San Pedro prep girls basketball got a huge shot in the arm for the 2011-2012 season when Rita Fiorenza came on the scene from out of nowhere for San Pedro High.
Last year continued with the emergence of Port Of Los Angeles High's Angela Wade.
Both Fiorenza and Wade are both leading the way again in this current 2013-2014 but once again, three talented freshmen have hit the spotlight instantly and have immediately contributed to their respective school's success. Mary Star freshman guard Angela Pisano is leading everyone in scoring, but you can't forget about two other freshmen guards that are making names for themselves in their own right.
San Pedro's Deanna Valverde and POLA's Kyerstin Galloway have both been surprises to some, but not to those who support them, and they're not even a surprise to themselves either. Both started their playing days at an early age: Valverde at age 9, and Galloway at age 7 at Carriage Crest Park in Carson.
These two actually competed against each other in travel ball with Valverde on Palos Verdes Pressure (Pisano is a Pressure teammate of Valverde), and Galloway at Banning Park's Lady Gitzum. This duo would cross paths again with Galloway at Dodson Middle School, and Valverde at Dana Middle School, then again on December 9 when San Pedro hosted POLA in their inaugural nonleague showdown.
Valverde and the Pirates won that encounter with POLA, 56-38, but Galloway and the Polar Bears made a good account of themselves.
"I've always enjoyed playing against Deanna," Galloway says. "She's always been solid competition, and it's nice to see how far we've both grown as ball players."
As for Valverde on her Polar Bear counterpart?
"It's always good competing against Kyerstin," Valverde says. "She's a really good outside shooter so you have to watch her on the three-point line because she'll make them."
Galloway quickly made a name for herself and POLA when they defeated Downey Calvary Chapel, 56-40 in the finals of the Downey Calvary Chapel Tournament that gave the Polar Bears their first sports regular season tournament championship trophy. In fact, Galloway was picked as the tournament's most valuable player after scoring a game-high 18 points in the final.
"It was an honor winning MVP but I wouldn't have been able to accomplish that without my teammates," Galloway said. "It was a team effort."
It's that kind of effort from POLA all season that has guided them to a 8-3 overall record after last Friday's 62-42 victory over Central City of Los Angeles in which Galloway poured in 16 points, including a couple of key three-pointers in the second half. The Polar Bears, one of the favorites in the Crosstown League, have been also battling through a mid-season coaching change.
Scott Levester, a former boys basketball coach at New Milllenium of Gardena, has taken over the reigns after a severe mid-season illness to previous coach, LeRon Atmore.
"Our AD (Dave Martinez), Coach Cosgrove and coach Alexis Camou did a great job in keeping us focused," says Galloway, who's averaging 12 points, 4 assists and 3.2 steals a game. "Now with the help of coach Scott and coach Atmore in our prayers, we're ready to push hard to have a great season."
Valverde has been brought along slowly as the Pirates' first player off the bench, with three starts this season, but she has more than made enough impact that has been felt by her teammates, and coach Cynthia Atencio.
"We are excited to have an impact player like Deanna," says Atencio, who's Pirates are currently 8-4 overall, and already 2-0 in the Marine League. "Her versatility, hustle and positive attitude are her greatest contributions."
One of Valverde's best games was in a nonleague game against Panorama, where she had 15 points, six steals and six rebounds in her first career start, but her favorite game was scoring nine points off the bench in a 59-29 Marine League victory at Banning of Wilmington back on December 20. Atencio's influence has helped a great deal, Valverde says.
"She always motivates me, she gives me compliments, and criticizes me in a good way," says Valverde, who averages 8.2 points, 3.3 steals and 2.5 assists a game for San Pedro. "I get to practice an hour early and she works with me. Coach wants to win and that's what I like best about her."
Both these fine young talents have even left a great impression on their teammates.
"I enjoy playing with her, she's a true talent," Wade says of Galloway. "She has more skills than I did my freshman year. To have someone like her to have alongside is great because I have trust and faith she can do her job on the court. It's a pleasure playing with Kyerstin."
Fiorenza, San Pedro's junior guard adds: "I love playing alongside Deanna. She's such a great player because we feed off each other very well. There's lots of chemistry when we play and she's contributed by her scoring, three-pointers and her defensive steals."
Valverde swings more praise back at her teammates.
"Playing on this team is awesome," Valverde says. "I love these girls, they are family to me. They're all great basketball players that have the skills to go far in life if they want to."
Galloway on Wade and fellow POLA senior forward Alex Espinoza: "It's awesome playing with them. They bring great leadership to the team, and they're pretty cool also."
San Pedro and POLA won't cross paths again this season, but both are looking to make their mark in the CIF-Los Angeles City Section playoffs, with the Pirates competing in Division III, and the Polar Bears in Division IV.
"I think we're good enough this year to be in a tougher division, but I'm ready to win it all," Valverde says.
"I think we have a solid chance as long as we continue to work hard and improve as a team," Galloway says on POLA in Division IV. "Also, when we're able to get back two of our key players (junior point guard Mayan Rodriguez and senior guard Zefora Kemp, both either injured or on vacation during winter break), that will increase our chances even more."