Last season, the Christopher High girls basketball team played its best down the stretch, winning its final four league games in impressive fashion and its Central Coast Section playoff opener before losing to a very tough Hillsdale team in the Division II quarterfinals.
Having returned all but one starter off that team in addition to some key reserves, the Cougars are poised to have another strong season, this time in their new league, the Blossom Valley Athletic League’s Mount Hamilton Division.
“We know the challenges that we’re going to be facing this year and we’re excited for the challenges,” coach Heather Stewart said after the team’s scrimmage at Leigh High on Nov. 21. “We know we have a lot of work to do, but I have a group that’s really eager to do the work so that’s going to translate into a lot of improvement.”
The team has a wealth of returners, including a trio of guards who serve as catalysts. They include Nat Javier, Alyssa Lopez and Brooke Sabala.
“Nat, Alyssa and Brooke, they’re really kind of our powerhouse,” Stewart said.
When Lopez is dialed in, she can drain 3-pointers with the best of them. Sabala is a strong ball-handler and a force at the defensive end, and Javier can get to the basket off dribble penetration and finish near the rim.
However, everyone on the team had trouble finishing from close range against Leigh, a byproduct of having just two weeks of practice in them.
“I think they’re ready to get the work in and they’re all hungry to improve on the things we need to. You know, like those 85 layups we missed in the second half,” Stewart said with a grin. “So we’ll get on those but that comes from fatigue. They’re a little fatigued but we’ll be fine.”
Senior wing Sarah Arcelo is the team’s Swiss Army knife in that she can do it all: dribble, penetrate, rebound, shoot, defend and pass well. Senior post Morgan Blaettler has the ability to get hot from the outside as she did against Leigh, but she also has the capability to be strong on the glass.
Midway through the second quarter, Blaettler rebounded her own miss not once but twice before making a nice pass to Javier, who made a jumper from the right elbow area. Returners Frenchy Falvey and Kaycee Carrasco were impact players last year and look to do the same again this season.
“Kaycee is learning and growing, and Frenchy is solid and probably one of my higher IQ players,” Stewart said. “She sees the court really well, anticipates and is just super strong.”
Freshman Hazel Kjellesvig showed flashes of potential against Leigh, and another newcomer, Alexa Booth, gave some quality minutes as well. Shiloh Vallejos is currently injured but when she returns, Stewart expects the sophomore wing to give the team plenty of energy and spark just like she did a year ago. And senior Melody Moghini also has the capability to give the team quality minutes in a couple of areas of the game.
The Cougars went 14-7 overall and 7-3 last season competing in the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Gabilan Division. Now they’ve transitioned to the BVAL’s Mount Hamilton, which for girls basketball is a deeper division in that there isn’t likely to be any easy outs.
“This is a great group of young women I’m excited about, but the league we’re going into is no joke,” Stewart said. “So every single game is going to be a battle and it’s going to be a matter of who is going to be the most prepared, who makes the least amount of errors, and who executes in the right way. We know what we have in front of us.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]