Emerging Leaders: Mendoza, Valdez will help push Gav in 15/16

Leading the way: Gavilan’s Jocelyn Medonza (right) takes a shot during shootaround at the end of practice Tuesday night. She and Brittany Valdez (left) will be the faces of the women’s basketball team this season.

Gavilan’s two second-year leaders on the floor got two drastically different looks at the game a year ago.
Brittany Valdez ran the point as a freshman and will repeat that role as a sophomore. Facilitating the offense and getting advice from her coach, Valdez said she learned something about being a leader.
“It made me a better leader and it made me a better point guard and it made me a better play maker,” Valdez said. “He would talk to me a lot and I feel like each game I would improve. … I feel like I’m ready for this season because he prepared me so well.”
Jocelyn Mendoza, meanwhile, played one game last year before injuring her knee forcing her to miss the entire season.
Mendoza said her knee—after having surgery on it which kept her out of basketball activities with the team until late August—is back and he tries to not dwell on her injury because she doesn’t want to have it hold her back on the court.
“Once I get on the court, I kind of forget about everything,” she said. “That includes the knee. I know if I focus on it, it might cause a bigger injury later.”
The red-shirt freshman, however, got a unique education in basketball. She sat on the bench, saw what her coaches saw and had a chance to give her insights to coach Eric Nelson.
“It was tough because I’ve always been lead by example,” Mendoza said. “Last year I wasn’t able to do that because I wasn’t able to play, but I would be on the sideline and after a play or a scrimmage he would ask me what I saw. I think that helped me as a player because he would then tell me what he saw.”
Mendoza said that tutelage helped her see the small details of the game.
Nelson spoke highly of both girls and said he will definitely need their leadership this season as the program continues to grow into one he expects it to be.
“They epitomize the way I’m trying to build this program in terms of all the small details. Taking pride in the little things and taking pride in their character,” Nelson said. “It makes my job as a coach easier because I have kids who can hold the players accountable but in a positive, respectable way.
“In my opinion, that’s what leadership is: Leading without people realizing they’re following.”
Both are captains. And both will be counted to use that they learned to help shepherd the Rams through the 2015-16 season.
Nelson said Valdez has so many qualities about her both on the floor and for the team in general that the girls rally around her as a leader.
“Brit is one of the most versatile players. She can make an impact on the game with her on board defense, with her rebounding, with her passing, with her ability to get into the paint,” Nelson said. “There’s so many areas that she can contribute to the game and all those are just technical. I’m not even talking about her leadership.”
Valdez said her partner on the floor is one of those you may not notice on the score sheet what she did for the game, but when Mendoza is not on the floor, the impact to the game is obvious.
“It was a huge hit for our team to not have her, and it was in the first game. I think that our season would have been drastically different if we would have had her just because of her versatility.”
Nelson said Mendoza can guard all five positions, rebound, hit a 3-pointer and do the little things that won’t show up in a stat sheet.
“She’s just a player who can help you in so many ways, but at the same time she’s not a kid who demands the ball. … She’s kind of the glue to this team.”
Valdez and Mendoza will help guide a team of local talent through the new season.
Six of the 13 girls come from Gavilan’s three campus cities: Gilroy, Hollister and Morgan Hill.
“In high school when we’d play against each other, it was good competition,” Valdez said. “Then we just come together and it’s like you’re not my competition any more. We’re a team. We just build a bond.”
Two more come from San Jose.
“It’s something I feel the community can really get behind this team. We have so many local people.”
Those names people should recognize if they followed high school sports over the last couple of years.
Nelson said they all play with a passion and are finding a chemistry that should translate well to the floor.
“The girls have a blue-collar approach and make it happen. They’ve been a joy to coach.”
Alyssa Newman from San Benito was a defensive first team all Gabilan Division player, but Nelson said her offensive game is really coming on.
And then there’s Sobrato’s post player Hazel Hill, who will add an extra dimension to Gavilan’s game underneath.
“We scouted her really hard. We wanted her to come here,” Mendoza said. “We’d go to almost every game and talk to here. She’s a great asset to the team.”
Gavilan is 1-1 after a tournament over the weekend. The Rams will next travel to San Jose City College 6 p.m. Thursday.

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