As long as the Christopher High girls basketball team plays with grit, coach Heather Ridley will be satisfied.
The Cougars have displayed plenty of that this season, sporting a 12-4 overall record and 2-2 mark in the ultra-competitive Blossom Valley Athletic League Mount Hamilton Division. The division’s two best teams, Branham and Evergreen Valley, are ranked among the top 15 teams in the Central Coast Section, regardless of division.
“I actually liked what I saw tonight with our players and the fight and grit they showed,” Ridley said after a 65-59 loss to Evergreen Valley on Jan. 10. “I’m very proud of the grit and fight we had and we’re excited to play this team again. It’s a hard, tough loss, but the girls know at this point the grit’s there.”
Morgan Blaettler epitomizes the Cougars’ resolve and determination. The senior forward had 19 points in the loss, scoring in a variety of ways. There was the 3-point bank shot seconds off the opening tip, the smooth mid-range jumpers, and swooping in from seemingly out of nowhere for a putback in the fourth quarter.
Blaettler also grabbed several rebounds and added a couple of blocks for good measure. As well as Blaettler has been playing this season, her production wasn’t guaranteed, not by a long shot. That’s because Blaettler has been limited the last two seasons due to two previous spinal surgeries, according to Ridley.
“This kid has been an absolute trooper,” Ridley said. “Two spinal surgeries at her age already, and she has just been working through a lot of that. The grit is in her. She gives everything she has every single time she’s on the court. She can drive to the basket, she gets tough rebounds and she’s deadly when she’s hitting her 3s. She’s a huge player for our team.
“Just her size, athleticism, ability to handle the ball. She’s been a fighter and trooper and her story is pretty amazing. The fact that she has a love and passion for this game and wants to keep playing. She’s working through a lot of therapy and is just an incredible kid.”
Guards Alyssa Lopez and Brooke Sabala are also known for their grit, particularly Sabala, who relishes the challenge of guarding a prolific offensive player.
“Brooke is my defensive gnat,” Ridley said. “She frustrates a lot of people. And Alyssa has been stepping up, starting to put the ball in the basket a little more.”
For a good portion of the off-season, Ridley didn’t know if she was going to return to the sidelines this year. But the makeup and character of the girls drew her back for one last season of coaching. Ridley and assistant coach Jim Falvey have known seniors Blaettler, Sabala and Sarah Arcelo since they were fifth-graders. And junior Frenchy Falvey, who was a fourth grader at the time, also met Ridley that same year.
Ridley and Jim Falvey coached these players on a NJB team before starting their own AAU squad.
“So we’ve had these seniors and that was a big contributing factor why I wanted to do one more year,” Ridley said. “I wanted to come back for these kids like Morgan who has fought for everything, Brooke who has come so far since her freshman year, and Sarah who is just a pure athlete and gives everything she has. We have a really great group of kids that made me want to fight for this one more year.”
Junior Nat Javier, who had 18 points in the Evergreen Valley game, has also been a standout running the point and her ability to make a flurry of shots. Arcelo runs the floor and defends well, grabs rebounds in traffic and is an underrated scorer.
Ridley credited her trusted assistants Falvey and Jaime Hall for their contributions to the team.
“Jim and Jamie are just incredible and do such a great job,” Ridley said. “They’re awesome.”
Since the league-opening loss to Evergreen Valley, CHS rebounded with blowout wins over Silver Creek and Oak Grove but dropped a 46-40 contest to Pioneer Thursday. The Cougars have a pivotal game with league-leader Branham on Jan. 24.
Branham has gained the early advantage in the chase for the championship by beating Evergreen Valley on Tuesday, improving to 3-0 in league. Branham and Evergreen Valley sit 1-2 in the standings and the Cougars know they have to take care of business against Pioneer, Silver Creek and Oak Grove to stay and finish in the top three.
Whatever happens the rest of the way, Ridley won’t soon forget this year’s CHS team.
“They’re excited for the rest of the season,” she said. “They’ve got chips on their shoulders.”