Last Update: Thursday, May 23, 2013
|No Stars Doesn't Mean No Winners|
|Written by Mike Terry|
|Thursday, 31 January 2013 05:40|
If The Granada Hills High Girls' Basketball Team Is Going To Win The West Valley League, It Will Be A Group Effort
Highlanders Triple Threat - (l-r) Kristi Nishida, Natalie Gutierrez and Danielle Ward have Granada Hills sharing the West Valley League top spot with El Camino Real.
Lou Cicciari unabashedly bleeds Granada Hills green, black and white.
He was a student there when the boys' basketball team won the 1976 3A City title, and an assistant under head coach Bob Johnson when the boys' team won the 1987 City 3A title.
Cicciari is now the Highlander's girls' varsity basketball coach, and has been since 2004. He has gotten Granada Hills as far as the City Division II title game in 2010, losing to El Camino. But one thing he has not done is win the West Valley League.
He's not alone in that pursuit. The Highlanders last won the league in 1983 under Carolyn Gunny. They also won the City 3A title that year, and also won City again in 1992. But no league title for 27 years now, and counting.
"It's been awhile," said Cicciari, noting school officials had recently replaced title banners in the Highlanders gym with new ones. "And the girls are looking up there and thinking 'you know what? This could be the year we've got a good shot at it.'
Yes they do.
It's too soon to know whether Granada Hills, which began the week at 15-7 overall, will be the 2012-13 Division II champion. There are plenty of contenders for the final in March including Monroe, Los Angeles Westchester, Los Angeles Roosevelt, Los Angeles Garfield and Arleta.
But the Highlanders are right in the thick of the league race, which had four games left starting Wednesday, Jan. 30. They were tied with El Camino Real for first place, with both teams at 5-1. And Taft was right behind them at 4-2.
Granada Hills' lone league loss was to El Camino Real. ECR's loss is to Taft. And Taft's two league losses are to Granada Hills.
"It's the Wild, Wild West. (But) it's right there for us," Cicciari said.
If the Highlanders do pull this off, either sharing the league or winning it outright, they will do it with a team that is truly a team. There are no 'stars' or freakishly gifted athletes that dominate the action and the spotlight. The Highlander colors may be green, black and white, but this is a blue-collar group.
The leading scorers, Danielle Ward and Natalie Gutierrez average about 10 points. Everyone else is expected to contribute something as well, be it rebounds, points, assists, passes or screens. Defense is a must for a team that collectively averages 51 points a game.
Somehow they make it work. "We've all learned to share the ball," said Ward, 17, a senior forward and third-year varsity player. "Coach stresses insideout movement. If I get the ball (inside), I make sure to look and see if other players are open. If so, I pass it out or try to be there for scoring. But we all share the ball.
"I've been on some other teams where people thought they were amazing, and just wanted to ball-hog. But this team has been willing to share the ball and support each other."
That attitude has helped players like Gutierrez, 16, a junior, who moved up to varsity this season after playing on the frosh-soph and junior varsity teams. The 5-9 forward would have been happy to fit in with the team, but she has become one of the leading contributors. "Going into the season I didn't know if I'd have the same opportunities as last year, when I was in JV," she said. "I like to score…(but) I can trust all the players.
"I like knowing everyone on the team can do the job. I don't want to feel pressured, and I don't want anyone else to feel pressured. That's what's good about our team; we can all produce points and do everything to get the win."
Running the show is senior point guard Kristi Nishida, who has been on varsity since she was a freshman. At 5-5 she's not the tallest or strongestlooking high school player you've seen, but don't question her toughness. She played a few games last season with a broken right hand.
"I broke it in the Burroughs Tournament," said Nishida, 17. "I didn't realize I broke it until three games later when we went to San Diego, and my mom made me go to the hospital to check it out.
"I ended up not playing most of the season. It was rough. I did not require surgery, it healed with a cast."
Taft girls' basketball Coach Mark Drucker has seen up close of how effective the Highlanders when they work as a group.
"They have got a very talented point guard (Nishida) who controls the tempo. She makes everyone better," Drucker said. "And when she needs to score she will. And they also have a strong post player in Ward.
And they shoot well from outside. "They have a lot of players who are not flashy, but they play hard and they execute." El Camino Real Coach Cara Blumfeld is not surprised that the league race is this tight between the three teams. "We expect this race," she said, adding, "We probably didn't expect us to do this well. But expected Taft and Granada Hills to be there."
And even though the Conquistadors handled the Highlanders back on Jan. 18 by a score of 57-34, Blumfeld said she has respect for her opponent. "Granada Hills' strengths are Danielle, who is actual post player – something the rest of us don't really have – and the veteran guard with Kristi. Granada Hills has leadership."
Granada Hills must be careful not to slip up this week's games against Chatsworth on Jan. 30, and Cleveland on Feb. 1. If they don't, then the Feb. 6 game at El Camino Real will decide whether a new league championship banner will join the others in the Highlander's gym Cicciari admits he must be careful in wanting it "too much" for his team.
"I want the kids to win," he said. "And I'm a very competitive person. But I think this team really wants it pretty bad. They have to understand that we have to focus on one game at a time, one play at a time. "When you're playing against someone else, you have to win the battle against that person. If everyone can win their individual battles, we can win the war as a team collectively. Take care of your individual battles and do everything right on the floor."
Rest assured Coach, your players want it, too. "It would definitely be really important to us as a team," said Nishida, about winning the West Valley." We decided that's what we want. We could have decided we didn't want to work that hard. But I think as a team we decided we will work that hard, try to get that league title and go into the playoffs and hopefully go pretty far."
|Last Updated on Thursday, 31 January 2013 05:47|