RACHEL FINNEGAN, Turlock basketball
The Bee's Player of the Year last season, Finnegan was among the best in the region at balancing her scoring with her passing. She has a more focused role this season.
"Last year she tried to get everyone involved," coach Salinda Mabie said. "This year she is looking to shoot more. Of course, more teams are doubling and sometimes putting three people on her. Her assists are improving as her teammates' confidence improves and they are ready for her passes."
Finnegan is among the Stanislaus District leaders in scoring (15.3), rebounding (8.8), assists (4.7) and steals (4.2), and has helped the Bulldogs stay unbeaten in the Central California Conference.
"She (is) a great leaper and has a natural instinct to snatch the ball like you want your post to do; she just happens to be a guard," Mabie noted.
CHRIS URQUIZO,Merced wrestling
Urquizo is doing his best to make up for last time. After reaching the finals of the state tournament as a sophomore, he was ineligible last season.
The Bears' 152-pounder has returned with a vengeance, posting a 29-3 record and was named the outstanding middleweight after winning a championship at the Tim Brown Memorial Tournament in Sacramento. He pinned Natomas' Vlad Dombrovskiy -- a state champ last year, Dombrovskiy was wrestling in a higher weight class in hopes of a challenge -- in the first round of the final.
Urquizo's size and strength were enough to overcome Dombrovskiy's experience as the Merced senior got a single leg for an early takedown. In no time at all, Urquizo had his foe in a cradle -- he calls it one of his favorite moves -- and trapped him against the mat for the pin.
Tillema spent the offseason working on her post moves, and last week averaged 16.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, three steals and 4.5 blocked shots in wins over Escalon and Riverbank.
Her tenacity on the other end of the court has been equally crucial to the Knights' success.
"Defensively, she makes it challenging for opposing teams to go inside," the coach said. "She (also) has taken up more of a leadership role."
JOHNNY HUTTON, Modesto Christian basketball
Though D.J. Seeley no longer plays for Modesto Christian -- he's now a freshman playing at Cal -- the Seeley family is still helping the Crusaders rack up victories.
"I spent the summer working hard with coach (Dennis) Seeley and he made me a better dribbler, shooter and defender," said the 6-foot-5-inch, 225-pound Hutton, referring to D.J.'s dad. "I knew I'd have the chance to play a bigger role this season and I was going to make sure I was ready for it."
The work paid off as Hutton is averaging 15.6 points and six rebounds for the Crusaders. Hutton says an early loss to San Leandro helped open his eyes to the impact he could have.
"I cut my right eye, but after I got it stitched and came back in the game I felt better than I had before the cut," he said. "I think that's when I realized good things could happen this season."
-- RICHARD T. ESTRADA