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Written by Mike Terry Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 10 October 2013 01:51

The LAVC Women's Basketball Is In Rebuild Mode, But Confident It Can Defend Its WSC Division Title

M. Terry / SFVS

In It Together - A'Jaee Foster (left) and Kaila Turner are hard at work to help LAVC defend is WSC South Division title, the first championship won by the women's basketball team in 10 years.

Three years ago diminutive women's basketball coach Monica Hang stepped on the Los Angeles Valley College campus with a big proclamation: The Lady Monarchs were going to end their current stretch of on-thecourt futility, become more competitive in the Western State Conference's South Division, and maybe win a championship while still being genuine student-athletes.

Hang has been a keeper of her word.

Last season LAVC went 23-9 overall and won the WSC South Division title, the first championship for the school in a decade, and reached the semifinals of the Southern California Regional playoffs. The Lady Monarchs were led by two standout sophomores: guard Ani Avanessian averaged 16.7 points and 8.5 rebounds to earn division Player of the Year and first-team all-state honors; and guard Lydia Pope, who averaged 8.7 points and 3.1 assists and was an all-conference South Division selection.

Winning a championship "was overdue," said Hang, laughing softly. "This was my third year. The first two years we fell short (of the playoffs) by one game. I'd look back and try to learn from the past and apply it to the upcoming season. Last year's group was amazing. They worked really hard and they were a team.

"They had great leaders. Ani was my first first-team all-state player in eight years of coaching. And Lydia. We were in need of a point guard and in the summer I was praying. She was looking for a college that fit her, she contacted me and it worked out. She was a great sparkplug for our team – she was the missing piece."

And her players have been moving on to four-year schools whether they keep playing basketball or not. Avanessian is now at Portland State. Pope is at Cal State Bakersfield. Three other sophomores also transferred to four-year schools: Jackie Sanchez transferred to William Jessup University, Melissa Ruiz to Cal State Los Angeles, and Jordan Santiago to Hope University. Both Pope and Ruiz are recovering from off-season surgeries and have yet to resume their playing careers.

But Hang and her staff are facing a bigger challenge this season.

The team is being built practically from scratch. Four returners – Kaila Turner Chelsea Rhamdeow, Bobbie Morgutia and Jecenia Trinidad – will try and blend with the 12 players now trying to be part of final roster for the Nov. 8 season opener.

But what's unique is there are 11 sophomores currently on the team, meaning they only have this year to try and repeat as division champs, and maybe go farther in the state playoffs.

Yet Hang speaks excitedly about the prospects of the 2013-14 Lady Monarchs.

We have more depth and speed, and we're a little longer overall this year," she said. "There is more teaching right now – trying to teach the newcomers Valley College basketball, which is 100 percent effort, hard work, being a student-athlete. Our goal as a coaching staff is to have all 11 sophomores transfer (to fouryear schools).

"So we have this team for one year. It's a challenge. But we have a few that have been in my program. They know who I am, what the program is about, and what they need to do. And they help the others. We don't have another Ani or Lydia yet. But I feel, with hard work, we're gonna be okay."

There are a couple of sophomores Hang expects to become the type of on-court mentors Avanessian and Pope both became.

Turner would be the more dramatic turnaround. A 5-feet- 7 guard, she transferred to Valley College from Cal State LA in 2011, and was eligible to play last year. Turner appeared in 32 games, including 15 starts and averaged 7.9 points. But there were times when neither the player nor the coach was in harmony.

"(She and Hang) did clash a few times last year, in part to our strong personalities," Turner said. "But this year, I pretty much understand what she wants and needs, on and off the court, from a leader on the team. And I'm excited; I think we can do great things this year."

The other is A'Jaee Foster, a transfer from the University of the Cumberland in Kentucky. A 5-feet-10 guard, Foster played at Summit High in Fontana before heading to Cumberland. But, she said, her time spent in the bluegrass state was not always pleasant.

"(Kentucky) was definitely a culture shock," Foster said. "You experienced things you would never think you'd experience out here. It's a lot of country music. There was racism out there; it could be bad. But I didn't miss home as much as I thought I would until the end.

"It was a good experience in some ways, but it wasn't meant for me."

She decided to come back to California last December, but waited until the end of the school year to leave "because I didn't want quit." She checked out a few community college programs but was most impressed with LAVC. It didn't hurt that she quickly bonded with Turner.

What has to happen, though, is a group willing and able to gel into a team – and now having less than a month to do so. Both Foster and Turner said the Lady Monarchs could do it.

"So far I see, because we're all so talented, we are learning how to work with one another and use those talents in different ways," Turner said. "It is a new group, but there remains some [returning] sophomores who can help out the new people to know what Coach wants."

"Honestly, our team is more than a team, it's a family," adds Foster. "Maybe right now we're not as put together as they were last year, but by the middle of the season I know we're going to be doing some great things if everybody listens to Coach Monica, because she's a great coach. If we listen to her, we should be on the right path towards a championship. That's my honest opinion."

If it happens, that would also be part of the vision Hang had for the programs when she first came here from Glendale College.

"I think that the studentathletes we have on this team are the best we've had; so that's a step," the coach said. "We're more talented and have more depth than in I've had (in her previous seven years of coaching). So that's a positive.

"What we lacked last year was depth. A 10-man or 12- man rotation is better than an 8-man rotation. We want to win the conference again, and I believe we are capable of doing that. Just give our best, and see where it takes us. If that's the state championship, then that's the state championship. That's obviously one of my ultimate goals still, something I'm always striving for."

Mike Terry can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .