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PAL Tournament returns as deep as ever

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Marquez Costiniano (1) and the Jefferson Grizzlies are the top seed for the North division in the PAL Tournament. (Courtesy Keanu Tafeamalii)

In an age when high school teams travel great distances for games — taking multi-hour bus rides or even flying out-of-state — there are still some old-school battles between public schools for local bragging rights, as seen in the PAL Tournament.

While many leagues have moved away from tournaments in recent years, the Peninsula Athletic League, with its North and South divisions, provides an opportunity for San Mateo County’s public schools to crown one true champion before section playoffs begin.

The defending tournament titleholders, Sequoia, will enter as one of the favorites after winning two of the last three tournaments and claiming the program’s first regular-season league title since 1977 with Tuesday’s 50-39 win over Mills. The Cherokees are led by senior center Ziggy Lauese, a four-year starter who had 29 points and 12 rebounds in the victory. The entire Lauese family has been at the helm of the program for years. His uncle, Fine, is the head coach. Ziggy‘s younger brother, Lio, is one of three sophomores on the roster and one of the first players off the bench, and their aunt and Fine’s wife, Felicia, is the team statistician. Sequoia also has a pair of talented guards in Pedram Attari and Myles Nunez. Should the Cherokees defend their tournament title, they’ll likely head to the CCS Open Division, which comes with an automatic state tournament bid.

Tournament host Half Moon Bay tied for the PAL North title behind the talents of senior center Ethan Menzies, who averaged a double-double. The Cougars play an up-tempo style behind first-year head coach John Parsons, a 2002 graduate of the school. They haven’t sacrificed defense at that pace, only allowing one league opponent over 50 points.

Jefferson tied HMB for the league title and won a coin flip for the No. 1 seed in the North. In Tuesday’s clinching win over Terra Nova, senior center Rodney Lawrence scored a game-high 25 points.

The Grizzlies will have an intriguing first-round matchup with a red-hot Aragon team that enters on a seven-game win streak. Sam Manu, a junior who transferred from Illinois, has fueled the Dons as of late. In a win over Burlingame, the 6-foot-4 guard scored 26 points on 10-of-12 shooting.

Mills plays a seven-man rotation and finished second in the South. As usual, the Vikings are undersized but play some of the best zone defense in the region. Junior guard Colby Vasquez uses tremendous speed to impact all facets of the game, Nick Brouqua plays far bigger than his 6-foot-1 frame and sophomore Michael Matsuno has a tremendous shooter’s touch.

Perennial power Menlo-Atherton finished third in the South and will travel to HMB on Thursday. The Bears split a pair of meetings with Sequoia and have won five straight after snapping out of a midseason offensive slump. In those five games, no opponent has reached 50 points.

Terra Nova is third in the North and will travel to Mills for Thursday’s quarterfinals. The younger two of head coach Kenny Milch’s three sons star for the Tigers. Josh is a senior and Justin is a freshman.

El Camino won the draw for the fourth seed in the North via a three-way tiebreaker with Westmoor and South San Francisco.

The tournament kicks off with quarterfinals at host sites today. Friday’s semifinals and Saturday’s championship will be held at the new CUSD Event Center in Half Moon Bay, located just blocks from downtown.

On the girls’ side, Menlo-Atherton and Aragon tied for first place in the South, though it’s M-A that has the top spot via head-to-head results. Carly McLanahan and Greer Hoyem are four-year varsity starters who have rolled to a 46-2 league record over the course of their careers, as well as three straight tournament titles. South San Francisco fell to the Bears in the final last year and went undefeated in North play this year. The Warriors are led by Cal Baptist commit Brittney Cedeno.

Prep Focus writer Ethan Kassel covers high school sports throughout the Bay Area. If you have a story tip, game to watch or player to track, email him at ethankassel@gmail.com.

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