ALL-CENTRAL COAST SECTION
Player of the Year
IIMAR'I THOMAS, SACRED HEART CATHEDRAL
By SCOTT GIORGIANNI
In the Division III State Championship, Sacred Heart Cathedral junior IImar’I Thomas stepped up to the line for a pair of crucial free throws. Recalling similar situations she’s been in
before, she told herself she had to stay calm and knock them down. She did, ensuring a victory and capping a banner season for her and her team. For all her accomplishments this season,
Thomas is the Prep2Prep CCS Player of the Year.
Thomas’s numbers are more than sufficient to warrant the recognition: 23.3 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.1 blocks per game. But it was also the leadership on a young squad, the
ability to play multiple positions, and the never-say-die attitude which vaults her to the top.
“With her playing that way and not being selfish was big for our team,” Sacred Heart Cathedral coach LyRyan Russell said. “No matter what type of defense she faced she was able to
stay consistent all year long.”
In the past season, Thomas has improved on a few aspects of her game. She worked on dribbling “because this year I had to play a lot more at guard,” she says. “And leadership because we
lost four of our starters (to graduation).”
Thomas began playing basketball at a young age, inspired by her older sister who went on to play for St. Mary’s-Berkeley.
“From the moment I stepped on the court I had a love for the game,” Thomas says. “My passion grew year by year.”
She started playing AAU in fourth grade for a team that served as a pipeline to Sacred Heart Cathedral, and with Russell having coached Thomas in middle school, the choice of high school was a given.
Thomas was not intimidated about being the only underclassman on the 2013-14 roster; instead, she says, “A lot of people were trying to help me transition to playing high school basketball.”
From Ge’Anna Summers-Luaulu, a key player on the team, Thomas learned “when to step up.” Incidentally, Russell notes Thomas’s “knack of knowing when to take over.”
By this season, the student had become a teacher.
“I tried to pass on (the younger players) keeping their composure, not getting battled when we get into big moments,” Thomas says. The mentality of “when you lose it’s your last game” served the
Fightin’ Irish well right up to the final buzzer of that state championship game.
Russell called her “the ultimate team player,” one where “you could see the talent oozing out of her from year one to now.” He adds that “IImar’I has an old soul, a high IQ on and off the court.”
Thomas’s unusual first name in part follows her sister, who shares a capital I and an apostrophe at the end. The two I’s in the front serve as the roman numeral to indicate being the second
child. She credits her mother as a personal inspiration.
“She motivates me a lot, she’s my rock and keeps me going,” Thomas says.
IImar’I draws further inspiration from players such as Candace Parker and Maya Moore.
“Each year I tried to get better and better, not just a post player but be able to play any position,” says Thomas.
That versatility especially came in handy in 2015-16, as Sacred Heart Cathedral had to adjust to an almost entirely new starting lineup with young talent finding its way.
Russell acknowledges her leadership skills, points out her monster performance against Inderkum in the NorCal final (25 points and 18 rebounds), and says she “raised her game to another
level and left her imprints on every game” in the postseason.
Thomas already has offers from the University of Pacific and Eastern Washington and many more pending, especially now that she can show off that state title.
Coach of the Year
DOC SCHEPPLER, PINEWOOD
Doc Scheppler led Pinewood to another fantastic season featuring an upset of St. Mary's, the top team in the nation.
By HAROLD ABEND
He’s always been known as “Doc”, but Pinewood Coach Ernest “Doc” Scheppler isn’t really a doctor. He got the Doc moniker early on as a youth because his late father Ernest Scheppler Sr.
was an ophthalmologist, and the nickname has stuck.
He might not be a medical doctor; however, since he took over the Panthers helm in 1996, the pseudo doctor has orchestrated some surgical performances by his talented teams.
Scheppler has won six state championships and is the only Division V enrollment-level coach to ever be named Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year when his girls won a state title
in 2014. however his team’s greatest single-game performance hasn’t been in a state championship or even a Northern Regional title game, but in this year’s Northern Regional Open Division semifinals.
Because they met the criteria for the Open Division for the second straight season, Pinewood was one of two teams along with Archbishop Mitty chosen for the eight-team NorCal Open Division field.
