Sports

Mission Hills, San Marcos, LCC figure as title threats in Avocado West girls basketball

When the 2018-19 girls’ high school basketball season began in late November, it was easy to draw a line right through the middle of the six-team Avocado West lineup that separated the title contenders from the longshots. League newcomers Mission Hills and San Marcos, both regulars among the county’s upper echelon, and defending champion La Costa Canyon comprised the top group.

But after a month and a half activity, the three teams with the best non-league records are Canyon Crest (13-5), Torrey Pines (12-5) and Carlsbad (12-6). Records can certainly be deceiving and while nobody is going to be discounting the firepower of the top three choices, it also appears that overlooking the above-mentioned trio would be doing so at one’s own risk.

Mission Hills and San Marcos have both played rigorous schedules, hooking up with some of the state’s best teams, and first-year coach Caitlin Eichlin has upgraded La Costa Canyon’s as well. The former pair have suffered significant injuries which could alter the balance a bit, particularly at San Marcos where all-around senior star Sarah Cloutier is out for the season with an ACL injury. But, all told, sticking with that threesome remains the safe path.

CCA senior
Canyon Crest senior Andrea Behar. Ken Grosse

Canyon Crest, sailing along at its league best 13-5, would likely qualify as the season’s biggest surprise to date, but expectations should be tempered based on a schedule that has not matched the Ravens up against many highly-regarded foes.

After scuffling badly in the early going, Torrey Pines (12-5) has started finding its stride and won seven of its last eight heading into Avocado West play. Like Canyon Crest, they will be swimming in a little tougher waters against league foes, but are showing that they will put up a fight.

Feisty, well-coached Carlsbad may be too short on experience to consistently play at the level required to win the Avocado West but when hitting shots, the Ari Pagan-led Lancers can be a threat against anyone.

With the league schedule tipping off Wednesday, here’s what the Avocado West coaches are saying:

Chris Kroesch (Mission Hills/6-8) – “We played Clovis West, the No. 12 (MaxPreps) team in the state last week. We lost by 20 but I thought we showed a lot of resolve and toughness. We’ve been battle-tested by our schedule and I think we’re ready to make a run for the league—we’ve been in every situation.

“We’ve had some injuries to work around and with our five-in, five-out style that’s affected our depth a little bit but the less experienced girls are getting more playing time and growing into their roles. I don’t think you can ever count us out, we’ll always fight back. Our girls want to win and are accustomed to winning.”

Caitlin Eichlin (La Costa Canyon/7-8) – “We have seven new players so I knew there would be some growing pains but they’ve come together quickly which is good. Our freshmen and bench players have been more valuable than I thought and I’ve found this team really likes to press and trap full court.

“We’ve played a more challenging schedule than in past years and this team still needs to learn how to bounce back faster from a loss. They have started understanding that sometimes losses to talented teams are OK if they’re making us better. I’m excited to see how our pre-season will help our competitiveness in the Avocado West.”

Donna Huhn (Carlsbad/12-6) – “I’ve learned that my young kids will step up when we need a big bucket. I knew they could but I didn’t know, in that kind of scenario, if they would. I said earlier that our depth is going to come and you can see it developing now.

“On the other hand, we have a super young backcourt that’s going to need to get better at facing the type of pressure they’ll see in the Avocado West. We’ve just got to believe in our strengths and play the way we’re capable of playing.”

Scott Tucker (Canyon Crest/13-5) – “We were young last year, so I thought we’d improve because one year makes a lot of difference at this level—but I’ve been surprised at how much we’ve improved.

“Our scoring average per game is 51.1 points, which believe-it-or-not, might be the highest in my time at CCA. We’ve balanced our scoring production out with Andrea Behar, Renza Milken and Tehila Cherry all in double figure territory per game.”

David McClurg (Torrey Pines/12-5) – “I feel really good about the fact that we’ve started to have different girls step up every night. Last week at the Sweetwater tournament, we had a couple of good examples with Izzy Ascencio scoring 29 points one night and sophomore Rory Hetrick coming off the bench to score 16 in another.

“I also think we’ve finally bought into playing good defense. We’re creating turnovers, getting to 50-50 balls and turning those into easy baskets on the other end. A month ago, we weren’t getting any easy baskets.”

Roger DiCarlo (San Marcos/9-7) – “Losing Sarah is major (the Knights lost six in a row vs. a string of state-caliber teams since her injury). She’s our engine and when she’s on the court, we drive like a Ferrari. Without her we’re more like a Pinto but we’ve got still got a lot of talented players and a stud in Ashley Bernales. We lose some depth and our margin of error is now quite a bit less.

“We’re in the process of adjusting to changing roles up-and-down the lineup. I know it takes time and how we are at overcoming adversity will be the key to our success in the Avocado West. We’re learning.”

FIRST WEEK AVOCADO WEST GIRLS’ BASKETBALL SCHEDULE (all games start at 5:30 PM)

Wednesday, Jan. 9

San Marcos @ Canyon Crest

La Costa Canyon @ Mission Hills

Carlsbad @ Torrey Pines

Friday, Jan. 11

Carlsbad @ San Marcos

Canyon Crest @ La Costa Canyon

Torrey Pines @ Mission Hills

LCC senior
Senior Carolina Sanchez of La Costa Canyon. Ken Grosse
Carlsbad sophomore
Carlsbad sophomore Kaylie Ronan. Ken Grosse
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