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Dana Hills girls basketball advances to first CIF-SS semifinal with win over Villa Park

Dolphins win 49-41 in front of their home crowd

Dana Hills guard Kayla Rice goes up for a shot during a CIF-Southern Section high school girls basketball tournament game against Villa Park, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024 at Dana Hills High School in Dana Point, Calif. (Zach Cavanagh, Dana Point Times)

*This story is free and generously shared by Zach Cavanagh, Picket Fence Media

DANA POINT — The best season in the history of the Dana Hills girls basketball program is far from over.

Five Dolphins spread out the scoring in the first half, and leading scorer Kayla Rice scored all 16 of her points in the second half, as Dana Hills outpaced Villa Park, 49-41, on Wednesday, Feb. 14, to advance to the CIF-SS semifinals for the first time.

The Dolphins (27-4), who were playing in the program’s first CIF-SS quarterfinal, will play at No. 1 seed JSerra (21-9) on Saturday, Feb. 17, for a shot at the Division 3A Final. The Lions mounted a 21-point fourth quarter to rally over Oakwood, 47-37, on Wednesday.

“The girls have been locked in, man,” Dana Hills coach Shevy Akason said. “You can see that they’re locked in, in practice, locked in, in the locker room. It’s a lot of younger players, too, that are really locked in. They’ve been playing together since they were in third or fourth grade. They’re used to playing together. They’re used to being leaders. Our seniors, our juniors have been super welcoming to the underclassmen. They love each other. They play well together, and you can see it.”

By advancing to the CIF-SS semifinals, Dana Hills also qualifies for the CIF State playoffs for the first time, meaning no matter Saturday’s result or the result of a potential CIF-SS Final, the Dolphins will have more basketball to play.

“It’s a lot,” Dana Hills junior and captain Lola Bellon said. “Being a returner from last year, it means a lot to all of us. We all want to keep going. No one wants to end the season. We all want it so much more and want to keep fighting until we win.”

In the first half on Wednesday, Villa Park (19-11) pressed and double-teamed Dana Hills freshman leading scorer Rice all over the court and held her scoreless early, which forced the rest of the Dolphins to step up. Five different Dana Hills players got on the scoresheet in the first half, and after trading blows early, the Dolphins grabbed the lead on a 3-pointer by Bellon and never looked back.

Freshman Regan Akason led the Dolphins in the first half with six points, with Bellon, senior Madison Dellner and junior Brooklyn Akason each scoring five points, as Dana Hills led, 23-21, at halftime.

Bellon, who Coach Akason called their “glue girl,” did a bit of everything for the Dolphins, adding 10 rebounds and seven assists on the night.

At the break, the Dolphins focused their attention on getting Rice time and space to score, and she finally exerted her presence on the game in a big way to open the second half. Rice scored Dana Hills’ first three buckets out of halftime, and eight of the Dolphins’ 12 points in the third quarter.

“We had a hard time finding pockets for her to score. We just made a couple little tweaks,” Coach Akason said. “We had to get Kayla involved if we were going to win this game. We started in the high post and lobbing it down to her. She has a real knack for finding open space and for rebounding.”

Rice also scored six of the final eight points for Dana Hills, as the Dolphins closed out another historic victory and continued to push their program-best win total.

Dana Hills’ next challenge is top seed JSerra, which was ranked No. 1 in Division 3A all season despite a fifth-place finish in the Trinity League. 

Due to their low league finish, the Lions were forced to go on the road in the first two rounds of the CIF-SS playoffs and dominated with a 35-point win at Desert Christian Academy and a 32-point win at Huntington Beach before their quarterfinal home rally over Oakwood.

Dana Hills is familiar with JSerra’s players from the club ranks, and the Dolphins are looking forward to finally clashing with the Lions, who came to watch the second half at Dana Hills after their early tipoff on Wednesday.

“We’re really excited to play them,” Bellon said. “We think it’s going to be a great game. It’s going to be great competition.”

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