Pinewood opened at home and won 50-45 against a very talented defending Division III state champion Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland. That got them a trip to Delta College in Stockton to
face a St. Mary’s-Stockton team that was standing at No. 1 in the nation in all the major rankings, and was already being talked about as the greatest team in California history.
No one gave Pinewood any kind of chance. How could a bunch of 3-point shooters with no girls over 5-10, and on a junior college court where they had to tape the 3-point line on the
floor, beat the top team in the land?
Many experts and analysts in the California girls basketball community, including admittedly losing coach Tom Gonsalves himself, are still trying to figure it out, but Pinewood
pulled it off after a 72-69 victory in what those same experts are calling the greatest upset in California girls basketball history.
As a result of the great overall season Pinewood enjoyed and the masterful coaching job he did against St. Mary’s, Scheppler has been named the Prep2Prep Central Coast Section Coach of the Year.
Not only is Scheppler an outstanding coach and a class act, he’s quite the character and comedian.
When informed he was being honored by Prep2Prep, he replied in his patented Howard Cosell-like voice, and dragged it out for humorous emphasis, just like he’s done when answering questions
at press conferences after his teams won state titles.
“What ... an ... HO-NOR. A true HO-NOR.”
After his comedic display, Scheppler became a little more serious.
“You guys at Prep2Prep have done a good job covering girls basketball and we appreciate that here at Pinewood and in the girls basketball community.”
Despite his winning, to Scheppler, who after a 24-6 record this season now has 554 career coaching wins in 21 years at Pinewood, it’s still all about the girls.
“I told all you media guys at the beginning of the season this was my best shooting team ever," he said.
To beat a team like St. Mary’s was going to take multiple factors, but the biggest one was how well they shot the ball. And fortunately Scheppler noticed something wrong with how they
had taped the 3-point line at Delta College.
“When we got to Delta College and walked on the floor, I noticed they didn’t have a high school 3-point line and had taped one, but it was taped above the key instead of through the top – and
that’s another 2-3 inches. I brought it to the folks at the college's attention and they looked at me like I was crazy, but eventually they cut out that portion and re-taped it.”
His girls then proceeded to hit a few tape-measure jobs and St. Mary’s was as cold as ice from outside the arc. Pinewood was 16-of-30 on 3-pointers (53 percent) and 10-of-22 (45 percent) on
its other shots. St. Mary’s did convert 22-of-40 (55 percent) on 2-pointers but could only muster 6-of-29 (21 percent) from 3-point land.
Junior Erin Poindexter Mc-Han was 6-of-9 on treys and finished with 22 points. Freshman Hannah Jump was 6-of-13 on 3-pointers and also had 22 points. Junior Akayla Hackson was 2-of-4 from
long range (12 points) and freshman Klara Astrom made both 3-pointers she launched and had 10 points.
Dancing in the aisles
“When we won that game people came out of the woodworks with congratulatory calls and texts,” Scheppler remarked. “It was amazing. Nobody could have foreseen it. I’ve been coaching 38 years
and I’ve never seen anything like it. Having played and watched sports my whole life I’ve never seen the joy like I saw on the faces of my girls on the bus ride home. Even my assistant
coaches were dancing in the aisles of the bus with the girls.”
Girls, boys and men
The 62-year old Scheppler actually started out coaching boys.
His varsity career started in 1988 at Capuchino before he left after three years for his alma mater Burlingame where he guided that team for four years.
When his daughter Kacey Scheppler (395 career three-pointers - the state record at that time) transferred to Pinewood in 1995, he took his trade to the girls side where he has remained
ever since while also teaching physical education at Pinewood.
In some respects, Scheppler still coaches the boys, or men, and is a shooting coach to one in particular, current Charlotte Hornets guard and member of the 2006 Palo Alto CIF Division II
state champions, Jeremy Lin. By and large, he is considered one of the best shooting coaches in California and is sought out for private lessons by both girls and boys.
Scheppler, a basketball and baseball player at Burlingame, and a member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame, was as one of the first coaches to bombard opponents with 3-pointers and
combine that with a pressing, smothering defense.
