The 2019 Oakland Tech players and coaches were all smiles in the post game press conference after the Bulldogs won the CIF Division IV title. Unfortunately, they will not get a chance to win two straight state championships
Harold Abend/Prep2Prep

State basketball championship cancellation affected more than just the state’s top girls teams

March 17, 2020

Of course the banter on social media after the state CIF announced the cancellation of the state basketball championships, was about the Open Division and Cal-Hi Sports No. 1 La Jolla Country Day and No. 2 Archbishop Mitty-San Jose not getting a chance to slug it out on the hardwood to decide who would be the state’s top team.

The Division I title tilt between Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland and Rosary-Fullerton got almost as much action on Twitter and in stories by major local and statewide media outlets, including a feature we did on Prep2Prep, but after that it’s almost as if the other five divisions disappeared into an abyss.

Some of the other teams had a rich tradition in the CIF state playoffs and some had no experience at the big dance, but we’re going to give a shout out to the other girls that were just as disappointed as the state’s top teams when they got the news that the season was over and there would be no trip to the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

Division II

Oakland Tech-Oakland (26-8) and Palisades-Pacific Palisades (26-9)

For the second-straight season the Oakland Tech girls had to sweat it out as to whether their season would end, and unlike last year when the Oakland teacher’s strike threatened to bring their season to a conclusion but didn’t, the Coronavirus has and denied Coach Leroy Hurt and his Bulldogs girls an opportunity to win back-to-back state championships and a fourth in school history.

“Surreal,” said Hurt about how the season ended. “To play for back to back state titles is just amazing. We, the Tech family, feel empty. Like we know we didn’t win, but that we lost in a way, but we didn’t, so mixed emotions.”

“Definitely safety first so we understood but didn’t like it,” continued Hurt. “What an opportunity for the team and coaching staff that couldn’t be.”

Last year Oakland Tech came from the No. 4 seed in the Northern Regional to beat Nevada Union-Grass Valley 67-51, next they slid past Redwood 44-42, then in the NorCal title game they won convincingly, 62-47 over top seeded Silver Creek-San Jose. Finally in the CIF state Division IV state championship they hammered Southern Regional top-seeded Northview-Covina, 55-27 to win state championship No. 3 for Tech.

The Bulldogs first two state titles were in Division I and in came in back-to-back wins in 2004 and 2005, 58-54 over San Diego and 64-63 over Canyon Springs-Moreno Valley, respectively.

Those first two state championship teams were led by the dynamic duo of Alexis Gray-Lawson and Devanei Hampton, and both went on to play at Cal and then professionally, but that was then and this is now.

This past season’s Bulldogs team was a heavy favorite to win the CIF Oakland Section championship so Hurt scheduled tough knowing they would be moved up from D4 for the CIF state playoffs. All eight of their losses were either to state-ranked teams, league and/or section champions, and all won 20 or more games. Their wins included a very solid Antelope, CIF North Coast Section runner-up San Leandro, and their 34-point win against St. Ignatius had some shaking their heads.

Hurt lost last season’s leading scorer to graduation, but Tiffany Siu was the only major contributor to graduate. This year’s team had seven players average at least 6.0 points per game, including three freshmen.

Stephanie Okowi, a 6-0 senior forward, led the team in scoring and rebounding with per game averages of 12.8 and 9.8, respectively. Okowi was second on the team last year in scoring and made a name for herself in the state title-game win over Northview when she had a double-double 16 points and 24 rebounds, which was a D4 state championship game record and one rebound behind the mark for any division in a state championship game.

After going 10-0 to win the Oakland Athletic League with a 10-0 record with the closest game a 65-45 win over last year’s champion and reigning CIF Division III state champion and arch rival Oakland, the Bulldogs won the Oakland Section championships after a running clock win over Skyline and a 68-45 victory over Oakland in the title game with Okowi going for 16 points as did freshman Erin Sellers.

When the CIF placed Oakland Tech in the Northern Regional playoffs they moved the Bulldogs up to Division II, but despite moving up two divisions from last season they were still made the No. 1 seed.

Hurt and his girls literally put the Hurt on a second West Catholic Athletic League opponent when they opened with a 49-18 victory over St. Francis-Mountain View. From there they got a scare from No. 8 seed American-Fremont but escaped with a 61-60 victory behind a double-double 16 points and 10 rebounds by Okowi, 15 points from senior Nalayah Carminer, and a double-double 10 points and 10 rebounds by junior Rakyha Reid.

Next up was the NorCal semifinal against a San Joaquin Memorial-Fresno team Tech beat 54-53 at the West Coast Jamboree, and this time it was close again with the Bulldogs coming away with a 68-64 victory behind another double-double by Reid who had 16 points and 12 rebounds. Carminer added 14 points, 6-2 freshman Sophia Askew-Goncalves had 12 points and Okowi added eight points and nine rebounds.

