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May 30, 2023

CHS girls’ road to success will take all hands on deck

From start to finish. Or, in this case, is it vice versa?

A successful season for the Christopher High girls varsity basketball team starts with finishing. It sounds like a confusing riddle. Broken down, though, it makes perfect sense.

“I don’t emphasize starting roles. I will rotate my starting five players. I want finishers,” said head coach Heather Stewart, who enters her third season in all with the Cougars – second at the varsity level. 

Tuesday’s home opener against Notre Dame came down to the final seconds, and it took a handful of pivotal plays to eke out a 45-44 victory.

Senior Merrett Brown hadn’t made a shot all night until she hit nothing-but-net when it counted most – with nine seconds left. The shot wouldn’t have happened were it for a gritty offensive rebound by senior Ashanti Clayton, who, belly down on the floor fighting off a defender, managed to roll the ball to Brown. And the win wouldn’t have been preserved if Cydney Caradonna didn’t block a potential game-winning lay-up and Clayton didn’t come up with a steal on the subsequent in-bounds pass.

“My girls know it’s not about a starting job, it’s about a finishing job,” Stewart said. “When there’s two minutes left, who do I put on the court? I want five finishers.”

The Cougars finished. How they get to that point on a consistent basis has a starting origin of course – a frustrating drill in practice.

“We have a rebounding drill that they hate, but it brings out the claws in all of them,” Stewart said. “It holds everyone accountable for every single time that one person doesn’t block out. They are being held accountable for everything this year because the expectations we have of them are much higher.”

The strenuous workouts paid off Tuesday as the activity under the glass was evidenced in the Cougars 40 rebounds, 12 of those offensive. Seven different players got their hands on at least two rebounds. Hanna Tabron had 10, Clayton seven, 5-foot-2 Haylee Peterson had seven and Brown five. Five-foot-4 Caradonna, who also had 13 points, and 5-foot-3 Maddie Peterson contributed two and four, respectively.

“I think the one thing that will be really important to us this year is defensively being able to block out,” Stewart said. “We struggled with that a little bit last year. (Blocking out) is something as a coach I’d like to pride our program on. If we are able to do that, I think our transition offense will work for us.”

Around their basket, the Cougars will rely heavily on the production of Brown and returning all-leaguer Tabron, who posted 23 points, all in the second half, against the Spirits. Caradonna will add a spark and Clayton will contribute hard-earned points inside. Freshman Olivia Tabron and sophomore Dejah Raoof, who are both out with injury, will add more offensive firepower when they return, Stewart said.

“We have to shoot better and our free-throw shooting is atrocious,” Stewart said. “That’s something, moving forward, we will have to spend a lot of time on.”

– The Cougars finished in a three-way tie for fourth place (8-14 overall, 4-8 league) in the Monterey Bay League last season, but closed the regular season on a three-game win streak before dropping its opener in the MBL postseason tournament.

– CHS (2-0) opened play at the Watsonville Tournament on Thursday night. Results were not available at press time. The tournament will run through Saturday. Visit gilroydispatch.com for all prep updates.

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