Going Left

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Lindsey Sugimoto splits Spartan defenders Kristin Ishii (3) and Mille Nabeshima (22) while running the fast break. (Photos by JORDAN IKEDA/Rafu Shimpo)

By JORDAN IKEDA
Rafu Sports Editor

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Los Angeles is the hub of the left coast and Palos Verdes and Torrance sit about as left as Ellay can get without actually being in the Pacific.

Perhaps in an attempt to emulate the World Champion Lakers who just so happen to employ a certain uber-clutch left-handed point guard, the Panthers out of Palos Verdes Peninsula and the Spartans out of South Torrance each have a special lefty running their girls varsity basketball programs.

Here’s a question out of left field. When is left so very right?

How about when it concerns Lindsey Sugimoto and Michelle Siu?

Michelle Siu (21) hounds Sugimoto (25) who is trying to set up the Panthers offense.

The pair of southpaw point guards clashed Saturday when Peninsula (7-9) visited South (13-5) in the final game before their regular seasons kicked off Monday. South walked away the victor, but not before Peninsula made a game of it. The victory avenges last year’s defeat and leaves intrigue for the non-graduating players returning next season.

Lindsey and Michelle, who guarded each other for long stretches of the game, will not be back next year, but fortunately, there is still the rest of this season left to go.

Lindsey, who plays for the Panthers, leads her team in assists (3.3) and steals (4.6) and is second in scoring (8.4)—a statline that immediately springs to mind her favorite pro player, Trevor Ariza. Where she differs from her hero is in her wicked handles and uncanny ability to create shots for herself and others.

“I’m point guard this year, starting five, so that puts leadership on me anyways,” the 5-1 co-captain told the Rafu Shimpo. “My coach talks to me all the time about stepping up and taking responsibility. This is my senior year and I’m trying to do my best and just have a great season.”

For the Spartans, Michelle also paces her team in assists (4.6) and steals (2) and is also second in scoring at 11.9 per contest. Her game is predicated on speed and quickness, but she’s also got sneaky length and is money from beyond the arc where she’s shooting a blistering 48 percent on the season.

“This year’s been pretty interesting,” Michelle said after dropping 10 points, 3 assists, 5 boards and a theft against the Panthers. “We’ve been working really hard and our goal which is to hopefully go undefeated in league and dominate the rest of the season.”

The Spartans took their first step towards that end Monday night when they defeated Torrance in their first Pioneer League game.

So far so good.

The goals of the Panthers are admittedly not as lofty.

“Last year, we came in last in Bay League,” said Lindsey, who wants to study pre-law in college. “This year, I hope we get at least third in Bay League and make it to CIFs. We made it last year, but that was a wild card. We just have to work hard, play as a team and keep our head in it.”

Of course, no point guard is any good without four other players (exhibit A: Stephon Marbury; exhibit B: Steve Francis). A true point guard knows how to get along with the rest of the team.

“It’s been one of the best times of my life,” said Michelle, who wants to study marine biology at UCSD next year. “I enjoy the friendships that I’ve made and winning as a team and knowing that all of your hard work has paid off.”

The Spartans posse consists of senior Kelsie Sampson, who at 6-1 is a double-double machine in points and boards and is averaging over 5 blocks a game; sophomore guard Kailee Maeda, who brings ball-handling and distribution and speed to the table; sophomore Jean Dulay, who contributes across the board; and senior Tori Caporaso who brings a little bit of this and a little bit of that to the floor.

South’s Millie Nabeshima (22) drives baseline against Panthers co-captain Neha Savant on her way to a trip to the free throw line.

The rest of the team also makes their contributions. Senior Nikki Nakamoto brings experience ; sophomore Millie Nabeshima brings intensity and defense off the bench; and freshman Briana Aoki (who likes Derek Fisher because she trained with his private trainer) brings confidence and the underrated quality of pumping the team up.

“I feel that since we lost a lot of players from last year, people thought that we were going to be the underdogs, like lower,” said Nikki who wants to go to San Diego State and major in kinesiology, “But I think now, we have a lot of people and we’ll be able to bring it.”

For Peninsula, Lindsey’s got her own group as well, though the team isn’t as deep as South’s squad, nor as tall.

Sophomore Stephanie Wong leads the Panthers in scoring; senior Neha Savant works the glass; freshman Megan Nagasaki is a thief-in-training; junior Shannon Tsumaki can score from beyond the arc; and Shelby Tsukamoto brings the defense.

Shannon Tsumaki drives on Kristin Ishii.

But while the Panthers are solid all around, they rely more heavily than South on their lead guard to carry them.

“We are a little small, but we’ve won against bigger teams,” Lindsey said. “I think it’s all about hustle and attitude.”

Two things she makes sure to put on display every time she laces up her kicks.

“Lindsey is really tough and I really like playing with her,” said Shelby who is in her first year on varsity and says Derek Fisher is her favorite pro player.

Seems like everybody’s got a thing for lefties.

Can’t say I blame them…

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