Honors for Keppel’s Kikuchi

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Joe Kikuchi goes over a play with his Keppel team during a playoff game on Feb. 23 in Alhambra.

ALHAMBRA — The Pasadena Star News released its selections for the best in girls’ basketball for the 2012-2013 season, and the team from Mark Keppel High in Alhambra was well represented.

In addition to Keppel senior Alyson Lock being named Player of the Year, her coach was also honored as the best in the area.

Leigh Kunitake of San Marino

“I am gratified for the fact that my girls are now recognized,” Keppel head coach Joe Kikuchi told The Rafu Shimpo. “When I am recognized, they are recognized and vice versa.”

With Kikuchi guiding a team that featured Lock, junior Lauren Saiki and Samantha Lee – who was also named to the All-Area First Team – the 27-7 Lady Aztecs went undefeated in the Almont League and made an exciting run deep into the postseason, reaching the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section playoffs.

Keppel didn’t have the luxury of a weak schedule, either. In addition to league teams like La Cañada, they also took on squads from Alemany, West Torrance and in the playoffs, JW North.

“I am also gratified because of the fact that you usually hear about the same powerhouse schools,” Kikuchi added. “I want to say that I am proud to help put Keppel and the short teams on the map as a leader.”

This was Kikuchi’s first season at the helm of the Varsity team, after serving as an assistant for a year, and as the JV head coach before then. He said that following some of his former JV players as they developed through the program made a huge difference.

“Two years ago, I coached three of the girls on my JV team who were big factors on this team. These girls knew my style of coaching along with Alyson and Leslie [Tan.] We used our speed and our defense to make the system work. Our remedy was playing harder than our opponents. We had to, since we were under-sized even over the previous year.”

Kikuchi said that the Aztecs will be relying heavily next season on Saiki and shooting guard Tammi Matsukiyo to lead the new team.

“We will be young and even smaller next season, but once again, will have to get down to playing hard, great defense and executing on offense.  Next year will be a rebuilding year, but we are up for the challenge,” he said.

Also named to the Star News First Team were Courtney Chen of La Cañada and Pasadena Poly’s Kiki Yang. The All-Area Second Team included Keppel’s Tan and Leigh Kunitake of San Marino.

Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo

Loyola Marymount-bound Alyson Lock averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds per game and was named co-MVP of the Almont League along with teammate Samantha Lee.

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