A BAKER'S DOZEN
Here are 13 large and small schools who will be worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses (team records and player statistics reflect last season):
Beyer (11-16): Patriots have spent two seasons preparing for this: They have a veteran group led by 6-2 C Becca Biard and 5-7 G Brittney Jackson. Three-game losing skid ended playoff hopes late last season. Can the Patriots erase that memory?
Ceres (9-16): 'Dogs have a fine tandem in 5-9 junior G/F Jode Johnson and 6-2 sophomore C Jamie Beck. This team is a year from competing for the VOL, but their performance this season will help set the foundation for a likely title next year.
Davis (15-12): 5-9 PG Breihanna Castellija
(10 ppg, 6 apg, 4 spg) and 5-9 F Michelle Davis
(10 ppg, 8 rpg) are expected to be cornerstones as the Spartans integrate talented newcomers -- Davis won the MMC JV crown last season.
East Union (18-10): VOL MVP Rachel McDaniel has a strong backcourt partner in 3-point threat Ashley Rose. Losing six players from title-winning team means newcomers need to produce quickly. F Alyssa Wegner will be the threat under the hoop.
Enochs (12-15): Promising start for Modesto's sixth school, Eagles should be much better with that experience. 5-9 C Shanika Blunt (10 ppg, 9 rpg) and 5-5 Jalissa Freemen (6 ppg, 3 spg) will allow Enochs to challenge for MMC championship.
Golden Valley (16-14): Two-time all-CCC 5-6
G Porsha Grayson (20.8 ppg) is worth the price of admission. GV will run with anyone, and can go inside with 5-9 F Becky Morris and 6-0 junior C Toni Moore. Will challenge Merced and Turlock.
Johansen (1-25): Vikings should be one of the district's "turnaround teams," as four experienced players return -- 5-10 Alexandra Cariker (7.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg), 6-2 F Kalyn Sargent (4.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg), 5-10 F Misty Lumpkin and 5-7 F Brittney LeBlanc.
Los Banos (11-16): C Brooke Silva (18 ppg) is back for her third season, and is joined by guards Melisa Sanders, Rachel Waldron and Michelle Ceja. Waldron is the top defensive player, and C Lexi Da La Cruz provides a second threat inside.
Manteca (15-13): Four starters return, including 5-5 sophomore PG Sharon Washington (10.2 ppg) and 3-point shooter Kristi Llamas, but Buffs aren't tall. Junior forwards Davina Bennett, Lexi Ziakas and Brianna Wallace -- all 5-8 -- will be inside.
Modesto (15-13): Four quality starters, and the addition of 5-9 junior G/F Jessica Rodriguez (out last year with knee injury), make Panthers a threat every night. No true post player, but that will allow this athletic group to get out and go end to end.
Pitman (13-14): There might not be a more aggressive team in the CCC, and the undersized Pride will need every bit of that tenacity. G/F Katie Staack (12.3 ppg) is a threat from anywhere on the court and the Pride will play tough defense.
Sonora (22-7): 5-6 Alison Perry (5 apg, 5 spg) and sharp-shooting 5-2 sophomore Kelli Keefe (5.8 ppg, 34 3's) will handle the ball, and 6-0 C Raven Anderson was the MVP on last year's JV championship team. Lack of depth is a concern.
Turlock (23-6): They don't get any better than 5-8 PG Rachel Finnegan (12 ppg, 7 rpg, 5 apg), The Bee's '08 Player of the Year. 5-9 C Candace Sakuda steps into the post and look for 5-8 F Natalie Dykzeul to bang around under the hoop.
Bret Harte (21-7): The Bullfrogs are bound to struggle one of these years, but it's not going to be this season. 5-8 Sarah Spellenberg (6.5 ppg, 3.7 apg), 6-0 Sonya Garrison (6.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and 5-9 Kelli Carlon comprise a tough inside trio.
Calaveras (14-14): Redskins are counting on 5-9 junior F Kelsey Hull (12.2 ppg, 6 rpg), who hit five treys in this year's opener. Keep an eye on 5-5 freshman G Nikki Gleason, who has a 3-point shot, and 5-10 sophomore C Sam Golston.
Denair (5-23): Graduation of Jessi Cole (15 ppg) leaves a scoring void that will be filled by a group, including underclass guards Mallorie Gallardo and Madison Norquist. F Leneea Werner will work around the hoop and grab rebounds.
Hilmar (20-6): The 'Jackets might not have a player average double figures, but that's because PG Lindsey Mendes moves the ball so well. Caitlin Benning and Shelbi Santos are good options inside. Steha Brazil led JV team to title last year.
Hughson (18-8): Coach Dennis Hobby usually has one of the district's stingiest defense, but Huskies will need to find a way to score more. The answer might be 5-9 junior Madelyn Birchall and 5-3 G Karli Stark, both good ballhandlers.
Le Grand (19-5): All-District G Jennifer Hansen (17.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 3.7 spg, 4.4 apg), a four-year starter, is one of five returning starters. Miranda Flores is a 3-point threat and Veronica Moreno will guard one of the opponent's top scorers.
