Girls' basketball: Undefeated Westchester relishes being the 'bullies'

Girls' basketball: Undefeated Westchester relishes being the 'bullies'

It’s a scrap inside Westchester’s legendary gym, bodies careening across the hardwood for loose balls, whistles screeching at every collision of arms and torsos.

Just a couple minutes into the third quarter of the Westchester-Long Beach Poly girls’ basketball game, senior guard Rylei Waugh is called for her third foul. Waugh is the fiery, beating heart of an undefeated Westchester team, its senior captain and point guard.

But coach Dominic Grimes makes no move to pull her.

“They play better with more fouls!” yells a man sitting in Westchester’s section.

The Comets don’t let up while leading 38-25 in the third quarter. They press. Junior Mariah Blake tracks down a fastbreak layup for a thundering block off the glass, and Westchester forces about five steals in the span of two minutes, pushing their lead to 20 and the game out of sight.

“One thing about me,” Waugh smirked postgame, “I’m [going to] play with four fouls.”

The whole team does. The entire starting lineup, Waugh and Blake remembered, played with four fouls in a win earlier in this season over Crenshaw. They blitz, they trap, they hack. They deliver the first blow.

As Waugh put it simply: “Our team thrives better when we talk s—.”

In earlier seasons in Grimes’ six-year tenure, Westchester would crumble when faced with pressure, the coach said. Last year’s City Open Division finals loss to Birmingham left a gaping wound, the sting lasting an entire offseason. With the Comets’ core mostly returning in full, they’ve caught “lightning in a bottle,” Grimes said — fearing no one.

“We used to break when the game got physical,” Grimes said. “We would fold like a two-dollar bill. But now, we’re the bullies.”

Their record improved to 19-0 with a 64-44 win over Long Beach Poly. Heading into the final stretch of the regular season, Westchester is the undisputed top dog in City Section girls’ hoops.

But the Comets are looking to streak further — through City playoffs, ready to challenge the best that a stronger Southern Section has to offer in CIF regionals.

“I’m beyond the City, to be honest, by now,” Grimes said. “I’m not even thinking about it … and this is no disrespect to the other City teams.”

Another City standout

Every year, Granada Hills girls’ basketball coach Jared Hoenig said, there’s one player who buys completely into the program’s core defensive philosophy: taking charges.

For the last two seasons, that’s been senior Krystal Pineda, who currently ranks third in the nation, per MaxPreps, with an average of 1.5 charges drawn a night. In one game against Chaminade, Hoenig said, Pineda drew six.

At 5-feet-8, she’s become the de facto post presence for a 15-4 Granada Hills team that’s looking to go deep in the City playoffs.

“She embodies what our program’s about,” Hoenig said.


Since Matt Tumambing took over as head coach in 2019-20, Ontario Christian has risen a level from Division 4AA every season. Now in Division 1, they’ve streaked to a 19-2 record behind heliocentric Washington commit Chloe Briggs, record-breaking shooter Dejah Saldivar and walking double-double Julia Lavigne.

“I think we can shock some people,” Tumambing said.

Undefeated Sierra Canyon (19-0) and Etiwanda (18-0) are the undisputed top tier in the Southland, but Ontario Christian leads a cohort of teams jockeying for a puncher’s chance in the Open Division.

Santa Ana Mater Dei (17-2) is rapidly improving and runs a lethal full-court press. Newport Beach Sage Hill hung with the Monarchs tough in a Saturday night game before an eventual 62-50 loss. Corona Santiago (14-7) is a dark horse if Etiwanda transfer Destiny Agubata finishes her recovery from an ACL tear come playoff time. L.A. Windward (13-5) is surging under first-year coach Jerica Williams.