Things could be more interesting in WBAL girls basketball

Pinewood's Una Jovanovich (25) should be ready to play soon. Courtni Thompson (20) and Annika Decker (30) also return for Pinewood. Photo by Jenna Hickey.

It’s a new era for the Pinewood girls basketball team. Hannah Jump and Klara Astrom have both moved on to college at Stanford and Yale, respectively.

The Panthers went 103-17 the last four years. Previous Pinewood teams have had comparable four-year records, but the Jump/Astrom teams did it playing against Open Division opposition, against the best girls teams in the state.

Courtni Thompson
The Pinewood teams they played on made three Northern California Open Division championship game appearances and won two, the last two. As a result the current Pinewood team goes into the season as the two-time defending NorCal Open Division champion, a stunning achievement for the small school in Los Altos Hills.

The Menlo School girls team took a big step up last year by winning the state Division II championship. And everyone on that team returns. So Pinewood’s run of dominance on top of the West Bay Athletic League standings could be challenged this year.

“Menlo will be gunning for us,’’ Pinewood coach Doc Scheppler said.

There’s a wide gap to make up. Last year Pinewood won its two games with Menlo by scores of 75-36 and 74-47.

“They’re the team to shoot for,’’ Menlo coach John Paye said. “They always seem to replenish themselves with good players coming up.’’

Pinewood will indeed be counting on a number of new players this season, but Scheppler likes what he’s seen in practice.

“I don’t see a dropoff in athleticism,’’ Scheppler said. “We’ve got to shoot better.’’

There’s a question as to who will carry the scoring load with Jump and Astrom having departed. Annika Decker and Courtni Thompson are returning starters. They’ll be asked to look for their shots more than in the past, but as Scheppler put it, ‘’It hasn’t been easy, it’s not their natural personality type. Though I hate to make the comparison, it’s like Draymond Green being asked to score more because Steph and Klay are out.’’

Una Jovanovic started last season sharing point guard duties with Becker before suffering a torn ACL. She’s back now but not yet at full strength.

“She looks to score,’’ Scheppler said. “I don’t have to tell her to shoot.’’

Maia Garcia is a 6-foot-3 transfer from Santa Clara who provides an inside presence. She is eligible right away because she didn’t play basketball last year, instead concentrating on the high jump for the track and field team.

“She’s a willing learner and gives us someone to protect the rim,’’ Scheppler said.

Valentina Saric, a 6-foot sophomore, also provides some size along with a 3-point shooting touch. Two other transfers, Chance Bucher from Sacred Heart Prep and Gabrielle Harris from Homestead, will become eligible in January.

A couple of freshmen guards, Jade Ramirez and Chlea Facelo, are expected to contribute right away.

“They both have good skill sets, can handle the ball,’’ Scheppler said. “They are really good players who have been able to step into our team dynamics and contribute. We’ve got a slew of guards. They will be fun to watch, I think we’ll be a great basketball team, but there’s still a lot of room for growth.’’

For Menlo there are familiar names in key roles. Point guard Avery Lee led Menlo in scoring, assists and steals last year as a sophomore.

“She’s very even-tempered, the perfect mentality to be a point guard,’’ Paye said. ‘’Pass first, but she can also score.’’

Sharon Nejad, also a standout on the Menlo volleyball team, returns at center. She was the team’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder a year ago. Coco Layton came up big in the playoffs as a 3-point shooter on the wing.

Menlo has upgraded its schedule with non-league games against Mitty and Salesian.

“We’re working on getting defensive stops and boxing out bigger players,’’ Paye said Tuesday before heading off to practice.

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