The Christopher High girls basketball team has had a lot to be pumped up about recently as it has avenged double-digit losses to North Salinas and Salinas with double-digit wins over those schools. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
music in the park san jose

High school basketball teams don’t often lose to a pair of opponents by double digits only to turn the tables on them just a few weeks later. 

But that’s exactly what the Christopher High girls basketball team has pulled off, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. When the Cougars beat Salinas High 63-44 on Feb. 3, it came just two weeks after they had lost to the Cowboys by 21 points. 

Five days before the first game against Salinas, Christopher lost by 24 points to North Salinas. In the rematch two weeks later, the Cougars completely outplayed the Vikings to record a 71-58 victory. That’s no small feat considering North Salinas has been the premier team of the league’s A division for the better part of the last decade. 

The Cougars (11-4 overall, 5-3 PCAL Gabilan) are coalescing at the perfect time with the start of the Central Coast Section playoffs looming, and there’s good reason for that. CHS had to deal with a team-wide Covid shutdown in December and coach Heather Stewart was out 10 days due to Covid protocols in January which sidelined her for the first four league games.

It’s hard for a team to find any sort of rhythm when players miss practice time and a coach of Stewart’s caliber has to miss extra time. 

“Now we’re all back together and it’s been a really good turnaround in terms of pace and energy,” Stewart said. “The execution and the intensity level at practices has been increasing so we’re really starting to get after each other in practices which translates well to the games.”

Nat Javier, the team’s superb sophomore guard who scored 18 points in the Salinas contest, summed up the team’s situation best.

“The close down in December and with coach being out for a while, it really hurt us,” she said. “But now within a couple weeks we’ve got our dynamic back. We work as a team to find the open shot and our defense has gotten really good.”

Of that, there is no doubt. With a balanced and talented roster, Stewart goes deep into her bench so the team can play high intensity basketball from start to finish. Long and active defensively, CHS helped force Salinas into 24 turnovers and on the flip side, it had no issues breaking the Cowboys’ full-court press. 

Stewart utilized a solid press-break and the players executed it well, were strong with the ball and made sound decisions. 

“The intensity and energy is what our team thrives on,” Stewart said. “We’re really progressing into understanding that our biggest challenge from the beginning was discipline, execution and patience. All of those things are starting to click.”

Nine different players scored for CHS against Salinas, including sophomore Alyssa Lopez, who shared team-high points honors with Javier with 18. Lopez is another big reason why the team is peaking. She missed the first couple of games of the season due to a concussion and has really found her groove with the ability to shoot 3-pointers, drive to the basket and play tough perimeter defense. 

Perhaps the most inspirational story on the team is junior Morgan Blattler, who wasn’t even on the opening week roster. Before making her return last month, Blattler hadn’t played in two years due to a pair of spinal surgeries, Stewart said. 

Along with junior post Sarah Arcelo, they’re two of the tallest players on the team and their length makes passing lanes that normally would be open for opponents smaller. Arcelo has a particular knack for getting steals and anticipating where the ball is going. 

Junior Brooke Sabala plays tough on the ball defense and Stewart never has to worry about Sabala bringing intensity to the court. Freshman Kaycee Carasco, Frenchy Falvey, Emily Baumgartner, freshman Shiloh Vallejos, Halina Santos and Adanna Ihenacho all got in the scoring column for the Cougars. In the North Salinas game, Javier erupted for a career-high 30 points. 

The beauty of Javier’s performance was it came within the flow of the game. 

“It was a surprising 30 because she just took what was given to her,” Stewart said. “There was nothing forced.”

Said Javier: “To be honest, it didn’t even feel like I scored 30 points because everything was going in rhythm and it just happened.”

Javier’s most impressive shot against Salinas came on a Steph Curry-like running tear dropper in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. That move allows smaller guards like Javier to routinely get shots off against taller players as they drive to the paint. 

Javier’s older sister, Kat, played at CHS and graduated in 2020. Since Kat resides in Seattle, Nat made sure to FaceTime her after the North Salinas game. 

“My sister never had 30, so I had to brag about that one,” Nat said, grinning cheerfully. “I was like, ‘Want to know about tonight’s game?’ I always looked up to her as competition and always loved being better than her, so from a young age the competition with her made me a better player.”

It shows.

Super sophomore Nat Javier gets fouled as she goes up for a shot in the Cougars’ 63-44 win over Salinas on Feb. 3. Javier also erupted for a career-high 30 points in a victory over North Salinas two days prior. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Emily Baumgartner goes up for a runner in Christopher’s win over Salinas. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Alyssa Lopez displays textbook shooting form in the Salinas game, where she had 18 points. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.

Previous articleGilroyan sworn in as CHP officer
Next articleGavilan men’s hoops look to finish season strong and springboard to Coast title contention next year
Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here