By Joe Davidson
League play starts this week for area high school girls basketball teams, many of them battle tested after rigorous nonleague schedules.
The key questions: Who is off to the best start, and who might emerge as champions?
The Delta River League features four Bee ranked teams in No. 2 Pleasant Grove, No. 3 Oak Ridge, No. 9 Sheldon and No. 10 St. Francis, the five-time defending league champion with a 48-2 league mark in that span under coach Vic Pitton. St. Francis attacks with waves of players who wear on opponents. Sheldon went 1-9 in league play last season amid a rash of injuries. The Huskies have welcomed back leading scorer Brianna Burgos, a guard.
The Metro League is headed again by top-ranked Sacramento, No. 4 Florin, No. 6 Kennedy and No. 15 Valley. Sacramento went 6-6 in nonleague play with no area losses. The Dragons have endured the most challenging early schedule of any regional team, with all losses coming against defending state champions. Five of those setbacks by eight or fewer points.
The Dragons are four-time defending Metro champions, having gone 40-0 in league play. Sacramento is led by senior guards Jehiah Cook and Jasmine Ware. The Dragons play at Florin on Tuesday to open Metro play. Florin has been led by Daijah Joe-Smith (20.8 points, 14.9 rebounds) and Dalayna Sampton (12 rebounds).
The Capital Athletic League is headed by defending champion and seventh-ranked El Camino, which went unbeaten in league play a year ago. First-year coach Rich Drawbert takes over for Bill Baxter, now an assistant at Sacramento State, but Drawbert is no newcomer. He was a longtime Baxter assistant and also had head-coaching stints elsewhere.
No. 5 Antelope placed second to El Camino last season and opens league play with the Eagles next week. Antelope is led by impressive junior post Ashley Hawkins, who had 30 points in a win over Kennedy last week. The CAL also includes No. 19 Rio Americano, a power in the 1970s and '80s looking to restore some of that luster.
The Sierra Foothill League includes No. 11 Del Oro and No. 13 Woodcreek. Rocklin (8-7) and Nevada Union (6-6) have shown early signs of promise, too.
Del Oro under coach Mike Takayama has gone 58-0 in SFL play the last five seasons and 71-1 in the last six.
The Capital Valley Conference includes No. 16 Rio Linda, No. 18 Christian Brothers, No. 20 Bella Vista, Oakmont (8-6) and Del Campo (8-6).
The Delta Valley Conference is headed by its lone ranked team in No. 17 Monterey Trail, followed by Grant, Elk Grove, Franklin and Laguna Creek.
The Sierra Valley Conference has No. 8 River City, off to a sizzling 14-1 start and losing only to Kennedy by seven points under coach Jamie King and leading talent Katie King.
Liberty Ranch (9-5), Union Mine (9-6) and El Dorado (6-6) have also shown glimpses of early promise in the SVC.
The Tri-County League features No. 14 Inderkum and upstart River Valley (9-4). The Golden Empire League is headed by Marysville (9-4), Capital Christian (9-5), West Campus (9-5) and Dixon (6-4) and should be one of the top small-school leagues in Northern California.
The Pioneer Valley League has No. 12 Bear River, Foothill (8-3) and Colfax (8-5). Bear River and Colfax have been spirited rivals since Bear River opened in the mid 1980s.
The Bee's Girls Top 20
(with record and last week's rankings)
1. Sacramento 6-6 / 1
2. Pleasant Grove 7-4 / 2
3. Oak Ridge 10-4 / 3
4. Florin 11-2 / 5
5. Antelope 10-3 / 6
6. Kennedy 9-3 / 4
7. El Camino 13-3 / 7
8. River City 14-1 / 9
9. Sheldon 9-5 / 11
10. St. Francis 5-5 / 8
11. Del Oro 8-6 / 10
12. Bear River 10-5 / 12
13. Woodcreek 9-5 / 13
14. Inderkum 9-4 / 14
15. Valley 8-3 / 15
16. Rio Linda 10-2 / 16
17. Monterey Trail 11-3 / 18
18. Christian Brothers 7-5 / 17
19. Rio Americano 9-6 / 19
20. Bella Vista 7-4 / 20