Girls Basketball Sensations Rule The Courts

Rita Fiorenza of San Pedro High (left) and Angela Wade of Port of Los Angeles High School (photos by Jamaal K. Street).

San Pedro High’s Rita Fiorenza & POLA High’s Angela Wade are focal points for promising 2013-14 seasons, which includes a rare December showdown.

Fiorenza, a junior guard, and Wade, a senior forward, bring a lot of great intangibles to the forefront and have been tearing up the nets from the outset with their amazing talent of putting the ball in the hoop. These two young athletes have led their respective schools to the CIF-Los Angeles City Section playoffs (San Pedro in Division I, POLA in Division V) in each of the past two seasons.

San Pedro’s first home game for the 2013-14 season is against the Polar Bears, setting the stage for what could be an epic scoring battle if Fiorenza and Wade both have their way. It’s the closest thing San Pedro may have to a Diana Taurasi vs. Tamika Catchings WNBA-type duel.

Fiorenza, who began her basketball playing days at the tender age of nine, came to San Pedro for the 2011-12 season as a freshman. The team was coming off a dreadful 2010-11 season that saw the Pirates win only once in 21 games, losing all 12 of their Marine League contests in lopsided fashion. Since then, she has given the rest of the league reason to think twice about San Pedro being a pushover.

The Pirates still had some problems dealing with well-known powers Narbonne and Carson, but pulled a giant upset over another, defeating Washington Prep for the first time in 20 years. Fiorenza, who averaged 12.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.5 assists, would help take San Pedro to the CIF-LACS Division I playoffs and garner All-Marine League first team honors.

For Fiorenza, there was one moment in her rookie season at San Pedro that stood out the most. “My most memorable game was against Elizabeth Learning Center,” said Fiorenza.

Sure enough, it was her home debut against the Bulldogs. With San Pedro trailing 42-40, only eight seconds remained in the game, and no one knew who was going to be the one to come up with the clutch moment. So Fiorenza took the inbound pass after it slightly went over her right shoulder, and darted to the basket, making a move to slightly avoid a Bulldog defender who didn’t want to draw a charging foul, double clutching a layup in mid-air that softly banked off the backboard and into the basket as time expired.

The crowd inside San Pedro’s gym went bonkers, and Fiorenza was elated and excited and her teammates were electrified. San Pedro eventually lost, 52-48 in overtime despite Fiorenza’s 18 points and signature moment.

“All I was thinking before I got back in the game was that I can do this. I believe in myself, and whatever I do, just get to the hole,” recalled Fiorenza.

There was no sophomore slump for Fiorenza last season, as she started off hot by scoring 26 points against University of Los Angeles, and then 23 in the rematch with Elizabeth Learning Center, which the Pirates dominated with a 72-49 road victory. She missed a couple of key games in the Marine League with an illness that slowed her down a bit. Despite that, San Pedro still made the playoffs again even with just three league wins.

Fiorenza has high hopes for her junior season, both individually and team-wise. “My main goal for me would be to try and be an overall better player and increase my scoring average,” she said. “And my goal as a team would be to do the best in leading my team and making sure we all play together well.”

Meanwhile, Wade is a pure sharpshooter for POLA who can adapt to any style, and the four-year veteran who’s been playing the sport since sixth grade is looking for more for herself and for her team. The Polar Bears look to build off last year’s CIF-LACS Division V semifinal appearance where they lost to Crosstown League rival Animo South Los Angeles for the third time in 2012-13.

“Getting to the semifinals was most memorable because even though we lost, we as a team did our best and fought hard till the end,” said Wade, who averaged 16.7 points, leading all scorers for all of the San Pedro-based high schools.

Friday, December 14, 2012, was a historic day for both Wade and the Polar Bears. Against New Millennium of Carson, Wade lit up the Victoria Park gymnasium like a Christmas tree, scoring 30 points to become the first POLA High basketball player – male or female – to put up a 30-point outing during the Polar Bears’ 69-46 victory. Even with that kind of individual brilliance, Wade was still humble, a lost trait in a lot of young athletes, and was a little surprised by her remarkable achievement.

“I was really shocked and amazed because I never really pay attention to my stats, but it doesn’t matter how much I score,” said Wade. “It’s all about the team and how much we scored together as a team, but the feeling was amazing. I was really proud of myself, but also thankful for a team that helped me get those points. Without them, I couldn’t have scored those points.”

Wade helped POLA post a 19-7 mark and a second place tie in the Crosstown League with a 7-3 record, along with two CIF-LACS Division V playoff victories over De La Hoya Animo of Los Angeles and Sherman Oaks CES, garnering an All-City Division V first team selection.

“Individually, I just want to help my team out as much as I can before I leave,” said Wade, explaining her goals for the 2013-14 season. “As a team, I want to have everyone work together and have a chemistry that will hopefully take us all the way to the championships.”

Fiorenza and Wade both carry at least a 3.0 GPA at their schools, with Fiorenza boasting a solid 3.5.

These two magnificent scoring wonders will have a chance to make a massive statement on December 9, when POLA visits San Pedro for their inaugural crosstown battle and overall bragging rights for their schools. It’s a game that can also bring this close-knit community together because you don’t see this kind of prep showdown very often these days.

