San Lorenzo Valley senior Asher Dolinger will help lead the Cougars' boys' basketball team in a competitive SCCAL this season. (Paul Firenzi/special to the Press Banner)

The San Lorenzo Valley High boys’ basketball team was one of the hottest squads going into Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League play, which kicked off last week.

The Cougars were riding an eight-game winning streak and peaking at the right time, going 11-3 during the preseason and winning their league opener against Harbor High on Jan. 4. 

They are hoping to keep that momentum going after three of their league games were postponed starting with last week’s anticipated meeting against Santa Cruz High on Jan. 7.

SLV (12-3, 1-0) was supposed to square off against Scotts Valley and Aptos high schools this week, but those games were also called off due to concerns surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“I’m anxious for that moment to happen,” SLV coach Russell Gross said. “At this point I’m just hoping to go out and play. Every school is having this surge and it’s going to depend on how the administration deals with it.”

SLV senior Asher Dolinger said he was bummed out when he heard the news about last week’s postponement against Santa Cruz, especially because they were rolling at the right time. 

“That’s a game we’ve been looking forward to since we didn’t get to play them last year and we know they’re always at the top of the league,” he said.

Gross said student-athletes and staff have had to navigate a confusing multi-test time period of the pandemic. PCR tests are administered at the school and families are also conducting at-home tests provided by the district. The longtime Cougars coach is hoping to get the players back to practice this week.

“We’re trying to get direction in terms of who needs to quarantine,” Gross said. “We’re all vaccinated but there’s just so many moving parts.”

Dolinger said the good thing about this year’s group is that they’re motivated and ready to play on any given day.

“As soon as we got canceled we all agreed that we wanted to play,” he said. “We were trying to look for some pick-up games and I think it shows that everyone really wants to win, really loves to play and that’s why we’re having some success right now.”

Dolinger is accompanied by sophomore Kai Groleau as two of the best guards in the SCCAL this year.

Gross said this is the best team he’s coached at SLV, noting that all 13 players on the roster can play and bring a high level of energy on a daily basis.

“They’re unselfish, they play hard, they’re fun to coach and they’re fun to watch,” Gross said. 

Other seniors include Jayden Hunter, Rider Saunders, Jack Gross and Michael Kelly. 

Junior Damien Aguilar, sophomore Dominic Chiechi, junior Sklyer Thayer, Max Baxter, Griffin Davies and Aiden Nounnan provide depth on the bench. 

Sophomore Cade Petersen is coming off a knee injury from the football season and Gross is looking to get him up to speed soon.

Dolinger said it feels good to know he can rely on players coming off the bench to bring the ball up court, which takes the pressure off the starters.

“Start of the season, we definitely struggled a little bit and lost some games we should’ve won,” Dolinger said. “But towards the end of preseason and going right into league season we’re really feeling good together as a team.” 

Dolinger said it took some time for the team to build chemistry. It wasn’t until their game at Pacific Grove High that things finally started to click.

Going into it, he knew it was going to be a tough game. The Cougars’ teamwork helped them pull off the win. 

“I think that started the momentum that we’re feeling right now,” Dolinger said.

SLV played in the SCCAL “B” Division during the abbreviated 2021 spring season, finishing 10-3 overall and winning the division with a 7-1 record. They also qualified for the Central Coast Section Division IV playoffs but were eliminated by rival Scotts Valley in the quarterfinals.   

This season they make the jump back to the original league format, rejoining Santa Cruz and Aptos as the top two schools that SLV will need to keep up with.

“We kind of glided through that lower league a little bit and we’re happy to take a championship but we know that the teams are better in this league,” Dolinger said. “We just have to trust ourselves and know that we’re as good as them all, and if we play our game hopefully we come out on top.”

San Lorenzo Valley High boys basketball coach Russell Gross addresses the team during a time out. (Paul Firenzi/special to the Press Banner)
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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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