All his teams have been talented, and all have had their weaknesses, and this year’s team was no exception. Not only that, Scheppler lost one of his best players, sophomore Brianna
Claros after 16 games, role player Priya Sundaresan after six games and McHan was hampered by an ankle she hurt in the St. Mary’s win and was rendered ineffective in the season-ending
73-40 loss to Miramonte-Orinda in the NorCal Open title game.
For the season as a team the Panthers shot 34 percent outside the arc and made 301 three-point shots. They shot 49 percent from inside the arc and 67 percent from the free-throw line.
“Considering we had season-ending injuries to some key players, I’m really satisfied and proud of what these girls accomplished,” Scheppler said. “Even if we had those girls; to beat
St. Mary’s, wow. We got beat pretty good by Miramonte but that doesn’t diminish what these girls accomplished.”
Scheppler, who is married and also has a son and three grandchildren, is the fourth all-time winningest coach in the CIF Central Coast Section behind current St. Francis and
previous Sacred Heart Cathedral Coach Brain Harrigan (687 wins), former Menlo-Atherton Coach Pam Wimberly (662 wins) and current Mitty Coach Sue Phillips, who reached the 600-win plateau
this season and now has 610 career coaching wins.
No end in sight
With only losing Chloe Eackles to graduation is there any thought of the Doc considering retirement? His answer to that brought out the Howard Cosell routine one more time before he got serious again.
“OH NO ... NO ... NO ... NO. Give me another 20 years and they’ll need to get a wheelchair for me.”
“Seriously, I get extreme joy coaching and I love and enjoy my girls. There’s nothing at the end of the tunnel.”
Senior of the Year
UGOCHI ANUDOKEM, HOMESTEAD
Anudokem, the long and lean post player for the Mustangs, averaged 14.2 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals, and 2.2 blocks per game. Behind her performance, an otherwise-pedestrian team
swept the SCVAL-El Camino Division, finished with an overall 23-3 record, and lost narrowly to defending CCS Champion North Salinas in the Division I CCS quarterfinals. She had a
noticeable junior year as well, after playing in a scant six games and did little else besides pull down rebounds for a 8-16 (5-7 league) squad her first year on the team. Her efforts
this season powered the Mustangs to their best record perhaps ever (since ’04-05, their previous high was 15 wins).
Junior of the Year
SAM ERISMAN, MENLO SCHOOL
Sam Erisman led the Knights in scoring this season, at 17.1 points per game, adding a team-high 3.3 assists and 5.0 rebounds. Menlo went 8-2 in the WBAL-Foothill Division, losing only to
juggernaut Pinewood, and made it to the Division IV NorCal Championship game vs. Cardinal Newman. She had big games throughout the playoffs and supported seniors Hannah Paye
and Mackenzie Duffner in being a role model for nine underclassmen. After a solid sophomore season which included averages of 12.7 points, 3.5 assists, and 4.6 rebounds, Erisman made a
splash over the summer and played a key role in this season’s success from gate to gate.
Sophomore of the Year
KAYLA TAHAAFE, EASTSIDE COLLEGE PREP
This year, strong seasons by underclassmen were all over the CCS landscape, and perhaps no one better personifies this better than Kayla Tahaafe of the Division V State Champion Eastside College
Prep Panthers. Tahaafe had a strong freshman campaign on a senior-heavy team, so it was expected she’d be the team’s top scorer this year and she was, averaging 15.2 points a night. But perhaps
more importantly, she was a true leader on and off the court. She already has a scholarship offer on the table, from USF, and with a state medal on her resume and the poster child of a small
team of guards that defied odds in 2015-16, she’ll undoubtedly get many more next season.
Freshman of the Year
HALEY JONES, ARCHBISHOP MITTY
If you haven’t heard much of her yet, you will. Haley Jones is one of several talented youngsters on an Archbishop Mitty team that cruised to a CCS Open Division championship, an
undefeated run in the WCAL, and a 23-4 overall record. Jones averaged an even 10 points per game to go along with 6.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.4 blocks, and 1.3 steals. She converted a
ridiculous 61 percent of her field-goal attempts. Though Mitty’s state championship dream came to an abrupt end when it lost to Salesian in the opening round, Jones scored 15 points and
grabbed six boards in that game. Standing 6-0 and able to play both wing positions with ease, she will surely blossom under the stewardship of Coach Sue Phillips.
