Serving Atherton, East Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Portola Valley, Stanford, Sunnyvale, Woodside

Jan 13, 2007

Monday Jan 1

Pinewood girls shooting for third straight state title

The Pinewood girls' basketball team won its second straight state title last March but lost wing Liz Altmaier to Harvard, power forward Hannah Lippe to Brown and post Aly Geppert to transfer to St. Francis. Yet that won't mean rebuilding - Coach Doc Scheppler again has big weapons in his arsenal and the Panthers are prime contenders for more Central Coast Section and State honors.

Three of this year's starters (the perimeter trio of Sami Field-Polisso, Tika Koshiyama-Diaz and Grace Beck) have significant experience and they direct Scheppler's attack. On the interior, 5-foot-10 Lindsay Nickel is a solid force who can make teams pay if they overplay the outside game. Helena Borland, at 5-foot-11, adds to Pinewood's inside presence.

Pinewood illustrated they are flying high again this season by collecting three tournament championships in the last month (Burlingame, Pinewood, Palo Alto) and their ledger includes wins over SCVAL De Anza powers Palo Alto (61-43 and 62-39) and Gunn (59-42), along with a 47-40 defeat of 13-2 Mills and a 47-37 win over 10-2 Presentation of the WCAL.

"Our strength is our guards and our inside players do well when our guards find them," Scheppler said. "Our philosophy is open 3s and easy baskets. If you take away our 3-point shots, we'll get shots inside."

It all starts with the Sacramento State-bound Sami Field-Polisso, one of the best combo guards around.

"Sami is smart and savvy and really knows the game," Scheppler said.

The 5-foot-6 senior is also a fiery and positive team leader - and an ultra-talented hoopster. She has started both state title wins and as a point guard, can direct an offense, find an open shooter or drive to the hoop or, as a "two guard," drain outside bombs as well as any gunner in local girls' hoops.

Field-Polisso has mastered the big stage. She scored 16 points and dished six assists in last year's NorCal title game and added 14 and five in the state championship victory. After that game, Scheppler credited the then-junior for running the offense, "We did a beautiful job running sets and finishing plays. Sami Field-Polisso found people and got us easy baskets. We did textbook execution of our sets, including the back door and the high screen."

Field-Polisso has sparkled again this season. She scored 19 points in the Palo Alto Classic title game, a 62-39 win over Eastside Prep, and was named tourney MVP. Against Mills, she tallied 18, including eight in a decisive 20-2 third quarter explosion.

Koshiyama-Diaz has a package of similar skills. She broke onto the Pinewood scene two years ago with strong performances off the bench, including key contributions in a big NorCal upset of Branson. She tore an ACL in the summer of 2005 and missed nearly all her junior season but came back during the state playoffs to fill an important role in the rotation, such as with an 11-point effort in 13 minutes in the 59-33 NorCal title victory over Sacred Heart Prep.

"Tika has the ability to handle the ball, to pass and shoot," Scheppler said. "In essence, with Sami and Tika, we have two point guards on the floor at the same time. Tika can also put great defensive pressure on the other team's point guard and she is great offensively in the half court if she needs to create a shot."

The 5-foot-7 Beck, still just a junior, is another experienced player. She provided strong defense and an outside shot last year and is on fire offensively in 2006-07. Beck scored 24 points, including three first half 3-pointers in a 61-45 Burlingame Tourney championship game victory over Palo Alto.

"Grace is a terrific shooter," Scheppler added. "She is about 44 percent on threes this year."

Nickel was a below-the-radar force on the 2005-06 team. A sophomore, she is as good as any frontline player in the area. In the Presentation contest, Nickel led Panther scorers with 12 points and Borland added eight.

"Lindsay is just an athletic specimen," Scheppler said. "She can finish plays and she's become a great driver. She gets us a consistent eight to nine boards a game and 12 to 14 points a game."

Competition at the CCS and state levels is bit deeper than some past years but the Panthers have big goals in mind. Scheppler wears a shirt saying, "Shooting for 3," referring to Pinewood's perimeter offense - and also the intent to grab another state crown.

"Our goal is to win state," he said. "It's something we can attain."