IMPERIAL VALLEY – In a year of firsts for girls basketball teams in the CIF San Diego Section’s Southeastern Conference, the 2023 All Imperial Valley and Desert League girls basketball teams along with the Players and Coaches of the Year saw a number of previous winners garnering awards.

The 2023 All Imperial Valley League Girls Basketball Team features six returnees from the 2022 squad, with the IVL champion Imperial High Tigers having 2022 Player of the Year senior Sierra Morris, and IVL Coach of the Year Rich Ponchione, both receiving those honors again in 2023.

“There is a lot that goes into the award … first being that you can’t win without the girls playing at a high level,” Ponchione said.

Ponchione, who picked up his 400th victory during the past season, also noted the other elements that contribute to the success of his perennially strong Tiger basketball teams.

“I also can’t win this award without my assistant, Daniel Cardona, who takes on more and more of the coaching each season,” Ponchione said. “And I definitely would not have the award without the support of my school, our Athletic Director Victor Cruz, and the support we receive from our Tiger community.”

For Morris, winning her second Player of the Year honor comes off a season where Imperial finished the season 26-6 overall over a challenging schedule and an 8-0 record in IVL play. Morris led the Tigers in scoring, rebounding, and free-throw shooting percentage while being second in blocked shots and third in steals.

“Sierra earned it … she definitely did,” Ponchione said, noting it was nonetheless a difficult decision.

Ponchione noted marked examples like All-IVL first-team returnees senior Xiomara Cardona – who led Imperial in assists – and was a close second for team leader in steals to her All-IVL returnee sophomore sister, Nayeli Cordona. Nayeli Cardona was second in scoring on the Tigers’ team.

“All of my players had different roles, and we play as a team,” Ponchione said. “They are equally important to our success, so when I’m asked for my MVP that’s tough … it’s more than just points scored.”

Ponchione also noted that with a number of good players in the IVL this season, someone like Tiger senior Amy Riley – a second-team selection in 2022 who lead Imperial in blocks was second in rebounds and first in shooting percentage this season – failed to be named All IVL in 2023.

In addition to Morris and Xiomara Cardona, the all-senior 2023 All-IVL First Team included three other 2022 all-league recipients: Holtville’s Kamryn Walker, Central’s Moyra Garcia and Calexico High’s Cecilia Costa.

Named to the 2023 All-IVL’s Girls Basketball Second Team were Nayeli Cordona, seniors Demi Johnston of Holtville and Karissa Castillo of Brawley, and juniors Mya McClain of Central and Mia Barboa of Calexico.

The 2023 All Desert League Girls Basketball Teams feature a new Player of the Year in Palo Verde High School’s Charlotte Dagnino, and the Desert League’s Coach of the Year, Palo Verde’s Irma Gonzalez. Gonzalez earns the honor for the second year in a row.

“I am humbled and grateful to our league for recognizing our efforts as coaches at PV,” Gonzalez said, “and I accept this award with honor representing my home town.”

Gonzalez – who lettered for Palo Verde in basketball for four years in the mid-1990s in the original Desert League – credits her staff in helping the Yellow Jackets to their second consecutive DL and CIF Divisional championship.

Gonzalez’s assistant coaches are Tim Cox and Troy Peterson, which, as head coach and assistant coach respectively, led Palo Verde to their first woman’s CIF Divisional title in 2015.

“We all put in a lot of time and as a staff, we collaborate well, put in a lot of time in the off season, and have the same goals in mind,” Gonzalez said.

Dagnino was an All Desert League First Team selection in 2022, when teammate Laura Tellez was the Player of the Year.

“Charlie definitely took on a new role this year with Laura graduating,” Gonzalez said. “Charlie went into the off-season knowing she would be the one in charge this year. Charlie improved a lot from last year, working hard in the off-season, transitioning her game from an outside player to a big inside.”

The 2023 All Desert League First Team included the Palo Verde cousin-combo of Charlotte Dagnino and Mary Jane Dagnino, both juniors, along with Calipatria High seniors Marcella Lyerly and Luna Cervantes, as well as Vincent Memorial Catholic High sophomore Paola Longoria.

The All Desert League’s Second Team for 2023 features Palo Verde senior Baylee Johnson and sophomore Jessica Walton, Calipatria seniors Michelle Trejo and Jolie Quintana, and senior Jenny Sanchez of Southwest High School.

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