Pali High Girls Basketball Shows Promise at St. Mary’s Tip-Off Classic
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Anyone who followed the Palisades High girls varsity basketball team’s exciting run to the City Section Open Division finals last winter would have a hard time recognizing the team that took the floor for the opening game of the St. Mary’s Tip-Off Classic last Tuesday afternoon in Inglewood. Not just because the Dolphins were wearing new uniforms, but because the players in them were all different—except for one—as were the coaches.
Six players graduated, including City Player of the Year and Post Cup winner Chelsey Gipson (now a freshman guard at Loyola Marymount), two others transferred (including All-City guard Kayla Williams) and Rachel Phillips is playing soccer instead. The only returners are Jane Nwaba, who played in 34 of 35 games as a freshman last winter, and junior Brooke Massaye, who came off the bench last year and sat out last week’s tournament with an injury.
Nevertheless, all the new kids on the block battle hard and led after one quarter before falling to Santa Monica, 52-39. The season started on an ominous note when point guard Jenna Chudacoff tore her ACL in the first minute—forcing head coach Danielle Foley to shuffle the lineup on the fly.
“We’ve only practiced in the big gym three times because of volleyball, but we scrimmaged on Friday,” said Foley, hired shortly after Torino Johnson left over the summer to become an assistant at Cal State LA, having led the Dolphins to 203 wins and four City titles in 10 seasons. “Our point guard heard a pop and went down on the third play of the game, so everyone was out of position. The effort was there but we missed a ton of layups. Half of the girls are on board right now. The goal is to get everyone there.”
Nwaba poured in 29 points as the Dolphins rebounded the next day to beat last year’s City Division II finalist King-Drew, 57-54.
Clinging to a one-point lead with 10 seconds left, Palisades looked to its go-to girl to seal the deal. Nwaba was fouled driving to the basket, made both free throws and the Dolphins hung on to win.
“We went over the inbounds play in the timeout,” Foley said of her first win in blue and white. “I wanted the ball in Jane’s hands. We got her some looks inside this game instead of just jump shots.”
Nwaba scored 29 points, Hayley Amador had 10, Sammie Arnold had nine and Ivy Scott added five points and 13 rebounds.
“We feel blessed we were able to take the win,” Scott said. “My team’s awesome. We’re family.”
On Friday, Palisades routedView Park, 58-35, again sparked by Nwaba, who had 23 points, 10 rebounds and eight steals. Scott added 19 points and 16 rebounds and Alexis Pettis, one of five ninth-graders on the roster, added five points and eight steals.
Saturday’s ninth-place contest pitted Palisades against Western League rival University and the Wildcats prevailed 50-42 despite 18 points from Nwaba and Amador’s 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“[Danielle] coaches really different than Coach T,” said Nwaba, who averaging 22.5 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and 0.5 blocks in four games. “We don’t press as much. I get to help more on the court this year, which is great. Last year, my role was to grab rebounds in the post and score but I wasn’t vocal. This year, I’m handling the ball a lot more. We’re still trying to get used to each other. If we can just cut down our turnovers and make our free throws we’ll win games.”
The Dolphins have the week off to prepare for the St. Monica Holiday Classic in Santa Monica, where they open pool play against Bishop Conaty-Loretto next Monday at 4:30 p.m.