SANTA ROSA, CA – Cardinal Newman girls basketball Coach Monica Mertle started the Cardinal Newman Classic in 2014, but although she’s had some very good teams, including a 2015-16 team that won a CIF Division IV state championship, and teams that for the past three years have been placed in either the Open Division or Division I of the state CIF playoffs, they had never actually won their own tournament.
Newman was the runner up the first three years and then in 2017 they were declared a co-champion but due to the Tubbs Fire there was no championship game.
That all changed last Saturday when the preseason Cal-Hi Sports No. 14 ranked Cardinals (5-0) posted a 55-42 victory over preseason No. 35 San Ramon Valley-Danville to capture the Sixth Annual Cardinal Newman Classic.
Anya Choice, a flashy 5-8 UC Santa Barbara-signed senior guard was an easy choice as the MVP of the tournament after she went for over 20 points in all three games. Against San Ramon Valley Choice recorded a double-double 26 points and 12 rebounds with two assists and a steal.
Junior guard Aysia Dural looks improved again this season and had 11 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots. Senior guard Emma Nordby added seven points and five rebounds with two assists.
San Ramon Valley (4-1) was led by sophomore Sadie Carter with 13 points. Sophomore Seren Nebres and senior star Paige Gerhart added nine and eight points, respectively.
The best game of the tournament was the semifinal between Newman and Sacred Heart Cathedral-San Francisco where the Fighting Irish gave the Cardinals all they could handle before Newman prevailed 49-45.
The hosts came out ice cold and didn’t make their first basket until 1:48 was left in the first quarter but Mertle made some adjustments and Newman bolted to a 27-18 lead at the half, however they couldn’t put the Irish away and it was 39-35 after three quarters and the five point lead ended up as the final margin.
Choice had 26 points and four assists. Mariah Harris, a junior guard that had to move after the Tubbs Fire two years ago and is now back and playing well, finished with 10 points, and 6-2 senior post and Point Loma Nazarene-signed Liz Chambers, who enrolled at Newman after Rincon Valley Christian-Santa Rosa closed after the last school year, snagged 10 rebounds.
Sacred Heart Cathedral (2-1) got 14 points from Carmela Marquez and 13 points from Nya Epps.
In the first game of the tournament the Cardinals had little trouble with Pinole Valley-Pinole. Choice had 24 points, five assists and four steal in limited time. Chambers added nine points and five rebounds and senior guards Emma Nordby and Christina Bacci each added nine points with Nordby grabbing five rebound with three assists.
Besides Choice being named the tourney MVP two other Newman girls, Dural and Nordby were selected All Tournament.
The All Tournament selections for San Ramon Valley were Carter, Gerhart and senior Anne Marie Santich.
The 5-0 start for Newman is a solid way to begin the season with the addition of Chambers and the return of Harris with the team starting to gel with the new faces.
“I feel really good about where we’re at right now,” Mertle remarked. “”We’ve had some success against tough competition to start the season but the best part is we still have a lot of room to grow and haven’t even come close to reaching our maximum potential.”
“I think our versatility is our biggest strength,” Mertle continued. “The addition of Liz and the return of Mariah has given us a huge boost around the basket. Right now our goal is to face as many quality opponents and different styles of play as we can. The more experience we have together and the more we are challenged the better we will become.”
Next up for Mertle and her girls is a game against American Canyon and then they play in the Paris Twins Classic at Piedmont. In two weeks the Cardinals will play in the Platinum Division of the West Coast Jamboree where they open with defending state CIF Open Division champions and preseason Cal-Hi Sports No. 1 Sierra Canyon-Chatsworth.