Lady Aztecs end amazing hoops season as state runner-up

Sophomore Paula Zumstein led the Montgomery High School girls basketball team in scoring with an average of 18.1 points per game and defensively with 8.9 rebounds per game and 2.9 blocks per game. Photo by Phillip Brents

It wasn’t the finish that either the Grossmont High School or Montgomery High School girls basketball teams desired, but last weekend’s trip to the state championship tournament in Sacramento had to prove an adventure of a lifetime.

The Montgomery Lady Aztecs — Metro-South Bay League co-champions, San Diego Section Division III champions and Southern California Region Division V champions — dropped a 56-50 decision to Northern California regional champion Oakland last Friday morning to place runner-up in the Division V state championship game.

The Grossmont Lady Foothillers — Grossmont Hills League co-champions, San Diego Section Division I runners-up and Southern California Region Division IV champions — dropped a 47-29 decision to Northern California regional champion Eureka St. Bernard’s Saturday morning to place runner-up in the Division IV state championship game.

Despite the disappointing ending, both San Diego Section teams turned in otherwise dream seasons.

“Only a small percentage of high school athletes get to participate on the state championship stage, and we were blessed enough to be a part of that small percentage,” Grossmont coach Grace Campbell said. “Our journey and the experiences is something we will never forget.

“Our student athletes sacrificed and dedicated countless hours and all of their hard work and dedication paid off. It truly takes a group of competitive, committed and selfless individuals to make it that far. Most importantly the players bought it to our way of doing things.

“In the beginning of the season I remember players complaining about being out on the track running miles and sprints three times a week. I kept telling them we will be the toughest, fastest and most conditioned team in the East County … We will do so with the upmost respect and we will be on top.

“Also, it’s an honor to have brought the school its first CIF championship for girls basketball in 2016 in school history and now the first state regional championship and state runners-up.”

Grossmont finished its season 27-9 following the championship game loss while Montgomery finished 25-12.

Senior Jordan Whitehead ranked second in team scoring with 16.6 points per game. Photo by Phillip Brents

Southern exposure
Montgomery, the top-seeded team in the Southern California Division V bracket, tipped off the regional playoffs with an 88-27 win over 16th-seeded Temecula Prep on Feb. 27 as sophomore Paula Zumstein, the Metro-South Bay League Player of the Year, produced a showcase performance with 31 points and eight rebounds.

Senior Jordan Whitehead contributed five assists and six steals while junior Cary Brown registered eight blocks.

Montgomery didn’t have any problems with its next opponent, fifth-seeded La Mirada, in a 75-41 triumph. The hosts built a 38-19 halftime lead and outscored the visitors 37-22 in the second half.

Zumstein poured in 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds while Brown tacked on 21 points.

The next two games proved the Lady Aztecs were state championship game worthy.

Montgomery had to fend off the fourth-seeded Reedley Immanuel Lady Eagles, 55-51, in the regional semifinals. The Otay Mesa team rebounded from a 23-15 halftime deficit with a strong second-half showing to negate a 31-30 Immanuel lead through three quarters.

Zumstein led the hosts with 18 points while Genevieve Whitehead had 11 points. Zumstein had eight rebounds and six blocks while senior Susanna Paliza had seven boards.

Montgomery defeated sixth-seeded Escondido Charter, 41-39, to claim the SoCal championship title as a qualifier to the state championship final.

The game ended in exciting fashion as the Lady White Tigers roared back from a 23-5 first-quarter deficit to sink the final shot of the game to come up two points short.

Sophomore Genevieve Whitehead was the Lady Aztec heroine with 21 points — all on seven three-point shots.

The state final started slowly for the SoCal champions by trailing the Oakland Wildcats, 32-27, at halftime.

The Lady Aztecs rebounded to narrow the score to 39-36 in the third quarter but trailed by seven points, 45-38, at the start of the fourth quarter.

Montgomery was only able to make up one point in the final eight minutes to finish runner-up by six points.

Junior Cary Brown ranked second on the Montgomery team with 6.0 reboundfs per game. Photo by Phillip Brents

Zumstein scored 21 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and had six blocks while Jordan Whitehead had 14 points in the state final setback to snap a 14-game winning streak.

Oakland (23-10) proved to be the bracket buster in the state playoffs as the 13th seed on the NorCal side.

Senior Daijha Teague had 15 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks in a monster showing to pace the Wildcats to their second state championship.

Six-foot-four junior Ojiubo Egeonu provided an additional challenge with 15 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocked shot for Oakland, which previously claimed the Division III state title in 2019.

Montgomery trailed by 13 points midway through the final quarter before Zumstein and Jordan Whitehead keyed a late rally with three-point field goals to narrow the final to six points.