Wade and Fiorenza are both looking forward to this latest challenge for different reasons. “To me, it feels just like another game,” said Wade. “But playing against San Pedro should be interesting and fun. I think it will really show not only the Pirates, but the whole San Pedro community what POLA High School is made of, that we are a competitive and good team. We will come with the heart to win and to just play to our fullest.”

“I think it will be a fun game to play in and I’m pretty confident our team will do just fine,” said Fiorenza. spt

Exciting Prep Girls Volleyball Season Ahead

The 2012 season was a year of firsts for Port of Los Angeles High girls’ volleyball. Its first year of being in a league (Ocean), ended up with the Polar Bears earning their first-ever berth in the CIF-Los Angeles City Section Division IV/V (Small Schools) playoffs. How did POLA take advantage? They made a magnificent run with three straight victories and was one more crucial set away from ending Elizabeth Learning Center’s dominance in the Division IV/V championship match.

However, the experience factor came into play, and POLA was left wondering what might have been as the Bulldogs went on to claim their third straight City title in five sets.

“It was amazing to be able to play as a team the whole year and really get to know each other,” says POLA senior middle blocker Allison Bayer. “On top of that to be able to play in championships together. We lost, but it was a huge way to go out with a bang for our many seniors.”

As the 2013 season begins, head coach Felicia Ivie and the Polar Bears are out for some unfinished business as they look to get back to the City Section Division IV/V championship match.

San Pedro and Mary Star of the Sea High are also looking to deliver in 2013 in a town that is synonymous with volleyball.

Mary Star was a CIF-Southern Section runner-up in 1998, while San Pedro claimed three CIF-Los Angeles City Section crowns in 2001, 2004 and 2005.

POLA (20-10 last season) will return a bevy of experience to the forefront as they will be paced by Bayer and fellow senior captain outside hitter Angela Wade, who, along with Bayer, were two of the biggest reasons why the Polar Bears reached the City Section Division IV/V final last season. Bayer, who is already a three-time City champion in softball, will be gunning for her fourth ring. She also won’t be alone as some of her fellow softball friends join her on the team this season.

Playing volleyball for the first time at POLA will be some softball players with championship experience in senior outside hitter Kelsea Short, junior defensive specialist Tiffany Torres and junior middle hitter Savana Ramirez. Another player eager for a championship after two straight finals appearances in girls’ soccer, junior opposite hitter Isabela Van Antwerp, will also be making her volleyball debut.

Wade, who is also a basketball standout, will be looking for a breakout season. Senior setter and libero, Annie Constantino, will also be key, as will senior defensive specialist Myra Munoz and sophomore Makayla Warth.

Don’t be surprised if POLA, already with a key nonleague win at Banning of Wilmington this season, makes another run at glory… and ultimately seizes it.

“I think we have a good chance of being in the finals again, but a key factor will be if we can work as a team for the whole season,” says Bayer. “There is a huge amount of new players this year, and it is key for us to trust and work as one in order to succeed.”

Over at San Pedro, head coach Kyle Ross enters his fourth season at the helm as he will try to guide the Pirates into battle in the killer Marine League that features both Narbonne of Harbor City, last year’s CIF-Los Angeles City Section Division I runner-up, and Carson, a D-I semifinalist. Senior middle blocker Mila Maricic is the unquestioned leader, as she is a returning All-Marine League first team pick.

San Pedro, who went 9-7 overall last season, may be able to surprise their league foes considering they add many new faces from the junior varsity team to the mix. Last year’s JV team went 10-2 in the Marine League. Junior outside hitters Paige Peterson, Julia Sampson and Brittany Foster, along with senior setter Vanessa Ruiz, are the only other returning varsity players from a year ago.

Key newcomers to watch out for include senior Michelle Costanza and juniors Kirsten Bauman and Jazmin Tela.

“I have a good feeling about our team this year with all the talent we have,” says Peterson, who led San Pedro in service aces and was second in kills last season behind Maricic. “We are all athletic and have the potential to get that Marine League title. We also get along very well, which always helps practices go a lot more smoother and games a lot more exciting.”

The biggest new additions to the Pirates just may be senior outside hitter Katie Sullivan, who transferred from Mary Star, and Miranda Mueller, a transfer from Carson. Sullivan was an All-Camino Real League selection for Mary Star a season ago.

And speaking of the Stars, One of Mary Star’s all-time greats, Sarah Gascon, is in her second season as head coach. Despite the defection of Sullivan, the Stars, who were 5-8 last season, will still try to be competitive in the Camino Real League.

Senior opposite hitter Brina Garcia, senior outside hitter Sarah Pearson and junior defensive specialist Hope Marinkovich are the top returning players, but playing volleyball for the first time is junior Lexie Geich, who along with seniors libero Victoria Vitalich and opposite hitter Christina Padilla, helped Mary Star’s softball team reach the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 championship game in June.

“I think we will be competitive,” says Gascon. “Our biggest challenge will be consistency. With our team it takes everyone to win. I love my team and staff and I’m honored to have an opportunity to share my volleyball knowledge with them.”

The Stars, who started off the season already claiming the Chino Tournament, have four freshmen on the team that are all looking to make an instant impact in outside hitter Lexi Andrie, S/OH Kaitlyn Martinez, outside hitter Ally Spillane and S/OH Angela Pisano.

“My freshman are great!” says Gascon. “They have a great competitive spirit, they’re coachable, and they have a winning attitude.”

Seems like the Pirates, Polar Bears and Stars all possess a winning attitude, and that’s what should make for three successful seasons. spt