The Christopher High boys basketball team is attempting a rare double: win consecutive championships in different leagues.
Last season, the Cougars earned a share of the Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division title. This year, with the school having switched to the Blossom Valley Athletic League for athletics, they’re looking to capture the Mount Hamilton East Division crown.
Christopher took a big—check that, huge—step toward that goal by sweeping its two closest competitors, Oak Grove and Santa Teresa, in a span of three days. The Cougars, who entered the week 11-3 overall and 2-0 in league, beat Oak Grove 59-50 on Jan. 11 and two days later knocked off Santa Teresa, 67-42.
“We’re kind of gelling right now with our younger guys starting to get the kinks out from earlier in the year,” Cougars coach Adam Sax said. “They were a little nervous, now they’re playing well together, they know their spots.”
Christopher’s first half against Oak Grove—in which it jumped out to a 38-11 lead—was the team’s best half since Sax took over prior to the 2021-2022 season. It was a spectacular and impressive 16-minute stretch that coaches envision and draw up but rarely comes to fruition.
Working synergistically on defense, knocking down outside shots and playing clean basketball, the Cougars roared out to a 23-6 lead after the first quarter and extended the advantage to 27 points against a quality team in Oak Grove, no less.
The only thing that could stop the Cougars from running the Eagles out of their own gym was having to go to the locker room for the mandatory halftime break—and that’s exactly what happened. Christopher didn’t come close to matching its play in the second half, Oak Grove elevated its play and incredibly enough, the Eagles made things somewhat interesting in the end.
Oak Grove outscored CHS 39-21 in the second half, and the way things were going, the Cougars were fortunate there wasn’t a fifth quarter.
“You tend to drop down once you get a big lead, and I think that’s what happened,” Sax said. “But we came out really well [to open the game] and had a lot of energy and passion.”
Did they ever. Gurshan Nahal drained a 3-pointer seconds after the opening tip, igniting a 14-0 blitz to start the game. Nahal had 12 points on four 3s and Nico Ragasa was valuable yet again in the high-low game, delivering several assists that led to easy baskets.
Of course, any time one discusses CHS basketball, it starts and ends with 6-foot-5 center Braddock Kjellesvig. The sophomore had 27 points on 12-of-13 shooting and followed that up with 28 points on 13-of-15 shooting vs. Santa Teresa to go along with 15 rebounds.
Two games, 55 points, shooting a ridiculous 89.3% from the floor. That would be hard to replicate in a video game, let alone against two solid high school teams. But that’s how well Kjellesvig has been playing this season.
“Braddock is starting to add different moves to his game down low,” Sax said. “He loves to pass so we’re actually trying to get him to shoot more. He is only a sophomore so he’s going to continue to grow and evolve as a basketball player.”
Chigozie Okeke has been consistently excellent as well, finishing with 18 points in both the Oak Grove and Santa Teresa games. A solid ball-handler and tough on the ball defender, Okeke is the team’s top returner along with Kjellesvig and can get to the basket off dribble penetration.
Then there’s Ragasa, who wasn’t on the team last year but has made an impact with his ability to pass from the high post, allowing the team to score in transition and out of half-court sets more freely. The junior guard had seven assists vs. Santa Teresa.
“Nico has done a great job,” Sax said. “When he’s aggressive, he’s really good. We’ve been kind of preaching to him, ‘you got to be aggressive, you got to make plays.’ He’s got a high basketball IQ, especially at that high post passing to other guys. He’s one of our best defensive guys, too.”
Chris Naulls, Sam Guenther and Tyler Green have provided quality minutes as well, filling their roles nicely. Sax said the team was a “little discombobulated” earlier in the season, with players moving around and gaining experience.
Now that it’s happened, the Cougars can be flat-out dominant when they’re clicking as they were in the first half against Oak Grove. However, Sax pointed out the team needs to be locked in for the entire game to reach its goal of winning a league championship and can’t rely on hot shooting alone.
“We can’t shoot like that every game, so we just have to play four quarters rather than two quarters,” he said.