PaliHi Girls Hoops Starts with Intensity

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

Palisades High’s girls basketball, aiming to contend for another City Section title, has been gaining invaluable experience by competing in three tournaments this past month.

The Dolphins, coached by Torino Johnson, finished fourth in the 13th Annual Palisades Beach Invitational tournament Thanksgiving week.

Playing against some of the top teams in the state, PaliHi started strong, winning its first game against Hueneme, 73-23, with sophomore guard Kayla Williams scoring a team high 18 points.

From left to right, Kayla Williams, Chaniya Picket and Jane Nwaba during practice at Palisades High. In the rear, Lea Toubian and Brooke Messaye are on the baseline. Photo: Bart Bartholomew
From left to right, Kayla Williams, Chaniya Picket and Jane Nwaba during practice at Palisades High. In the rear, Lea Toubian and Brooke Messaye are on the baseline. Photo: Bart Bartholomew

The Dolphins then achieved a hard-fought victory against Canyon. They were losing at halftime, 35-26, but pulled ahead with a hot third quarter to gain the lead, 51-49, and went on to earn a 64-56 win.

High-scoring senior guard Chelsey Gipson contributed 25 points, including 6 three-pointers, while Williams again had a strong game with 19 points.

Meanwhile, other teams, including Chaminade, the top-ranked team in the state last year, competed in the 16-team tournament.

The eventual runner-up, Fairmont Prep, dealt the Pali girls their first defeat, 65-34, with Gipson again leading her team’s scoring with 20 points. Pali lost to Valencia, 60-44, in the battle for third place. Sophomore guard Leily Martin led the team with 11 points.

Harvard-Westlake topped Fairmont Prep in a tight 48-45 game to win the tournament. For PaliHi, the tournament was an intense beginning to its Western League and postseason aspirations, and coach Johnson expects his team to again be strong competitors. The “Palisades girls are coming off back-to-back City Open Division championships,” Johnson said. “Our players are improving daily and work hard in the classroom. I have an exceptional coaching staff. Look for our team to be competitive and continue to improve as the season progresses.”

Last year, Pali was 12-0 in league play, and was ranked 16th in the state among Division I schools with a 24-9 record overall. In the state playoffs, they lost in the first round to Chaminade, the eventual open division winner. Among all schools across the state, the Dolphins were ranked 51st, having averaged 65 points, 24 rebounds, 11.7 assists, 19 steals and 3.6 blocks per game.

Two of Pali’s three top-scoring guards return this season. Senior Gipson, who has been signed to Loyola Marymount University, averaged 17.6 points last season, while sophomore Williams averaged 11.9 points as a freshman and earned recognition as an All-City player. The other top scorer, Kayla Merrill-Gillett, who averaged 13.7 points, was one of two graduating seniors. She now plays for Cal State Dominguez Hills and is averaging 14.4 points per game.

Senior guard Chaniya Pickett, who aver- aged 6.3 points last year as an All-League and All-City player, is expected to be one of this year’s team leaders along with Williams and Gipson, Johnson said.

The roster is rounded out by senior center Caytlnn Gorden, senior guard Lea Toubian, freshman forward Jane Nwaba, senior guard Kayla Tavakoli, senior center Julia Ide, and sophomore forward Brooke Messaye.

Palisades also competed in the Troy Classic in Fullerton in early December, going 2-2. The Dolphins defeated Troy in their first game 56-52, but lost the next two games, 53- 39 to Alemany and 45-39 against Etiwanda. The team finished with a win against West.

Starting Dec. 20, the Dolphins are taking part in the Gahr Varsity Tournament Gold Division. Their first league game will be Jan. 11 at 4:30 p.m. at University High.

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