Pitman High girls basketball is coming off a momentous season after they won their first league title in almost a decade and a big reason was this year’s Turlock Journal Player of the Year in Jessica Smith.
“I feel really grateful to be recognized as the best player,” said Smith. “I honestly did not anticipate getting this honor but I am so appreciative that I did. It's amazing to know that all the coaches voted for me because there are a lot of great players in this area and on my team alone, but it's great to know that I stood out against such tough competition.”
“Jessica is a special talent. With her demeanor she stays calm, cool and collective, but she is really competitive, especially in big games….She has natural talent, her foot speed is some of the best in the area, but her commitment to get better is great as well,” said Pitman head coach Dustin Curtiss.
Smith also has an ability to score off turnovers, among other attributes that make her an asset on the court.
ALL-JOURNAL GIRLS BASKETBALL
Player of the Year: Jessica Smith (Pitman) - Also won the CCAL MVP award
Coach of the Year: Dustin Curtiss (Pitman) - Also won the CCAL Coach of the Year
All-Area/All-Journal Girls Basketball Team:
Sydney Smith (Pitman)
Rayden Simmons (Pitman)
Natalie Jimenez (Turlock)
Malaikah Kashif (Pitman)
Haley Hamasaki (Pitman)
Madi Coehlo (Hughson)
Olivia Fiveash (Hughson)
Paige Vieira (Turlock Christian)
Mikayla Ray (Turlock Christian)
McKenna Potter (Denair)
Gianna Martella (Hughson)
Hollie Salsig (Turlock)
Morgan Mitts (Turlock)
Luisa Elisaia (Pitman)
Mallory Gardner (Turlock)
She was the leading scorer on a 9-1 team that took the Central California Athletic League by storm this past winter season.
“Personally I put in a lot of work during the summer and off season on improving my game, including my three-point shot and different finishing moves around the basket. I'm happy that I was able to put all the pieces that I was working on together,” she said.
Smith scored just below 10 points per game at 9.9, which was a team-high.
Along with being the leading scorer, Smith was also the top rebounder (5.5).
She also averaged 2.8 steals per game and 2.5 assists.
Smith shot 47 percent from the field and 36 from behind the arc.
“I did anticipate this kind of season mostly due to the hard work, not just me, but all my teammates put in during the offseason,” said Smith. “As a team, we set our goals of 20 plus wins and a CCAL championship. (I had) 100 percent confidence in our ability to achieve them. I am very happy with how the season turned out, even though we couldn't pull off a playoff win, it was a record-breaking season for us.”
It was, especially for head coach Curtiss who brought the program’s first league title since 2011-2012 after they went 11-4 in the CCC that year.
“In my mind, what led to winning the league title was the will to win in every single one of the players,” said Smith. “Everyone on the team loves the game and we all knew it was time to bring home the title we deserved. We had a lot of depth on our team this season, so it was very easy for us to gel in the game. At any moment, someone off the bench could step in and make plays for us, so it was a great team effort from everyone.”
The league title, and the voting from coaches in the area, are just some reasons why Curtiss was also named the Journal’s Coach of the Year.
“It's a great honor, to me, we got really lucky to have a great group of girls, and ultimately it's about buying in,” said Curtiss. “Trusting the system and everything, and it makes the record good and myself look good, but it all falls back on the kids and their and effort and I reap some reward for that.”
Curtiss took over the program back in 2012 and from there, the program has continued to progress every season.
They went 9-12 overall and 4-4 in league back in the 2012-2013 season.
Over the last five seasons in league play, Curtiss and the Pride won 40 games.
“To me the biggest thing, not really about me, but the kids and how much hard work they put in. It's great to see all the hard work has paid off and we put in a lot of work the last few years and never reached the league title, but we finally reached it and the hard work has paid off,” said Curtiss.
Smith was one of the reasons they saw so much success this past season after she guided a stingy defense in league.
She was the top scorer for the best team in the Central California Athletic League this past winter season.
They allowed a measly 35.9 points per game in league, while they scored an average of 62.8.
“Smith’s defense is top notch, she is great on both sides of the floor and will continue to develop since she has one more year left or us,” said Curtiss.
“Overall, this was a great season for us. And next season will only get better because my team and I still have room to improve and get better for next year. I am definitely not lowering our goals, so I'm really excited for what next season will bring us,” said Smith.