For the second consecutive season, the St. Anthony girls’ basketball team reached the second round of the CIF-SS playoffs before seeing its season come to an end. The shortened 2020-21 campaign was anything but average, but that’s exactly where the Saints’ record ended up.
St. Anthony finished 8-8 overall, with an even 4-4 record in Del Rey League play last season to finish right in the middle of the league standings. The Saints will look to push forward in 2021-22, and fourth-year head coach Ray Bennett has a young and hungry group facing a challenging slate of games.
“I expect to have a good year,” Bennett said. “I expect they will probably struggle in the beginning of the year, just because we’re young and only have two seniors. But halfway through the season, a lot of those freshmen and sophomores, they’ll start to play like sophomores and juniors–that’s my hope. We don’t have a lot of size, but we have a lot of toughness. I have some kids that are pretty skilled and they like to win, so that’s half the battle.”
Those two seniors will be heavily involved in the rotation, with Bridgette McIntyre providing a veteran presence in the backcourt while classmate Alahnie Tunu will hold it down in the frontcourt.
McIntyre was third on the team in scoring last season, averaging 11.3 points per game, and she will help the Saints stretch the floor with her shooting ability.
“Bridgette is probably the best three-point shooter I’ve ever had in the program,” said Bennett. “She’s able to move three, four feet behind the line and knock it down.”
Tunu, a 5-foot-10 forward, has been on varsity all four years with Bennett, but has been hampered with injuries throughout her high school career. She provides needed size and experience for the Saints, but only when she’s able to get out on the floor and play to her potential.
“If she’s healthy, I think we have a pretty good shot,” Bennett said. “She’s definitely a player that works harder than anyone on the floor. She’s always making extra plays, getting on the floor for loose balls, she’s that type of player. I feel like she steps up and she could add some scoring, if we can get 10 to 15 points out of her every game, then I think we have a good shot at being hard to beat.”
The Saints’ best all-around player this year should be sophomore Ryann Bennett, who leads all returners in scoring after averaging 14.7 ppg as a freshman. Bennett, who is also the coach’s daughter, led the team in assists (2.4/game) and steals (2.3/game) last year and was also third in rebounding with 4.4 per contest. She can handle the ball at point, or play off the ball if needed, but her ability to score at all three levels will be huge for the Saints.
With Ryann Bennett and McIntyre working in tandem in the Saints’ backcourt, Coach Bennett believes his team will have a dynamic partnership that will help them win games.
“I’m very confident in having either one of them start the offense or get the first touch in the offense,” he said. “So as long as I have those two guards, I’m pretty confident that we won’t fall to teams that like to press or teams that like to apply a lot of full court pressure. They both handle the ball really well and make good decisions.”
The Saints will also count on key minutes from exciting freshman Anaya Tunu, Alahnie’s younger sister. She’s been impressive during preseason scrimmages and should get the chance to develop throughout the season.
MeLaiah Joseph is a returning sophomore who will step into the starting lineup this season. She’ll be counted on to be an active defender and rebounder out on the wing. Junior Natalie James will be a versatile player for the Saints off the bench playing a few different spots on the floor.
The young Saints don’t have a ton of depth, and will likely need to play more zone defense this season to preserve their energy throughout the season. They’ll get tested early and often with games against strong programs and a slew of playoff teams. St. Anthony will once again head to Arizona for the Nike Tournament of Champions during the preseason, and have non-league games against Troy, Redondo Union, Capistrano Valley Christian, plus local matchups with Wilson and Poly.
It might be tough sledding early, and the Del Rey League will be strong once again with teams like Serra and Bishop Montgomery, but Bennett’s expectations for this group remain simple.
“I’m looking for them to compete,” Bennett stated. “As long as they know what to do and they play hard, and we play with a ‘refuse to lose’ attitude, that’s all I can ask for.”