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Friday, July 19, 2019

Sister Act: St. Anthony Saints Bring Family Atmosphere to the Court

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Photo Caption: Saint Anthony’s Catholic High School boasts four sets of sisters on its roster: (From left) Stephanie Williams, with big sister Natalie seated behind her; Jourdan Cooper with little sis Kendall behind her; and the Panaguitan sisters (sophomore Beatrice Panaguiton on front right with big sister Breanna beside her and twin sister Brittany seated behind). Not pictured: St. Anthony’s fourth set of basketball-playing sisters, Talor and Chandler Hixon.

Photo Credit: Full Court/Stephanie Cooper

By Sue Favor

Eighty-four teams took the floor at the Nike Tournament of Champions Friday, and all of them had a lot in common: Talent, competitive spirit, a passion for the sport, and hopes of emerging on top as the national high school girls basketball champions. But one team had something else going for them. Sisters. And a lot of them.

Now one set of sisters might not be that big a deal. We’ve grown accustomed to sister combos and even twins on the court. Oklahoma had the Paris twins, the WNBA has the Millers.

But the St. Anthony’s Catholic High School team includes four sets of sisters on its roster: Junior forward Jourdan Cooper and little sister, freshman post standout Kendall Cooper; senior guard Talor Hixon and freshman guard Chandler Hixon; junior forward Natalie Williams and freshman guard Stephanie Williams; and the Panaguitan trio of senior point guard Breanna and sophomore twins Beatrice and Brittany.

“It’s different,” Jourdan Cooper said. “I’ve never been on a team that had that many sisters, but it kind of keys team chemistry.”

James Anderson, in his third year at the Long Beach school after leading Narbonne High School to years of greatness, said this is his first experience with such a sister-filled team. And he sees definite benefits.

“It helps the coaching staff quite a bit, because the older kids can pass down what we’re doing,” Anderson said. “The younger sisters are the ones I don’t have to acclimate as much.”

At a recent showcase tournament at the Hangar Athletic Xchange in Hawthorne, California, St. Anthony’s caused fans to take notice with their physical play and fearlessness under the basket. The team is tall, with four players 5-foot-11 and above. Anderson said player confidence has grown markedly since he first took over the program. And it’s been enough to earn them an invitation to compete in the John Anderson Division of this year’s Nike Tournament of Champions.

“The kids look forward to playing big games, whereas they were shell-shocked before,” he said.

Photo Caption: 5-7 senior guard Talor Hixon, a nominee for last year’s Girls Basketball All-State team, is passing on her knowledge of Coach James Anderson’s system to little sister Chandler, also a guard, a 5-4 freshman.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Cooper for Full Court Press

Anderson attributes the change, first, to the fact that more girls are turning out for the sport at St. Anthony’s. He said that in his first year there, 16 girls tried out, and there was no JV team. By last year, 25 came and there were two teams again.

Anderson said he “hadn’t had to do anything” to increase his numbers at the private school. Given his reputation, this isn’t surprising.

As coach at Narbonne High School in Harbor City, CA from 1992-2006, Anderson’s teams brought home 12 league titles, three state titles and unofficial national championships in 2000 and 2001. Narbonne was stripped of two more state titles as sanctions for what the CIF found to be player eligibility infractions. But a large number of Anderson’s athletes have gone on to play for Division I schools, and a good percentage have then played in the WNBA.

St. Anthony’s, with a student body of about 500, is quite a bit smaller than Anderson’s former school, and athletes there are accorded a lot of status.

“If you’re an athlete at St. Anthony’s, you’re big because it’s a small school,” Anderson said. “The basketball team interacts with the other sports teams, and they support each other.”

Anderson said that there’s “a lot of talent in the Long Beach area.” But he also acknowledged that players coming in now are much more athletic than they used to be, which is the second reason he gives when explaining his team’s new self-confidence.

“More and more kids eighth grade and under play travel ball now,” he said.

Kendall Cooper is an example of one of those young, athletic players. Game watchers already have an eye on her, and Anderson is frank about her abilities.

“She has a chance to be one of the best players I’ve coached,” he said. “Kendall is further along as a ninth grader than (former Narbonne player) Ebony Hoffman was at that age.”

Senior Center Paris Lamar, who came to the school the same year Anderson did, said the team’s skills have been steadily improving. This year communication has also become better, which she said is crucial to their success. And part of the reason for the improvement is because of the influx of sisters.

“Communication is better with all the sisters on the team,” Lamar said. “It’s very fun.”

Kendall Cooper called the situation “a lot of fun.”

“If you can’t run to your own sister, you can run to another sister,” she said. “We all have good communication and we like to hang out. We have a bond that’s unbreakable.”

Photo Caption: Sisters Jourdan and Kendall Cooper have great chemistry, both on and off the court.
Photo Caption: Six-three forward-center Kendall Cooper, who played on TeamXpress this summer, is showing evidence of D-I talent even as a freshman, combining soft hands and a soft touch with great physicality in the paint. Kendall enjoys playing on the same team with big sister Jourdan, a 5-11 junior forward.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Cooper for Full Court Press

Jourdan Cooper and Lamar both referred to the team as “one big family.” Anderson agreed with the sentiment, but said this is what he has always strived to achieve on the teams he’s coached.

“I’m all about having a family atmosphere on teams, and I’m creating a similar situation at St. Anthony’s that I had at Narbonne,” he said.

“I have to create some love in that gym. The deal is that I may yell at you in practice or in games, but once it’s over, we’re done with that. As long as you like coming to practice every day, it’s all good.”

Photo Caption: Adding to the St. Anthony’s family are senior guard Breana Panaguitan (center) and kid sisters Brittany (right) and Beatrice (left), both sophomores.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Cooper for Full Court Press

The Saints, who are trying to improve on last year’s 16-11 record, prepared for the Nike Tournament of Champions with a series of smaller tournament appearances. They started by hosting the St. Anthony’s Classic the first week in December, where they went 4-0, then headed to the Redondo Union Classic (Battle at the Beach IV), where they notched two more wins, against Palos Verdes Peninsula and Long Beach Millikan, before dropping their first game of the season, a 47-51 loss to Inglewood who went on to win it all. The Saints also lost to Bishop Montgomery in the tournament.

The fates were not kind to St. Anthony’s in its first appearance at the Nike. Not all the sister combos—or other players on the team’s long roster—were able to make the trip due to financial considerations, as the Saints fell, 49-55, to Arizona’s Shadow Mountain and now head to the consolation bracket where they will take on Colorado’s Cherry Creek in the opening game of the day.

But the Saints nevertheless acquitted themselves well. Jourdan Cooper got off only one field-goal attempt, a miss, but cheered little sister Kendall along, as she notched double figures with 11 points. Talor Hixon added seven, and Natalie Williams chipped in with three. Raquel Johnson, who has no sister on the roster but can still feel the love, led the team with 16.

Photo Caption: Just as any team is more than the sum of its parts, St. Anthony’s is more than the sum of its sisters. Top row, left to right: Chandler Hixon, Tumauni Moss, Breana Panaguiton, Lauren Heard; Middle row, left to right: SueKalena Tafao, Jourdan Cooper, Raquel Johnson, Lauren Siamau, Gaby Moura-Hayes; bottom row, left to right: Paris Lamar, Kendall Cooper, Natalie Williams, Stephanie Williams, Nia Williams, Jordan Jackson. Not pictured: Chandler Hixon
Photo Credit: Stephanie Cooper for Full Court Press

Originally published Sat, December 19, 2009

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
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8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
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14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
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17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
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20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
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Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.