Christopher High seniors (from left) Alyssa Lopez, Francesca "Frenchy" Falvey and Nat Javier led the Cougars to a record-setting 14 game win streak to begin the 2023-24 campaign. (contributed)

For the Christopher High girls’ basketball team, the holidays brought a big tournament championship and extension of a school-record win streak. 

And the new year brought two more wins, with league play on the horizon.

The Cougars won the title in the Gold Bracket of the 2023 Del Mar John Araujo Memorial Holiday Tournament in the last week of December by defeating Terra Nova, Valley Christian and Leland.

Senior guard Nat Javier was named tournament MVP and senior center Alyssa Lopez was named to the All-Tournament Team. 

The title follows a first-place finish in the Watsonville Tournament in early December, and raised the team’s overall record to a spotless 12-0 mark. Victories over Cristo Rey and Andrew Hill then improved the mark to 14-0, extending the streak further and setting a program record.

Oh, but how they won the Del Mar championship game. 

In the contest, Christopher faced Leland, a strong crew that entered the game with a 9-2 record and a 53.1 points-per-game average.

According to Maxpreps, the Chargers were ranked No. 7 in California Division II, quite a bit ahead of the Cougars.

“We played an almost perfect first quarter as a team,” Christopher coach Jim Falvey said. “(We) jumped out to a 32-2 lead in the first quarter with a high-pressure press that included a barrage of steals and 3-pointers. After that, we continue to dominate the championship game and ended up winning 70-26.”

The fierce Cougar defense kept Leland from even getting halfway to their average. Christopher’s defense has held 11 of 14 opponents to 37 points or less and kept five to 29 or less. And the offense has been red-hot, scoring 69 points or more in eight of the 14 games.

Wins have come over San Lorenzo Valley, Salinas, Hollister, Seaside, Aptos, Palo Alto, Leight, San Lorenzo Valley again, Lincoln. 

In the Del Mar tournament, the vanquished were Terra Nova, Valley Christian and Leland. In the first week of January, the Cougars rolled past Cristo Rey 92-44 and Andrew Hill 69-35.

“Our victories in the Del Mar Tournament highlight our team’s dedication, hard work, and relentless spirit,” Javier said. “The ruckus that we have caused this preseason foreshadows the impact that we plan on bringing to league this year, and I am beyond grateful to be able to leave it all on the court with such amazing coaches and talented young ladies.”

Javier led the tourney scoring parade with a total of 48 points in the three tourney games. Lopez added 31. Shiloh Vallejos really broke out over the last two games, scoring nine against Valley Christian and 15 against Leland. 

Kaycee Carrasco, a consistent force at both ends of the floor, tallied 15 versus Leland and added 17 against Andrew Hill. Christopher’s depth was illustrated by Brooklyn Sax, who scored 19 against Cristo Rey.

In the tourney, Frenchy Falvey set the tone defensively with hustle on loose balls and leading Christopher in rebounds. She also dished off for the most assists on the team. Javier led the squad in steals.

“This tournament was a total team effort,” Falvey said. “Not only from our starters but from key contributions off the bench from some of our younger players like Brooklyn Sax, who would come in and hit a key 3-pointer, or Maddie Tamone who would come in with a key rebound or block, or Ember Navarro who would come in with immediate high energy and change the pace of the game. Without that depth, these victories wouldn’t be possible.”

The Gold Bracket was the top bracket at Del Mar and included some of the best teams in the Bay Area. Valley Christian was ranked No. 10 in California D-II by Maxpreps and proved to be Christopher’s toughest test. The Warriors led by seven early in the fourth quarter but the Cougars roared back to claim a 44-37 win.

“Our success this weekend comes from the culture of our team,” Carrasco said. “Our relentless effort shows a lot of character. The energy from the bench and the players in the game allow us to go on strong runs.”

The tournament title avenged a loss to Branham in the title game of last season’s Del Mar Gold Bracket. Notching victory number 14 extended the season-opening win streak, which smashed the previous school record of nine in a row, set last year. 

“It was an amazing team effort and wouldn’t be possible without the help of our coaches setting us up for the wins,” Lopez said. “It shows the other teams that little Christopher High from Gilroy is ready for the big teams this season.”

The team spirit and unselfish play have been hallmarks of the Cougars and their success. Along with basketball talent inside and outside, and valuable depth.

“It’s clear that for us, basketball is more than a game,” said Francesca (Frenchy) Falvey, daughter of the coach. “Our dynamic on the team is close to a family, and I think that is what makes us so successful on the court. Everyone on the team wants the other to succeed, and it makes our game play extremely cohesive. That along with our coaches who spend countless hours game planning and prepping us for our games is what leads our team to victory.”

Action in the Blossom Valley Athletic League Mt. Hamilton Division begins tonight. 

Mt. Hamilton is the top division within the BVAL and is chock full of dangerous opponents, including Branham (10-1), which will visit Christopher for the league opener on Tuesday at 7pm. 

Other top contenders include Evergreen Valley and Pioneer. In this division, everyone knows how to play and thus Leland and Sobrato cannot be overlooked.

“This team is the most joyful and unselfish group of kids I have ever coached,” coach Falvey said. “They all play for each other and are constantly lifting each other up. And that culture is showing in our results. It’s truly a joy to be a part of.” 

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