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

The Need to Modernize San Pedro High School

The educational facilities we provide our students have come a long way since I graduated from San Pedro High School in 1992.

After a group of community members recognized the need for a new local high school to educate underserved students in small, innovative learning environments, the Port of Los Angeles High School was opened in 2005. Today, POLAHS is an independent, college preparatory charter high school, home to 950 students.

In 2007, both Mary Star of the Sea High School and Rolling Hills Prep opened new campuses in San Pedro. Mary Star’s new campus on Taper Ave. opened to 500 students a year after being named one of the top 50 Catholic High Schools in America and Rolling Hills Prep off Palos Verdes Drive North opened to 250 students.

Last month, the opening of San Pedro High School’s John M. and Muriel Olguin Campus ushered in a new era for our students. It is the most modern and most green campus in the district and will be capable of generating 80% of its own power. It is the new home to 500 students who are enrolled in Marine Science, Mathematics Magnet or Police Academy Magnet courses.

While the addition of four new, modern campuses in less than ten years is an amazing feat, we have more work to do. We must ensure that the students attending the original San Pedro High School get their fair share of modern education technology and make sure there is not an inequity developing between the old and the new campuses.

Modernizing the original San Pedro High School campus needs to be our next step and we know how to do it. In 2009, voters approved Measure Q, a $7 billion bond that will pay for modernization of existing campuses. Measure Q is meant to resolve the inequity between the 125 new schools the LAUSD has recently built and the older 700 campuses, including SPHS, which need attention.

I agree with, and support, School Board member Dr. Richard Vladovic’s vision for San Pedro High School. This vision includes modernizing every building with a new look, implementing the latest technology, including wireless Internet and plans to replace books with tablet devices allowing the students access to much more than just the written word. His plans also call for the removal of the temporary bungalows, returning open space back to the students and returning onsite parking back to the teachers.

Some other features being considered include creating a physical connection between Dana Middle School and San Pedro High School by constructing a new 9th grade academy between the two campuses.

The building of the new schools has allowed the LAUSD to move off of the year-round multi-track system that many agree was flawed. Today, LAUSD scores are on the rise, especially in San Pedro. Almost every elementary school is close to or above an 800 API.

Education is important to my family and me. My wife and both my sisters are teachers in the LAUSD, so I am very well aware of the challenges they and their students face on a daily basis.

When I attended San Pedro High School, I constantly heard, “You are the next generation, you are our future.” Now that I have experienced what that really means, I will do whatever it takes to ensure our students have the best learning environments that we can afford to give them.

I wish all the students at POLA, RHP, SPHS, the Olguin Campus and Mary Star High School all the best. You are our future. spt