San Lorenzo Valley High junior Jacob Sanders is one of the big guys under the hoop for the Cougars boys' basketball team this season. (Juan Reyes/Press Banner)

It was a busy offseason for the San Lorenzo Valley High boys’ basketball team, which saw plenty of playing time on the court during the summer.

The hard work is paying off for the Cougars, who are off to a great start and currently riding a three-game win streak following a 46-45 win over Gilroy High on Dec. 16.

SLV head coach Daryl Nounnan is equipped with a much deeper roster that he believes each player can contribute in the 2023-24 winter campaign.

“I think it’s a relief as a coach, but for the most part I’m just happy that they’re all capable of going there and having fun doing some good things,” he said.

Having a large roster not only helps the Cougars’ defensive intensity, but also Nounnan can cycle people in, especially when the starters need a break.

SLV (7-3) has an experienced trio of seniors in Aiden Nounnan, Dominic Chiechi and Jon McClaren, who can be used to anchor things this season.

Daryl Nounnan said the current main players were good contributors by the end of the 2022-23 season, where the Cougars finished with a 5-17 overall record and went 1-9 in Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League play.

SLV lost the services of high-quality seniors Damien Aguilar and Skylar Thayer due to graduation. Both players helped the Cougars earn some big wins near the end of the season, including a 65-57 win over league rival Scotts Valley High in the SCCAL tournament.

Nounnan said there’s been teams in the past, where bench players just weren’t capable of playing. He would allot playing time, but they never had fun because they struggled on the court.

Last season, SLV had several freshmen and sophomores competing for the first time on the varsity team. At the time, the game moved too fast for the players, but now it’s starting to slow down for them and they’re playing at a much higher level, Nounnan said.

The rest of the group includes juniors Dom Aguilar, Jack Dagan, James Dahlen, Jimmy King, Noah Steiger and Haden Woolworth, while the underclassmen are led by sophomores Wyatt Himmelstrup and Curtis Hurtado.

Aiden Nounnan—who is also on the boys’ soccer team—is SLV’s best defensive player on the court.

“He really sets the tone for us defensively and he is just kind of a nightmare out there for anybody he’s playing,” Daryl Nounnan said.

Nounnan said his son’s effort level has been fantastic since a child. Aiden Nounnan is getting better at finding an intense defensive intensity, but also trying to bring some calm on offense. 

“He’ll have some turnovers and things like that, but he’s getting better at being a little bit more of an anchor and providing mental stability on the offensive side,” Daryl Nounnan said.

Aiden Nounnan said they made sure to put in extra work during the offseason to develop good basic skills and go over the offense, figuring out how to play as a team.

“We’re a lot more athletic and we have a lot more guys that have played a lot of basketball,” he said. “And I think we’re just older.”

Sanders came alive as a sophomore last year and strived to improve during the offseason, as well.

“Our bench comes off strong and I think we have a very well rounded team that’s very good at shooting and passing the ball,” he said. “We have a good chemistry.”

The goal for Daryl Nounnan is to make the game fun for Sanders, while also challenging him to take it to the next level.

Nounnan said they tried to cultivate and help Sanders—who just started playing in middle school—with his love of the sport.

“[Sanders] really wants to get better and he’s obviously tall and athletic, so there’s that,” Nounnan said. “He’s becoming more and more of an impact player.”

Nounnan is working on bringing Sanders to the low block, featuring him a little bit more below the hoop to feed him the ball.

“He needs to learn the footwork to get himself to get some points or get some assists in there,” Nounnan said. “He’s definitely getting better.”

Sanders and McClaren—captain of the Cougars boys’ water polo team—will be the two big guys under the rim.

“McClaren gets a lot of rebounds, changes shots, tips balls and he’s getting better at finishing,” Daryl Nounnan said.

SLV’s coaching staff is figuring out a way to get both players on the floor at the same time because defensively, having them both on the floor in terms of controlling the boards and being able to guard bigger opponents should be a big help.

“Offensively, they’re both still a little rough around the edges, still learning the ropes,” Nounnan said.

Sanders said their goal is to start the season strong and go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the league, including co-champions Aptos and Santa Cruz high schools. SCCAL play begins at Aptos on Jan. 2 at 7:30pm.

“I think we can compete with them, especially a lot better than we could last year,” he said.

Nounnan would like to have a winning record but admitted that it could be an uphill battle, especially competing in such a challenging league.

“Some teams I honestly don’t think we just can’t beat,” he said. “They’re just too big and too fast and they work too hard, and the schools are just bigger. If we can get a few victories in league [play] and have a .500 or better season, I would be very happy with that.”

Next up, the Cougars will close out the preseason portion of their schedule with home games against Marina High on Friday at 7:30pm and St. Francis High on Saturday at 3pm.

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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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