FIRST TEAM ALL-CCS
Nikiya Bechtle, Scotts Valley
Led the Falcons in points (18.7), assists (4.6), and steals (3.5). She shot 48 percent from the field including 43 percent from three-point land. She was named MVP of the SCCAL after
helping the Falcons to their third straight undefeated season in league play.
Madeline Holland, Archbishop Mitty
Mitty was overflowing with talent this season, and Holland topped the team in points (10.8), rebounds (8.9), and assists (3.9). Mercury News crowned her Player of the Year. No single player
had superstar numbers for the Monarchs, but they didn’t need to. Holland showed what it means to be a dominant player and a leader in just the right measures.
Kayla Tahaafe, Eastside College Prep
Tahaafe was Coach Donovan Blythe’s best example of what happens when a team full of guards and a short bench do extraordinary things. Averaging just over 15 points a game for the state
champion Panthers, she proved herself to be a well-rounded player who can be a force to reckoned with and also set up her teammates for success.
IImar’I Thomas, Sacred Heart Cathedral
Listing a position for Thomas is futile: you’ll find her crashing the boards with the biggest girls on the opposing team and cashing in put-backs, calling plays and finding teammates for
open looks, and mastering the mid-range game. Thomas averaged 23.3 points per game and put the team on her back in the postseason, right down to game-clinching free throws to assure a state
championship for the Fightin’ Irish.
SECOND TEAM ALL-CCS
Akayla Hackson, Pinewood
Pinewood thrives on an ambidextrous offensive system which continually finds Panthers for open shots, many from beyond the arc, and hustle defense. Few players embody that more than
Hackson, who checked in with 11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game, and assumed a leadership role on a team with only one senior.
Greer Hoyem, Menlo-Atherton
Despite a heavy upperclassmen presence, it was perhaps Greer more than any Bear who put a stamp on a remarkable season (12-0 in the PAL-South, 27-5 overall). And she had a huge game versus Heritage
to propel Menlo-Atherton into the CIF Division I NorCal Semi-finals.
THIRD TEAM ALL-CCS
Jordyn Enos, North Salinas
Enos was the engine behind another successful run by the Vikings, even though it didn’t end in a repeat CCS championship. Even though stats were only kept through early January, her
averages of 14.3 points, 5.1 assists, and 3.4 steals per game are reflective of the whole season.
Tahlia Garza, Archbishop Mitty
The numbers (10.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks) don’t tell the whole story; Garza was an integral part of a monster-talented team that had an unrelenting schedule. Garza made
the most of her opportunities on the floor, as evidenced by a very efficient 67 percent field-goal shooting.
Marisa Mondave, Piedmont Hills
A sparkling 41-point effort in part padded her 17.2 points per game average, but she also had 6.3 rebounds, 3.3 steals, and 2.6 assists a night. The transfer from St. Francis didn’t play a
full season, but made a big impact on a Pirates team that had lost several starters to graduation.
Heleyna Hill, Karisma Ortiz
Quinn Bernal, Holly Whitaker
EASTSIDE COLLEGE PREP:
HALF MOON BAY:
Ally Longaker, Addison Walling
Amy Gunther, Grace Smith
Aubrie Businger, Julia Gibbs
MONTE VISTA CHRISTIAN:
Nikki Morrell, Donatella MacLeod
Breanna Baldi, Aliyah Garrard
Lindsey Boyd, Peti Saulala
Alexis Harris, Lauren Koyama
Nandi Eskridge, Sala Langi, Ariana Margate
Brianna Claros, Hannah Jump, Erin Poindexter-McHan
SACRED HEART CATHEDRAL:
Rainah Smith, Errayanna Hatfield
SACRED HEART PREP:
Eleni Spirakis, Erin Norris
Sam Boyle, Grace Gigeiere, Devon O’Brien
Madison Hotchkiss, Leilani Augmon, Alexis Flores
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO:
Brittney Cedeno, Jerlene Miller
Jenesis Merriman, Paige Uyehara
ST. FRANCIS CCC:
Kyanna Davis, Emily Ellingson
Melanie Broback, Rainna Sena, Emina Zeric
Kelsey Liang, Sabrina Tan
Ila Lane, Tatiana Reese