There was no such thing as taking time off for the San Lorenzo Valley High girls’ basketball team as it kept grinding on the court during this past offseason.
Cougars senior standout Hannah Morley and her fellow teammates kept busy by playing for their respective Amatuer Athletic Union teams.
It was something important for Morley because going up against some of the tougher competition can help a squad that features not just one, but three underclassmen in the starting lineup.
“Even though you want a break from basketball, you don’t want to lose some skill or get sidetracked,” Morley said. “We do really well together considering how young we are. We’ve gotten a lot better just by working together.”
SLV first-year head coach Kenedi Walters said there’s no doubt Morley has taken over the leadership role and she’s been a huge help, especially for the younger girls still trying to adjust at this level.
“I think the other girls definitely trust her and I think that it helps them get better,” Walters said.
Morley realizes having the team captain stripe comes with more responsibility. She’s used to being a leader on some of her basketball teams, but nothing of this magnitude.
“I have to really make sure that we’re on our toes and putting in work,” she said.
Fellow senior co-captain Kiely Jordan makes her return, along with juniors Jordan Berkemeyer, Gabby Brasuell, Taylor Dunn and Violet Derr.
The underclassmen are led by sophomores Poppy Owens and Elani Schreiber, and freshmen Olive Wilson and Ania Sinnott, who are already making an impact for the Cougars.
Wilson and Sinnott are both in the starting lineup alongside Morley and Owens. Jordan and Derr will switch as a starter throughout the 2023-24 campaign.
Most of the Cougars players are on AAU teams, which raises Walters’ confidence level and trust to throw any of them in a game.
“They definitely are showing that they deserve to play on this varsity level and we currently can do great things from here,” Walters said.
Walters, 24, played volleyball and basketball for Scotts Valley before graduating in 2018. She continued her basketball career at Cabrillo College and then played at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo.
Walters was promoted from the JV team and the new gig has its challenges. But having experience as a former player and her dad—Scotts Valley Athletic Director Louie Walters—as an adviser helps a lot.
“Someone I lean on and especially look up to,” said Walters, about her dad Louie, who has been a longtime coach in the area.
Morley thinks it’s neat having a woman coaching women’s basketball because Walters has that background of playing in college and locally at Scotts Valley.
“It’s funny because [Scotts Valley’s] our rival school, but I think she’s doing a good job considering it’s her first year coaching varsity basketball,” Morley said. “I think she’s really fun to be around. She’s pretty young, but I think she does a good job.”
Walters took over the program after former head coach Adam Johnson—who led SLV to its first-ever girls basketball league title in 2020-21—stepped down after the 2022-23 season.
Last year, the Cougars finished with an 18-8 overall record and placed second in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League with a 7-3 record in league play.
SLV went on a nice run in the Central Coast Section Division IV playoffs that included a play-in win over Gonzales High and a first round victory against Carmel High.
The Cougars lost the services of Lucy Lilienthal-Wynn, Bella Reynolds and Amelia Sizemore due to graduation.
Walters said this season is a rebuilding year, but the players’ efforts are strong and they work hard for being a young group.
Some players have never competed at the high school level before this year, which is a challenge if they’re coming from middle school. The game itself might seem a little fast for the youngsters, yet they’re slowly getting adjusted as time goes on.
One particular game that stood out was against a tough Salinas High team during the Watsonville Wildcatz tournament.
Despite the loss, Walters is still optimistic and anticipates some great things to come in the near future.
“I definitely feel like if they keep playing the way they are, they’ll only get better with time,” Walters said.
Aptos (5-3) has a majority of its players returning and defending SCCAL champion Santa Cruz (6-4) should be a powerhouse once again, which will pose a challenge for SLV (2-5).
“I think that will help push our girls to play their best,” Walters said.
Other teams competing in the SCCAL include Harbor (6-4), Soquel (1-5) and rival Scotts Valley (4-7).
Morley is excited for league play to begin and she wants to see how far this young Cougars squad can really go.
“Sometimes I think we have trouble playing more individually, but you can’t really play basketball with just one person,” she said. “[It’s] us working together as a team, not giving up in games and always pushing each other to do the best we can and then win games. But it’s not all about winning, we want to have fun.”