The NorCal title game was against a very solid Clovis team and many expected a closer game but the girls from the CIF Central Section had no answer for Okowi inside after she went for 28 points (14-of-18 from the field) and 17 rebounds, and freshman Mari Somvichian added 11 points in a 57-41 victory.

Pacific Palisades was supposed to be the Bulldogs opponent in the state championship and the Dolphins were looking to return to the state championships for only the second time after a heartbreaking 49-49 loss to Archbishop Mitty in the 1999 Division II title game.

Head coach Adam Levine and his Dolphins girls won the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division title with a 60-44 victory over Hamilton. From there they were made the No. 2 seed in the Division II CIF state Southern Regional.

Pacific Palisades opened with a 1-point win over Mission Hills-San Marcos, then took out Crean Lutheran-Irvine, next was a 60-55 winner over Mater Dei Catholic-Chula Vista, and finally in the SoCal title game against fourth-seeded and neighboring Santa Monica, the Dolphins won 51-36 after pulling away in the fourth quarter behind 12 points apiece from junior Sammie Arnold and sophomore Demoni Lagway.

A trip to Sacramento was next to meet Oakland Tech but Levine had to break the same news to his girls as Hurt had to do with the Tech girls.

“The girls really wanted to play that game and they’re really disappointed at the terrible way the season ended,” Hurt said. “To end with a cancellation was tough on them.”

Division III

St. Mary’s-Berkeley (27-7) and Paloma Valley-Menifee (34-3)

After winning the CIF North Coast Section Division 4 championship St. Mary’s was the No. 2 seed in the CIF Division II NorCals. They defeated Leland-San Jose, Vanden-Fairfield, Los Gatos, and then beat Woodside 69-58 in the NorCal title game.

The Panthers were looking at a third trip to the CIF state championships and a first win after losing in back-to-back trips to the Division IV title game in 2010-2011 when they lost to Harvard-Westlake-Studio City and Windward-Los Angeles.

For Paloma Valley, after winning the CIF Southern Section 4AA title the Wildcats were scheduled to be in the school’s first-ever CIF state championship for either boys or girls, and had they won could have ended with 35 wins.

The 34 wins is still one of the top marks in state history and while the Wildcats were denied an opportunity to win a state championship the 34 victories earns Coach Matt Dale and his girls a spot on the Most Wins (Season) list in the Cal-Hi Sports record book.

Division IV

Sierra Pacific-Hanford (29-7) and Lancaster (24-8)

Despite winning the CIF Division V state championship two years ago the Golden Bears were only made the No. 11 seed in the Division IV when they were sent to the Northern Regional based on a 60-58 championship game defeat as the No. 1 seed to third-seeded Caruthers in the CIF Central Section Division 4 playoffs.

Most analysts thought the seeding was a little low, particularly after Sierra Pacific had two wins during the season over No. 3 seed cross-town Hanford. It meant Coach Amy Bush and her girls had to go on the road.

First they had a 10-point win over Notre Dame-Salinas, next was Hanford where they had won 79-58 in mid-February, and the Golden Bears were a 72-63 winner. Argonaut was their NorCal semifinal opponent and they soundly beat the hosts, 62-42. For the championship Sierra Canyon went to top-seeded Colfax where they came home a 52-39 winner.

After losing in the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA semifinals to a Santa Monica team that made it to the D2 regional finals, the Eagles were given the top seed for the Division IV Southern Regional. They took advantage of it with an impressive run to a regional title that culminated in a 46-36 victory over Ontario Christian in a game where they held the state’s leading scorer Chloe Briggs to 10 points. Sophomore Mea Madison led the Eagles with 20 points.

Lancaster was denied an opportunity to play for its first state championship in the 26-year history of the school.

Division V

Branson-Ross (26-9) and East Bakersfield (23-9)

The disappointment runs just as deep for teams in Division V as it does in Open through Division IV.

Branson was made the No. 2 seed in the Division V NorCals and after bouncing back from a loss in the NCS D5 final to Cloverdale, Branson went on the road to knock off top seed West Valley-Cottonwood 57-48 in the regional final. Freshman Hannah Golan led the way with 24 points.

Branson was looking to go to 3-0 in the CIF state championships after winning back-to-back Division V state titles in 2007 and 2008 behind the Bilney twins, Rachael and Samantha.

East Bakersfield was only made the No. 4 seed in the Southern Regional Division V playoffs after the No. 2 seed beat top-seeded Strathmore, 43-39 in the CIF Central Section Division 5 title game. After defeating Calvary Chapel-Santa Ana, Rubidoux-Riverside, San Jacinto Academy-San Jacinto, and then Madison-San Diego, 56-42 in the SoCal D5 title game, the Blades were scheduled to play in their first ever CIF state championship.

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