It was a historic night for the Watsonville High girls’ basketball team on Jan. 3 as the Wildcatz pounced all over North Salinas High, 41-25, to tip off the Pacific Coast Athletic League season.
Not only did it help the ‘Catz get off to a great start in league play, but it was also their first win against the Vikings in the program’s history.
“I thought that it really showed our preseason schedule how tough it was now and how that kind of helped us prepare for this game,” Watsonville head coach Zach Cook said. “I think our girls worked hard and they definitely deserved it.”
North Salinas (1-11, 0-2) came into the season as the defending Gabilan Division co-champion. They are a storied program with three Central Coast Section Division I titles and multiple league crowns under head coach Darren Jackson.
Cook, who is entering his eighth year with the Wildcatz, said their program is still up and coming in that sense.
Watsonville (6-6, 1-1) won two league titles in the now-defunct Monterey Bay League with their most recent championship in 2012-13.
The ‘Catz have seen some recent success under Cook. They got bumped into the Gabilan Division for the 2022-23 season, which was an unknown situation for a lot of the players.
“The type of competition that we’re playing, how you have to bring it every night and compete every moment, every possession, it helped,” Cook said.
Last season, Watsonville placed fifth in the league standings with a 2-8 record in Gabilan Division play and finished with a 9-16 overall record.
The ‘Catz lost nine players due to graduation including standouts Xitlali Montesino, Nancy Morado and Kaylani Trout-Lacy.
Despite all of the adversity, this year’s group is using their experience to their advantage to improve.
“I feel like everybody’s like a leader on the team and we all come up in moments,” Senior guard Isabella Love said. “I’m not really the leader to tell people what to do. I’m more of just I’m gonna provide.”
Love developed into a sharpshooter with plenty of range and worked on her shot during the offseason. Her confidence level continues to grow as the season progresses.
As a freshman, Stephanie Martinez was given the reins to a varsity team and it was her first year of competing in the Gabilan Division—the top tier of the four divisions within the PCAL.
Cook said Martinez took her lumps, yet she learned a lot and worked hard in the offseason. As the ‘Catz were heading into league play, Martinez almost looked like a seasoned veteran.
“My mentality was just keep it up. It’s not going to be easy, you know?” Martinez said. “Our team got better playing as a team.”
Junior guard Hailey Brooks is not just a lockdown defender but she’s the defensive quarterback that does a great job communicating with her teammates. Fellow teammate Brianna Leon, a junior, has been a great ball distributor and someone who’s not afraid to drive into the lane for a layup.
Sophomore forward/center Leilani Vazquez made her way up from the freshman team. During the offseason she got into the gym and delved into learning her role, learning how to do the little things to help the ‘Catz be successful.
Junior forward Fernanda Lazo is also getting a lot of attention because she’s been efficient inside the paint, as well.
Both Vazquez and Lazo battle each other hard during practice but it just makes the duo that much more productive under the hoop, Cook said.
Others on the roster include seniors Iliana Garcia, Danika Hernandez, Itzel Martinez, Juleanna Ramirez, Mariana Ramirez and Evanny Rosillo; junior Monique De La Mora and sophomore Itzury Vazquez.
“Last year was more about [playing] individually and it was about the main people needing to step up in moments,” Love said. “But this year, I feel like we’re more of a team and we all have a role to play.”
There’s no doubt the Gabilan Division will be a challenge, yet again. The ‘Catz have their eyes set on a few teams such as Alisal (10-1, 2-0), which crushed Pacific Grove, 72-24, in its league opener.
The Wildcatz are coming off their first defeat in league play following a 53-49 loss to Salinas High (8-2, 2-0) on Dec. 5.
Martinez finished with 13 points including three 3-pointers, while Lazo contributed nine points and four rebounds for Watsonville.
“They’re good teams, but I think we got it if we keep our intensity up and go in hard, not relax in moments,” Martinez said.
Others competing for the league crown include Alvarez (6-4, 0-2), Monterey (3-8, 0-2), Pacific Grove (5-4, 1-1) and defending co-champion Hollister (8-4, 2-0).
“They’ve been showing that they’re pretty strong,” Cook said. “But, our hopes are to just compete as much as we can and hopefully we can be in that running along with them.”
Next up, Watsonville plays at Monterey on Tuesday, followed by its league home-opener against Hollister on Thursday. Both games slated for a 7pm tipoff.
Juan Reyes pajaronian.com High School Sports,Sports,girls basketball,Watsonville High
2024-01-10 00:06:09 , The Pajaronian | Watsonville, CA