Oakland, which never trailed, held a decisive 43-28 edge in rebounding. The Lady Wildcats fended off 9-9 and 11-11 deadlocks in the first quarter to take control of the scoreboard with a 15-5 scoring run early in the second quarter.

MOH coach Bracy Smith remained philosophical about the second-place finish, telling his girls to soak up this special experience.

The Grossmont High School girls basketball team recorded a meteoric second-place finish at last weekend’s Division IV state championship finals. Courtesy photo

Eastern exposure
St. Bernard’s, the top-seeded team in the Northern California bracket, defeated second-seeded Arcata, 60-54, to claim the NorCal championship title on March 6 as a qualifier to the state championship final.

The Lady Foothillers, seeded fourth in the Southern California bracket, defeated seventh-seeded Fallbrook, 57-52, in the SoCal regional final on March 5 after eliminating top-seeded Newbury Park, 57-39, in the regional semifinals on March 2.

The loss in the state final snapped a four-game winning streak accumulated in the regional playoffs.

The game’s start didn’t hint at the lopsided ending as both teams played to an 8-8 first-quarter standoff. But the Lady Crusaders (30-5) took control of the game with a 15-4 scoring differential in the second quarter leaving the Lady Foothillers starting at a 23-12 halftime deficit.

St. Bernard’s out-scored Grossmont 24-17 in a more evenly played second half. The Lady Crusaders topped Grossmont 10-8 in the third quarter and 14-9 in the final quarter.

Junior Laila Florvilus led all scorers in the game with 18 points while senior Madelyn Shanahan dropped in 15 points. Freshman Samantha Sundberg was the third St. Bernard’s player to score in double digits with 12 points.

Shanahan made the only three-point shot in the contest while matching Florvilus with six free-throws.

Senior Kellen Hayden paced Grossmont, which finished with a school record 27 wins, with 10 points while senior Amethyst Price followed with nine points. Freshman Aakash Price had eight points.

By contrast, the Lady Foothillers took control of the regional championship game with a 17-6 first-quarter output over Fallbrook (26-9). The opening burst proved pivotal as the Valley League champion Lady Warriors outscored the hosts in each of the three remaining quarters.

Fallbrook compiled a 11-10 scoring edge in the second quarter to cut somewhat into the commanding Grossmont lead to trail 27-17 at halftime.

The Lady Warriors posted a 35-30 scoring edge in the second half to make the game’s ending even more exciting.

The Lady Foothillers benefited from four players in double figure scoring: Aakash Price (15 points), Amethyst Price (12 points), Hayden (10 points) and senior Dahlia Burke (10 points).

Amethyst led the winners with 10 rebounds while Aakash Price had four steals.

Freshman Grace Nordeen poured in 14 points to lead Fallbrook while senior Claire Nordeen dropped in 12 points. Grace Nordeen grabbed 13 rebounds while Claire Nordeen collected 10 boards.

In the upset win over Newbury Park (27-8), Grossmont rallied from a 13-9 first-quarter deficit with a monstrous 23-9 second-quarter explosion on the playing court. The third quarter was more defensive with the Lady Foothillers claiming a 9-4 scoring advantage.

Grossmont kept its foot on the floorboard by out-scoring the Lady Panthers 16-13 in the final quarter.

Freshman Jaliyah Fleming paced the Lady Foothillers with 12 points while Amethyst Price and Aakash Price each scored 10 points. Freshman Arionna Simpson and Blake each contributed eight points to the bracket-busting victory.

Fleming sank four of six three-point shots.

Blake and Amethyst Price each had eight rebounds while Aakash Price had six rebounds. Hayden had three steals.

Junior Kimiko Carmer led Newbury Park with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Aakash Price poured in 22 points while Amethyst Price had 10 rebounds to key Grossmont’s 60-41 win over Santa Paula to kick off the SoCal regionals.

Amethyst Price (18) and Aakash Price (17) combined for 35 points as the Lady Foothillers’ dynamic duo in a 57-51 quarterfinal win over fifth-seeded Crenshaw. Amethyst Price led the victors with 10 rebounds.

Southern California Regionals


(4) Grossmont 60, (13) Santa Paula 41

(4) Grossmont 57, (5) Crenshaw 51

(4) Grossmont 57, (1) Newbury Park 39

(4) Grossmont 57, (7) Fallbrook 52

State final: St. Bernard’s 47, Grossmont 29



(1) Montgomery 88, (16) Temecula Prep 27

(1) Montgomery 75, (8) La Mirada 41

(1) Montgomery 41, (4) Reedley Immanuel 39

(1) Montgomery 55, (6) Escondido Charter 51

State final: Oakland 56, Montgomery 50