Linden (24-6): Lions are loaded with the potent trio of 5-7 G Jordan Baca (15.3 pp, 3.8 apg, 2 treys a game), 5-10 C Melissa Orgon (11.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and 5-9 Jamie Payne. But one problem: They play in D-IV, with MC and Christian Brothers.
Livingston (20-5): Wolves have big backcourt losses to overcome after winning the WAC. They are counting on 5-11 duo of Consuelo Hernandez (3.7 ppg, 6 rpg) and Zayra Padilla (7.4 rpg) to score inside. 5-5 G Neyri Zarco is tough on "D."
Modesto Christian (28-5): Four starters back from NorCal D-V semifinalist: 5-8 G Brandi Henton (14.2 ppg, 3.0 apg, 4.1 spg), 5-10 F Taryn Garza (11.1 ppg, 7 rpg), 6-0 F Lauren Lucchesi (8.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg), 5-8 G Stefani Agostini (8.2 ppg).
Orestimba (9-18): C Sarah Spaulding (6.7 rpg, 2.2 blocks) will need to increase her scoring for the Warriors to challenge Hilmar. New coach Scott Felber is still learning his roster, and has proven players in G Candice Caetano and F Ryan Ramos.
Patterson (15-12): 6-1 Cassie Coble (10.7 ppg, 2.5 apg, 7.2 rpg) was one of the district's leading sophomores last year, and shot 38 percent from the 3-point arc. 5-7 junior G Amber Bond needs to provide scoring to make up for graduation losses.
Ripon Christian (16-12): Not too tall, yet not too short. 5-7 G Kayla Evans (6.4 ppg, 2.3 apg, 3.6 rpg) helped RC to the D-V quarters last year, and has talent around her in 5-7 forwards Raeline Witt, Kathryn VanGroningen and Kelsey Carvalho.
Turlock Christian (18-11): 5-8 G Erin Santiago (15.5 ppg, 3.6 apg) appears to be fully recovered from the broken elbow she suffered last February. TC is counting on 6-1 sophomore C Kaisa Spycher and 5-10 junior C Aubrey Larson to be tough inside.
-- RICHARD T. ESTRADA
Preseason All-Stanislaus district girls basketball
|G||Jennifer Hansen||Le Grand||5-6||Sr.|
|G||Brandi Henton||Mod. Chr.||5-8||Jr.|
|F||Taryn Garza||Mod. Chr.||5-10||Jr.|
|G||Porsha Grayson||Gold. Valley||5-6||Sr.|
|F||Rachel McDaniel||East Union||5-7||Sr.|
|G||Brooke Silva||Los Banos||5-11||Sr.|
|F||Sarah Spellenberg||Bret Harte||5-8||Sr.|
|...but don't forget these 10 girls|
|F||Lauren Lucchesi||Mod. Chr.||6-0||Sr.|
|G||Erin Santiago||Turlock Chr.||5-8||Sr.|
1. Is this the year Modesto Christian makes the state final? The Stanislaus District's top program under coach Robb Spencer, it has four starters back -- including potential Players of the Year Taryn Garza and Brandi Henton. A D-V final is about the only challenge remaining for MC.
2. How will Turlock's Rachel Finnegan, The Bee's Player of the Year as a junior, amaze us this season? The region's most versatile player, look for her scoring to increase.
3. Can Sonora recover from the loss of All-District underclass center Brittany Malone, who is out with a torn ACL?
4. Will the MMC be able to boost its power rating? Weak schedules and poor records limited it to one playoff team last season, and that was only because an "outbracket" game was created for champion Davis.
5. Will Finnegan repeat as the District's MVP, or might it be Henton, Garza, East Union's Rachel McDaniel, Le Grand's Jennifer Hansen or Golden Valley's Porsha Grayson?
6. Will large-school basketball rebound after a disappointing 2007-08 season? Sierra and Sonora were the only large-school teams to win a playoff game last season, and both lost in the quarterfinals.
7. Is the Valley Oak League be the District's most competitive league, with East Union, Sonora, Ceres, Manteca and Sierra expected to compete?
8. How important is experience? Enochs has one senior (Jessica Lejarzar), but the Eagles could finish the season in first place in the MMC.
9. How will Merced overcome the loss of Deja Mann, who will miss her second season in a row due to injury? The good news is Mann signed with Arizona State.
10. Who will be the District's first girl to dunk in a game and will we be lucky enough to get it on video?
-- RICHARD T. ESTRADA
It's been a while since last season ended, so here are five memorable moments from a year ago:
1. Modesto Christian makes a run to the Northern California Division-V semifinal before losing to Justin-Siena of Napa.
2. On the final night of the regular season, Pitman stuns rival Turlock 41-34, knocking the Bulldogs into a tie with Merced for the Central California Conference title.
3. Livingston beats Patterson in the final week for a second consecutive Western Athletic Conference title, a feat for a program that has had its ups and down over the years.
4. Turlock Christian's postseason hopes took a hit in the final weeks, when top scorer Erin Santiago broke her elbow. She's healthy this season.
5. Plenty of reason to look forward to the future, as four of the top six players on the The Bee's 2007-08 All-District team were underclassmen.