando (4-7) features senior point guard Anica Arriola, a two-time all-league selection, and center Maria Castellanos.

Castellanos averages 11.8 points and 10.5 rebounds.

Patricia Nuno averages 15.8 points for Chatsworth (4-8), but the Chancellors have struggled offensively.



* THE PROVEN: El Camino Real junior guard Cara Blumfield, averaging 25 points per game, is the leading scorer in the region. LaShanda Smiley, a 5-foot-9 junior who starred at Birmingham last season, is now at Cleveland, where she tops the Cavaliers in scoring (16.3) and rebounding (9.4). Seniors Yvonne Velazquez (11.8) and Tanya Silva (10.8) lead a balanced offense for Birmingham. Juana Gatson, a 5-10 all-league selection last year at guard, leads the team in steals. Mishawn Simms, Cleveland's sophomore point guard, was an all-league selection last year. She leads the team in assists (5.6 per game), is second in steals (4.6) and third in scoring (9.5). Granada Hills' Jessica Cosby (18.3 points, 15.3 rebounds) and Lindy Gayton (9.3 points, 13 rebounds) create trouble inside for opponents. Senior guard Patricia Nuno, who is averaging 15.8 points, was Chatsworth's top scorer last season. Senior forward Laneka Manning is the top defensive player for Taft.

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