I took some time to run down the various boys basketball leagues around Kern County yesterday, and we're going to do the same thing with girls basketball today. I'll try to do this again later in the league season with a more playoff-centric view, i.e., where teams can expect to be seeded in the Central Section playoffs and what their chances of a run to the finals at Selland Arena on March 7-8 are.
But for now, let's keep it local.
It's rare that the best girls basketball team in Kern County is not Stockdale, but that is most certainly the case this year. The Mustangs are dealing with a lot of turnover with their roster and coaching staff, with Central Section legend Glenn Hager having stepped down (along with valuable co-coach Charles Stewart) after last season. That has opened the door in the Southwest Yosemite League for Centennial, Liberty and Independence, who appear to be the title contenders. The Golden Hawks own a nice win over Edison and could earn a top four seed in Division I if they take care of business in the league. They opened league play with a big win over Frontier, while Independence beat Stockdale and Liberty took out Bakersfield. None of the games were close. The first key game appears to come Wednesday, when Independence hosts Centennial.
The best team in town, without a doubt, is Garces. The Rams boast a dominant post player in sophomore C.J. West, and they back it up with shooters and ball-handlers all over the court around her. West had 26 points and 21 rebounds in a 55-31 victory over Liberty last week, and the Rams also own wins over Independence and a couple against Centennial from tournament play earlier in the season. Like Ridgeview did last year with Erica McCall, Garces seems poised to make some noise in the state tournament in Division II. Inasmuch as anyone can come close to the Rams in the Southeast Yosemite League, it would probably be Tehachapi, which owns wins over Bakersfield, Golden Valley and Frontier. But it would be a shock if Garces is even challenged in its final season in the SEYL.
Erica McCall is gone to Stanford, and Ridgeview's second-best player from a year ago, Candace Wilkerson, also isn't playing after tearing her ACL in the first tournament of the season (you've got to feel for Wilkerson, who was a college prospect but has played only one year out of three for Ridgeview after transferring from Garces). But Zarreah Brown and Alexis Kemp have improved, coach Michael Martin continues to get the most out of his charges, and the Wolf Pack is 9-8 against a very tough early schedule, including wins against Buchanan, Frontier, Stockdale, Independence and Liberty. The Wolf Pack are big favorites in the SYL, though it's Ridgeview that will play the underdog role in the D-II playoffs after reaching the title game in all four of McCall's seasons (and winning three).
It appears to be a three-way race in the South Sequoia League, with Shafter (4-0) a leg up on Chavez and Arvin (both 3-1) in the early-going. But the Generals, under new coach Shawn Pennel, haven't played the Titans or the Bears yet (Shafter hosts Chavez tonight). Arvin beat Chavez on Wednesday but earlier dumped a home game against Taft. So that league race is a mess and will likely go down to the final week.
Among other county schools, it's also worth mentioning McFarland, which has defeated Arvin, and Kern Valley, which has defeated several Bakersfield teams in its 12-5 start. The Cougars and Broncs have split two meetings.