Both the Denair boys and girls teams are under new leadership this season. The boys are hoping to repeat their success from last season as the girls are hoping for a whole new opportunity to shine.
Denair boys basketball
Head coach: Edwin Santiago, first year with Denair
2021-22 record: 27-5 overall, 11-1 Southern League
Key losses: Jack Henderson, point guard; Connor Leonard, forward
Key returners: Izaiahs Plascencia
After years of success under longtime head coach R.J. Henderson, including a Sac-Joaquin Section title last season, the Coyotes of Denair High will be starting a new era under new coach Edwin Santiago. Santiago, who coached the Turlock Christian girls varsity team for 10 years, isn’t shy to the fact that he has big shoes to fill.
“It's going to be a rough year, because I have players right now that haven't played basketball before,” Santiago said. “This is their first opportunity to play. I even have two seniors that didn't get any opportunity to play because of the competitiveness of the graduating class of last season.”
As Santiago alluded to, it’s not just the coaching that will look differently. 11 of the 14 players on last year’s title and section winning roster have graduated.
One person who is returning is point guard Izaiahs Plascencia, who has been tabbed as the team’s captain.
“Izaiahs knows that this is going to be a rough year, but he's going to help develop the players that we have so that we can be better in the years to come,” Santiago said. “His main role is to plant the seed of how hard it is, how much work it takes to be good at this level.”
Another returner is junior small forward Landen Borges. Santiago explained that he will bank on Borges’ leadership skills, which have developed as the starting quarterback as the Coyotes’ varsity squad.
What Santiago expressed most excitement in was freshman center Koby Cervantes. Cervantes, who stands at 6 feet, 4 inches tall as a 14-year-old.
“He's young, he's growing still and of course he's got a lot of potential, but he hasn't reached his peak,” Santiago said. “He might not reach his peak until his senior year. I really don't know how much more he's going to grow, but I'm thinking 6-foot-8 wouldn't surprise me. That's something I look forward to.”
Denair girls basketball
Coach: Kaisa Spycher first year
2021-22 record: 0-14 overall, 0-10 Southern League
Key returners: Anna Elliott, senior, point guard; Madysyn Davis, senior, forward;
Outlook: The Coyotes of Denair High are entering basketball season with their fourth different varsity girls head coach in as many years. This year, they turn to Kaisa Spycher to lead the team.
Spycher is a former basketball star of Turlock Christian High School. After graduating in 2011, she thought she stepped away from the game for good, but a call from her former coach Edwin Santiago changed all that. Santiago coached the Turlock Christian girls team for the past 10 seasons and was hired at Denair to replace longtime staple R.J. Henderson.
“Edwin gave me a call about the opening here and I just thought, ‘I do miss the sport,’ so I decided to get back into it,” Spycher explained. “I love basketball. I really enjoy the game.”
Nevertheless, Spycher is taking on a role she has never held before.
“This is my first time ever being a head coach, so this is all new to me,” she said. “I’m literally earning how to be a coach.”
Despite her lack of experience, she says that things are going smoothly thus far.
“We’re about three weeks in, and it’s been really good so far,” Spycher said. “I love coaching the girls and building a good atmosphere and creating a good experience. I’m still getting to know them a bunch, so I’m just trying to be who they need me to be and make sure we have a good and successful season.”
And things are already off to a better start than in 2021-22. Last season, the Coyotes had an overall record of 0-14. After just four games this season, they have bested that record by grabbing a dominant 45-23 win against her alma mater, Turlock Christian, on Wednesday.
Two of the players leading the charge are senior captains Madysysn Davis and Anna Elliott. Despite 10 of her 16 players being underclassman, Spycher is impressed by the leadership skills showcased by the two girls.
Madison and Anna are both seniors and are our captains. They have a lot of experience and are great leaders for this team. We have a lot of freshmen who I’m excited to see progress. Everybody works great together,” Spycher said. “I’m just excited for everything to come.”