Before the season started, Christopher High junior Hanna Tabron and sister, freshman Olivia Tabron, had played maybe three or four basketball games together.
Now 17 games into the Cougars’ 2011-12 campaign, their answer to what it’s like playing with each other came in unison.
“It’s frustrating,” they said in sync, staring and smiling at each other, sitting in gray folding chairs after practice Tuesday.
“She doesn’t listen to me,” Hanna said.
“She yells at me a lot,” Olivia quipped in return.
“And she has a big mouth,” rebutted Hanna, whose comment put an end to the back and forth.
They bring out the mean streak in one another in spirited practice drills, and in the heat of competition share sharp-tongued exchanges during timeouts. But, sisterly bickering aside, their pairing on the court creates an edge for the first-place Cougars and a daunting task for opposing defenses to deal with.
“She is a good post player and uses her big body to crash the boards,” Hanna said of 6-foot-1-inch Olivia.
“She can do everything, post up, hit the outside shots and drive,” Olivia, in return, complimented Hanna, who herself stands at a lanky, agile 6-foot.
Meet the towering Tabron tandem
Head coach Heather Stewart recognized early on what she had in Hanna, and also the potential that was there for more.
To place a word on Hanna Tabron’s two-and-a-half seasons with CHS, “progress” fits best. She has been able to dominate on a regular basis, but, with coaching and coaxing from Stewart, refused to stay stagnant.
As a freshman who was taller than most players, and with a quickness to the rim and a nose for rebounds on the Cougars’ junior varsity team in 2009-10, Stewart utilized the budding point. There was no doubt Hanna would make the move to varsity for CHS’s inaugural season at that level. She was thrust into a leadership role the following year as a sophomore and averaged 15 points per game, scoring from every-which-corner of the floor, be it beyond the arc or in the paint. She earned first-team all-league honors, but struggled with the inherited responsibility of the team’s primary scorer, rebounder and defender.
“We have spent a lot of time trying to develop her game, and get her to the understanding that she is in a leadership role,” Stewart said. “She is now getting to that point where she is taking on that responsibility, not just by scoring, but being more vocal at practice and communication outside the gym. Hanna has made leaps and bounds with mental toughness.”
Shy and a bit reluctant to shoulder the leadership load at first, Hanna said she has grown into her role this season with the help of a reliable supporting cast.
“Usually I’m quiet, but now I feel better about it,” she said. “I was kind of forced into the position and I had to learn how to be a leader. It has been stressful at times, a lot of pressure. But it has been much better this year because we have more people who can score.”
Players such as sophomore point guard Cydney Caradonna (7.6 points per game), sophomore Dejah Raoof and senior Merrett Brown. And though defense in an area in which Hanna prides herself (80 steals, 104 blocks), the defensive prowess of senior captain Haylee Peterson reinforces that front as well. The overall improvement of the Cougars has lifted Hanna’s confidence and allowed her to be much more fluid on the court – executing dribble-drive moves and dialing-in her mid-range jumper, an aspect of her game she says has improved the most.
Hanna’s versatility has allowed for Stewart to spearhead a transformation in her game over the past two-plus seasons, better shaping her all-around skills for the next level.
“I’ve been in the collegiate showcase events for the NCAA since 1999. I know what college coaches are looking for – the style of players they want who have the ability to compete at the collegiate level,” Stewart said. “Being on the road every summer in that arena, I could tell right away that Hanna had an athleticism. But I also knew that she didn’t have the body frame or the size to compete on the block at the next level.”
With the collegiate level a realistic possibility – Hanna has already received interest from universities in the West Coast Conference, the Western Athletic Conference and the Big West – she has shifted her focus to the guard spot full time this season.
“When I said ‘you are going to handle the ball,’ her jaw hit the floor. Then we got right to work,” Stewart said. “Right away, the wingspan that she has and her height, it immediately becomes an advantage as a guard.”
If one Tabron is great, two is even better. They agree to avoid each other at practice – apparently the annoyance factor is too great. But their synchronicity doesn’t stop with the good-natured ribbings. The sisters, whose parents Ron (an assistant for coach Stewart) and Lena met while playing college ball at the University of the Pacific, have developed an effective one-two punch.
“Olivia, being on the post now, draws a lot of attention,” Stewart said. “That opens up Hanna and our other players to drive the lane. And then Olivia also has the ability to bring that post player out to the perimeter and hit a 3. So she has definitely added a nice inside-outside game for us.
“They have different personalities on the floor and different strengths and weaknesses,” Stewart continued. “But the beautiful thing is, when they come together and work together, it’s harmonious. It’s fun to watch.”
As the only freshman on varsity still learning, adjusting and fine-tuning, Olivia’s impact has been uniquely immediate. Though her freshman duties do include cleaning up after practice.
“In the beginning of the season, I was a little scared,” Olivia said. “Now I want to help the team in any way I can.”
Her breakout moments came at the Del Mar Tournament in late December where she posted point totals of 16, 14 and 16.
“It all started coming together,” she said.
A tisket, a tasket, which Tabron made that last basket?
Hanna is averaging 17 points per outing this season and is coming off of a career-high 32-point outburst in a victory against Watsonville on Monday night. In the same game, Olivia, who chips in 12 points per contest, scored 15 points. That’s a combined 47 points of the Cougars 55 they totaled in the win. They followed up those performances with a double-double each in Wednesday’s win against North Monterey County; Hanna depositing 15 points and hauling in 12 rebounds and Olivia dropping in 11 points and grabbing 15 boards. Achieving double-digit scoring isn’t uncommon. Hanna has done that in 14 of the team’s 17 games; Olivia in eight of those.
The Cougars are 12-5 overall – including nonleague wins over North Salinas, Gilroy, and Notre Dame, which is in first place in the Tri-County Athletic League – and 6-1 in league, good for first place in the MBL.
“Our chemistry on the floor is great,” Hanna said. “We all work on fundamentals. We all encourage each other.”
Playing in the postseason is always a goal at the onset of a season. Five games remain in the Cougars’ regular season. That goal is nearing reality.