The Scotts Valley High girls’ basketball team was off to a bumpy start after losing its first three games to begin the season.
But things rapidly shifted after a long pep talk was given by Falcons coach Gabe Gonzalez, who had a come-to-Jesus moment with the group shortly after their first win of the year against North Monterey County High.
The first-year skipper said that everybody, at that point, seemed to know their role and understood what he was trying to sell them.
“We’re all in together, you can just feel the unity is there,” Gonzalez said. “There hasn’t been any big changes on the offense or defensive end, it just seems everybody’s really grinding together, winning together and losing together.”
The Falcons (7-5) have won seven of their last nine games and are on a five-game winning streak. They are fresh off a championship win against Watsonville (5-4) at the Lady Sharks Shootout on Dec. 30.
Most of the success is thanks to returning senior point guard Kaitlin Imai, who is averaging 21.4 points as well as 5.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3.5 steals per game this season, according to MaxPreps stats.
Gonzalez said that having Imai on the team is also like having another coach on the court.
“We roll where Kaitlin goes and she’s been there for every game for us, whether it’s defensively, offensively,” he said. “She has accepted that role, has accepted the challenge and she actually enjoys it, which is great.”
Imai says she knows they didn’t start the season as they’d hoped, but winning last month’s tournament showed teams in the area that they can hang.
“We got off to a rough start to the season but I think just coming out here and proving that we belong with the teams that are here means a lot to us,” Imai said about winning the Lady Sharks Shootout. “It’s giving us a good push to get ready for league [play].”
Other key returners for Scotts Valley include junior forward Elana McGrew and junior guard Elaina Benoit. They average 8.5 and 8.0 points per game, respectively. McGrew is also pulling down a team-high 9.3 rebounds per contest.
Senior power forward Ava Turowski, who is averaging 4.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest, joins the team after not playing last spring. Junior Audrey Watson is averaging 2.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, and Ruby Erickson is slowly making her presence felt in the key as a great post player.
Gonzalez said there was some concern with trust amongst the players at the beginning of the season. All it took was that first win and the Falcons have taken flight since then.
“That’s where the unity of the team, the cohesiveness, the comradery of the team, things we’re doing in and out of the games, is just something that we’re focusing on and that’s what’s getting us there,” he said.
Scotts Valley is returning to the “normal” Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League layout after competing in a funky abbreviated 2021 spring season.
The league was split up into the “A” and “B” divisions with the Falcons competing in the former. They finished with an overall 4-8 record and went 3-7 in league play.
Imai said this year’s group is different and that they’re grateful for getting a chance to play this season, which makes them hungry to be on the court.
“One of the biggest things was figuring out our roles because we hadn’t really played a lot together before and not getting a full season last year was hard,” she said. “We really had to figure out how to work together as a team and for each person, what their role was on the court.”
The Falcons were slated to play at Santa Cruz High in the teams’ league opener but the game was called off due to Covid-19 protocols. They’re also in jeopardy of having today’s league game at Soquel High postponed.
If they have to wait, Scotts Valley won’t see action until it hosts San Lorenzo Valley High on Jan. 11 at 5:30pm.
Imai said she’s looking forward to competing in a tough, yet, evenly matched SCCAL this season.
“It’s all the girls we’ve all grown up playing against, so that’s really fun for us,” she said. “My life is basketball, so it means a lot to me and I really look forward to it.”
The Cardinals (2-8), who are the defending SCCAL and Central Coast Section Division III champion, are the favorites to win it again this season.
But they’ve struggled this season largely due to the absence of injured senior guard/forward Bella Stevens, the two-time SCCAL Most Valuable Player. Also absent for the Cardinals is senior forward Isabella O’Donnell.
Aptos High (9-5, 0-1), which was the only team to beat Santa Cruz last season, is another squad looking to make a run for a league title. But, they were recently upset by Soquel (5-5, 1-0) in Tuesday’s league opener.
San Lorenzo Valley (6-6, 1-0), the reigning “B” Division SCCAL champion, will also be in the mix as contenders for the league title. Harbor (0-9, 0-1) will try to rebound after a loss to the Cougars in its SCCAL opener.
“Santa Cruz and Aptos are considered to be the cream of the crop, and we’re considered by others to be middle of the pack,” Gonzalez said. “We believe in ourselves and we believe that we can be up there, but we know we gotta play our best game … We do have an ace in the hole, which is Kaitlin and with her on our team, anything’s possible.”