The Palo Alto boys were clearly the cream of the crop last season, going 12-0 in league, becoming the first boys public school team to win a game in the Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs, and advancing all the way to the NorCal Division I championship game.
But that team is gone. An all-senior seven-man rotation has departed as well as head coach Peter Diepenbrock.
Rodney Tention has taken over as head coach and the team has gotten off to a 6-5 start in nonleague play.
"We're getting better,'' Tention said. "We're just not as consistent as I'd like.''
The starting five includes two infrequently-used reserves from last season's team -- Marvin Zou and Matthew Marzano -- and three players up from the frosh-soph.
Mountain View (10-2), Los Altos (9-3) and Homestead (8-4), Paly's opponent Friday in the league opener, are off to good starts. So is Cupertino (7-5) and Gunn (6-5), which is back in the De Anza after winning the El Camino Division title last season.
Mountain View is the likely De Anza Division favorite at this point after winning the Aptos/Warriors Invitational last week with impressive wins over St. Mary's-Stockton and a 13-2 El Camino-Sacramento team in the final. Sam Tobin, a 6-4 senior, leads the Spartans at 19.2 points per game.
Paly's high point so far this season occurred in a 91-84 win over College Park in the opener of the Dougherty Valley Tournament, but the Vikings lost their next two games to Mitty and Clayton Valley.
A lot of size as well as experience departed after last season and Tention has made improvement on the boards a priority.
"We have to gang rebound,'' he said. "Mitty got a lot of second and third shots against us. Anthony Yu had 10 rebounds against Clayton Valley, but he's not going to do that every night. We've got to get five rebounds from everybody. If we do that we can run our transition and get into our offense.''
Paly will be in the crosshairs of league opponents after the way the team dominated the last two seasons. For example, the Vikings beat Mountain View by 42 and by 27 in the two games they played a year ago.
"We've talked about, we're Palo Alto, everybody's going to be up to play us,'' Tention said. "We're looking forward to it.''
Gunn has won three division titles in the last five years, two in the El Camino and one in the De Anza. The Titans are back up in the De Anza this season and that's the place coach Brandynn Williams, a Paly grad, wants them to stay.
Rapid maturation, however, will likely be necessary for Gunn to be successful this season as the team is young and inexperienced and has not played a very demanding non-league schedule.
Evan Dray, a 6-5 senior, is the team leader in scoring and rebounding. Sophomore Julian Steinbrenner has shown promise as a zone-busting outside shooter. The Titans open league play at Los Altos on Friday at 7:45 p.m.
Palo Alto has won the last two and three of the last four De Anza Division titles.
Like both the Palo Alto and Gunn boys, the Paly girls are a young team, mostly all freshmen and sophomores.
The Vikings are off to a 7-2 start. Wilcox (10-2), Saratoga (9-3), Los Gatos (7-4) and Cupertino (7-5) are the other top teams in the division.
"I think we can compete if we keep getting better,'' Palo Alto coach Scott Peters said. "Every game will be a war.''
Getting another league title, making it a three-peat is the team's primary goal.
"Our goal every year is to win league,'' Peters said. "You have no control over the playoffs, where they put you. Winning league is something you have more control over, apples to apples.''
Last season Annika Shah, as a freshman, shared the scoring load with senior Carly Leong. This season it's been all Shah. She has provided more than 50 percent of the team's scoring in numerous games. The emergence of some complementary scoring will be a key for Paly as the season unfolds.
"It's easier to guard a team that relies on one main player to score,'' Peters said. "It would be a lot easier for Annika if our other players stay aggressive and look for their shots. And we need to improve our man defense. We need to get easy baskets off defense, start our transition and get some easy looks."
Palo Alto opens De Anza Division play against Santa Clara at home on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Gunn coach Hamadah Sharif is in the middle of a difficult situation with only seven mostly inexperienced players on the roster. After a 1-20 ordeal last season the Titans are off to a 2-9 start and will begin El Camino Division play Friday at 6:15 p.m. at Los Altos.
"We have two freshmen in the starting lineup along with a transfer from France,'' Sharif said. "We had seven girls who tried out. It's a tough one with all the private schools in the area.''
Amber Fu, the one senior on the team, is the leading scorer at 12 points per game. Freshman point guard Molly Kuelker averages 8 points per game.
The Gunn girls do not play Palo Alto this season, a circumstance both coaches hope changes in the future.
"It's the first time in my 14 years at Paly that we won't play Gunn,'' Peters said. "Sometimes these cycles happen. Gunn is at a low point. I hope things turn around. The Paly-Gunn rivalry is one of the mainstays of the high school environment. Those games were so much fun.''
"Hopefully we can get ourselves out of this and get back up in the De Anza,'' Sharif said.CharStyle:endbullet>n
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