Christopher girls hoops on the upswing

Cougars senior Makenzie Barnes has helped the team to an 8-3 league record. Photo by Robert Eliason.

For various reasons, the Christopher High girls basketball team has endured more turmoil than the average prep squad. But under first-year coach Shirley Lampkin and forward Makenzie Barnes, the Cougars have rebounded this season, with their chemistry improving as the season has gone along.

It’s shown in their results, as the Cougars won both of their Monterey Bay League Pacific Division games this week to improve to 11-12 overall and 8-3 in division play.

“The girls are getting better everyday,” Lampkin said. “You can see it in their eyes because they’re learning and getting it. When things click, you just know it.”

Barnes agrees, as she noted the team has jelled, particularly since league play started a little over a month ago.

“The team has gone through a lot of changes in the last year, and it’s been tough,” said Barnes, who is the team’s lone senior. “But we’ve gotten through it, and we’re stronger for it.”

Barnes plays a vital role as one of the team’s impact defensive players.

“Makenzie is a playmaker and makes things happens,” Lampkin said. “She’s long, very athletic, a good leader, and is a great defender.”

Sophia Ayala, a junior guard/forward, gives the team energy by going all out on every possession.

“She’s a scrapper,” Lampkin said. “Whenever there is a loose ball, she’s there.”

Ayala is responsible for making the most exciting play in Christopher’s season, a buzzer-beating basket in a 46-45 win over first-place Notre Dame-Salinas on Jan. 25—still the Spirits’ only loss in division play. The shot by Ayala was actually the Cougars’ third or fourth shot of the possession, as they grabbed a couple of offensive rebounds.

“It was crazy, just amazing,” Lampkin said. “The girls played their hearts out. Even their fans afterward came up to me and said our girls were great, and that we have a great future. It was a nice thing to hear.”
Christopher has a rising talent in freshman 5-foot-10 center Mia Ledesma-Old Elk, who is the team’s tallest player and an impact player on the glass.

“She’s got a great future with us,” Lampkin said. “She’s a large part of our rebounding, and has amazing moments.”

Kat Javier, a sophomore point guard, possesses tremendous ball-handling skills along with being a solid 3-point shooter.

“She’s a true leader and playmaker,” Lampkin said. “Her skill level is way beyond anyone else in that she can go left, go right, and dribble left and right. She can make some no-look passes and has been a great leader, on and off the court.”

Mikaela Santiago, a freshman shooting guard, has the ability to drive and drain outside shots. It’s no wonder Santiago is the team’s leading scorer.

“She’s a very strong and physical player,” Lampkin said. “She never says a word, but she’s deadly. She’s like the Tasmanian Devil, in that she’ll drop her shoulder and drive all the time.”

Rhyan Maldonado, a junior guard, is the team’s sixth woman and potent from 3-point range. The Cougars have persevered throughout the season, including a game against Alvarez in which they finished with just four players due to injuries and illness. Even though the team lost the game, it never gave up. Barnes appreciates every moment she’s on the court, having played the game since she was in the third grade. In Barnes’ first couple of years playing the game, she rarely passed the ball.

“I was a ball hog,” she said. “I tried to play one against five, and was very selfish. I’ve learned to be a team player and share the ball.”

The team was at school Monday for Freshman Orientation Night, as they represented the team at a sign-up table to get more girls interested in the program. Lampkin said it was a good sign of the team’s evolving camaraderie and cohesiveness.

“They’re trusting each other, believe in each other, respect each other, and have bonded,” Lampkin said. “It’s been quite a challenge, but they’ve really come together.”

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