BOYS BASKETBALL: Cougars prepared to rise up

Freshman Luke Laguna, right, who will play on varsity this

Defensive aggressiveness, accountability top priority list
They did not want to hear the whistle.

Running through a fast break layup drill during practice last week, players on the Christopher High basketball team let out a collective groan anytime head coach Kaden Bahner and assistant Justin Ponzio blew their whistles.

It meant someone had missed a layup and the inevitability of 10 push-ups awaited them.

The goal was to hit five layups in a row, then a water break. After a few tries it happened. And the groans turned into clapping as they celebrated the small victory.

It’s a tough but effective way to learn team camaraderie and taking responsibility among themselves as well as relying on each other.

“It’s a self-accountability thing,” said Bahner, who enters his second year at the helm. “We want them to train to expect it from themselves. They respond well to it.”

In some respects, this year’s varsity Cougars have a new look, returning four players from the JV team last season and adding two freshmen as well as a few players who played on the freshman team last year.

“We’ve had to juggle some things this year, and of course there’s always issues with eligibility that come up,” Bahner said. “But I’m very pleased with everybody that I have on the team. We are going to go to battle with these guys.”

The Monterey Bay League, where the Cougars will call home, was dominated by Monterey wire-to-wire as the Toreadores went a spotless 10-0 in league to earn their second consecutive crown.

The next three spots were held by Seaside (6-4), North Monterey County (5-5) and Pajaro Valley (4-6), although Watsonville at 3-7 and Monte Vista Christian at 2-8, were within striking distance if a few contests went in their favor. Simply speaking: The MBL is competitive and Bahner knows his crew must be ready for anything.

“With us going into it, we believe that there aren’t a whole lot of people who expect us to do real well being down a senior class,” he said. “We are approaching it as we want to be the underdog. Our quote is, “if you can believe it, you can achieve it.” That’s what we are after right now. The kids know that it will take all 10, 11, 12 guys to do it.”

A difficulty in holding off opponents late in games last season has prompted Bahner to shift some of the emphasis on defensive strategy right away.

“One of the things that we are looking to do this year is focus on defensive intensity. I think that will keep us in close games,” Bahner said. “We may have quarters where we score more or less, but if we can limit their scoring, we will still be in ball games.”

CHS has a rare and exciting chance to open the season against Watsonville at Oracle Arena home of the Golden State Warriors in Oakland on Tuesday. The outcome will not go into league standings.

“We have been working on it off and on for about a year now, trying to make it happen,” Bahner said, adding that Watsonville head coach Mike Blum approached him two years ago, even before Christopher’s campus had been completed.

“We are really looking forward to it. I can’t say enough about the kids, parents and community members. It wouldn’t have happen if it wasn’t for them. They put forth some very good money to purchase tickets.”

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