One year ago, the Pinewood girls were 14-1 in their first 15 basketball games. The Panthers eventually improved to 24-1 and wrapped up a 30-3 season by winning the CIF Division V state championship.
This year, Pinewood is 13-2 after its first 15 games. The Panthers, however, may be a better team than a season ago.
"We have a lot of good wins under our belt -- Lakewood (No. 7 in Colorado), South Medford (No. 1 in Oregon), Sacred Heart Cathedral, Eastside (Prep), McClatchy, and now Carondelet (No. 8 in California)," said Pinewood coach Doc Scheppler. "We've had a very challenging preseason set of games!"
Pinewood's 69-55 nonleague win over Carondelet on Saturday in the Corner Bakery Showdown in Lafayette was just another example of how deep and talented the Panthers are this season. Seven players scored, with senior Gabi Bade having her best game of the season with 22 points after getting her season off to a slow start.
"Gabi was out with a stress reaction in her foot in December and was sick for a couple of league games," Scheppler said. "By far her best game this year. It takes awhile to get game acclimated, skillfully, condition-wise. We're looking for more great games from her and, a level of consistency in her play."
Pinewood enters this week atop the West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) standings at 5-0. The Panthers should cruise in road games against Castilleja (Tuesday) and Notre Dame-San Jose (Friday) before visiting second-place place Eastside Prep (3-1, 13-3) on Feb. 3 with first place at stake.
The combination of Pinewood's tough schedule and seven-game win streak has the Panthers among the nation's best this week. MaxPreps.com has Pinewood No. 10 in the nation, No. 7 in the state and No. 1 in California among Division V teams.
The nation's top team is Mater Dei of Santa Ana (17-1), which features Katie Lou Samuelson, younger sister of Stanford's Bonnie and Karlie.
Among Northern California teams, Pinewood trails only St. Ignatius (No. 4 in the nation), No. 6 Miramonte and No. 7 St. Mary's (Stockton). The Panthers' only losses were to SI and Miramonte.
"Rankings really don't matter to me," said Scheppler. "It's all opinion-based. We are a really good team that still has to make another giant step to be considered great and, anything comparable to other teams.
"Our defense has been poor in the last two weeks, but, we'll get back to work on the specific things we need to be great."
With Bade getting back to full health, Scheppler has -- arguably -- his deepest team ever. His roster numbers 14 with 11 players generally seeing action. Scheppler has five seniors, with only two of them (Marissa Hing and Bade) starting while seniors Monique McDevitt and Nia Craig have been solid.
The Panthers are so deep that Scheppler can put a different starting lineup out for just about any game.
"We've had 10 different starters this year!" said Scheppler. "Really a fluid situation . . . That's an example of how deep we are. Marissa is only girl to start all games."
The postseason should be an interesting one again for Pinewood, which competed in the Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs last year. The Panthers wound up third, dropped to Division V for NorCals and won that before heading to the state finals and taking that, as well.
Pinewood most likely will be headed back to the Open Division again, despite being a near-lock for the CCS Division V crown. Scheppler, however, likes to be tested by the best.
The Open Division this season likely will include St. Ignatius, giving Pinewood a chance to avenge its semifinal loss in the La Jolla Country Day Tournament on Dec. 12.
The Palo Alto girls are also enjoying a hugely successful season and are off to a 15-2 start. The Vikings are ranked No. 4 in the CCS by MaxPreps.com, trailing only SI, Pinewood and Mitty and should contend for the CCS Division I crown this season -- perhaps with Menlo-Atherton (13-5).
Paly sits atop the SCVAL De Anza Division standings at 5-0 and has games this week at Los Gatos (3-2) and home against Wilcox (0-5). Second-place Mountain View (5-1) seems to be the only team with a shot at upending the Vikings.
Menlo-Atherton shares the PAL South Division lead with Hillsdale, both at 5-1. The race, however, is tight with Capuchino, Burlingame and Mills all at 4-2. The Bears have games against San Mateo and Carlmont this week before facing Hillsdale on the road on Feb. 4.
For the boys, Sacred Heart Prep remains atop the WBAL standings at 6-0 (14-2 overall) while Pinewood (5-1 11-3) and Menlo School (5-1, 11-4) are tied for second. That logjam will be broken on Tuesday when the Panthers host the Knights at 6:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, Palo Alto (4-1, 13-3) is now tied for first in the SCVAL De Anza Division with Fremont after being upended by Homestead last Friday. The Vikings and Firebirds will meet in the final game of the regular season next month.