PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Region teams carry league title hopes into season

Reedley and Immanuel in opposite divisions of revamped Tri-County Conference, school record-holder Sheaffer leads Sanger’s bid for County Metro supremacy

Senior Emily Pallesi is one of Reedley High’s veteran players back from last year’s Central Section Division V championship team. The Pirates are off to a 6-3 start including wins over Fowler and Madera. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published December 1, 2023  • 
11:00 am

REEDLEY – The 2023-2024 girls prep basketball season for Mid Valley Times-area teams includes a variety of potential scenarios affecting league prospects and postseason placements.

Because of a promotion and relegation policy in the Tri-County Conference, neighboring city schools Reedley High and Immanuel High find themselves in opposite divisions and won’t meet in TCC play. But both teams are coming off memorable seasons last year; the Division IV-based Pirates having made a run to the Central Section D-V championship and the Eagles reaching the semifinal round after moving up to the D-4 playoff bracket.

Sanger High finished third in the County Metro Athletic Conference race last year, and the Apaches (4-4) will try to challenge the top teams this season behind senior star Krista Sheaffe. On Nov. 30, the versatile 6-foot-2 senior forward player eclipsed the school’s career scoring record when she scored her 1,549th point in a non-league loss at Redwood High.

Among other area schools, Dinuba High will try to improve on a .500 season in the West Yosemite League while Sanger West expects to improve on its winless record in the North Yosemite League. Sequoia Division level teams Orange Cove, Orosi and Parlier all will try to improve on non-league records when their league seasons begin.

A brief look at each conference for 2023-24:.

Tri-County Conference

Reedley (6-3) remains in the Tri-County Sequoia Division but now is partnered with Selma (4-2), as Immanuel (1-1) was promoted to the Kings Canyon Division. The Pirates still have formidable division competition in Exeter (4-3), Central Valley Christian (2-1), Selma and Washington Union (2-1).

Reedley has a strong core of players from last year’s section champion team in seniors Raquel Cortez, Emily Pallesi and Ana Drolette along with junior sharpshooter Niana Holman. The Pirates already have scored wins over Fowler and Madera, and recently competed on the Central Coast at the Santa Maria tournament.

Immanuel’s new placement in the TCC Kings Canyon Division has the Eagles paired with Hanford schools Sierra Pacific (1-5) and Hanford West (2-5), Kerman (2-1) and Kingsburg (1-4). Returning all-TCC guard Sid Azua comes off an offseason fracture below her right knee, and the retooled squad also will rely on guards Elizabeth (Liz) Davila and Jenna Goertzen along with post player Ava Schletewitz.

County Metro Athletic Conference

Sanger’s success rides on the potent production of Sheaffer, who scored 35 points against Redwood to surpass 30 points in seven consecutive games. That includes a 44-point outburst against Parlier on Nov. 21; and her scoring on Nov. 30 gives her 1,576 points; surpassing the previous school record held by Jezzel Quintana.

San Joaquin Memorial won last year’s CMAC title with an unbeaten record before losing  in the Division II section finals; and Bullard tied the Apaches for second place.

West Yosemite League

Dinuba (2-3) picked up a road victory at Hanford West on Nov. 30, getting strong performances from junior point guard Jalissa Espirito and Rylee Schoonover. The Emperors also had some success from outside of the three-point arc.

Key seniors on this year’s team are Bella Olvera, Katie Olvera and team captain Melanie Sustaita. Mission Oak edged out Hanford for the WYL title last season, and is off to a 4-0 start this year with four double-digit wins.

North Yosemite League

Sanger West already has made strides from last year’s inaugural 3-25 varsity campaign, winning two of its seven non-league contests this season including a two-point loss at Fowler on Nov. 30. That came just two nights after the Redcats dropped a one-point decision at Reedley.

The Hornets, who have defeated Stockdale and Orange Cove this fall, have been led in scoring by sophomores Soha Khan and Shelby Castaneda. Defending NYL champion Roosevelt is off to a 2-4 start against tough tournament competition, while Torres High has the best pre-league record at 5-3.

Sequoia Leagues

In the East Sequoia League, both Orange Cove (0-3) and Orosi (0-4) are struggling early as they prepare for the ESL-Redwood Division season. The Titans have a close loss at Riverdale and lopsided setbacks to Sanger West and unbeaten Division 4 power Coalinga. The Cardinals, meanwhile, also have lost to the Horned Toads and have single-digit setbacks to Santa Maria and Mt. Whitney.

Parlier (2-5) will try to contend for the middle or upper half of the 10-school Northwest Sequoia League, and has posted wins over Woodlake and Farmersville. The Panthers were on pace for a road upset at Kingsburg on Nov. 30, but were outscored by 10 points in the final quarter and lost, 40-35.

Jon Earnest