The Turlock Christian High girls basketball team was seven points away from capturing a CIF Division VI Sac-Joaquin Section title last year, after losing in the championship game to Valley Christian 47-54.
After a lengthy offseason the girls are finally back on the court with a vengeance. They aim to get back to the grand stage, but hopefully this time with a different outcome.
With a long volleyball year, head coach Edwin Santiago was left without seven players, including his entire starting five from last year, for a longer period than he had anticipated so the road to where they were last year might take longer.
How much longer is a question that Santiago is not worried about due to the depth and talent on this year's roster, which is also competing in a new league — the Central California Athletic Alliance.
“I wish I had the time to talk to the girls before our season, but our first practice was really on Monday,” Santiago said. “We have spent little time together because of the volleyball team's success. You want the girls to excel in every season and TC in volleyball has been very successful.”
All but one player returns for Santiago as this looks to be one of the most talented teams he has ever coached with standout players from top to bottom.
Hannah Sawyer, Abi Bawcum, Madison Yagi and Victoria Viera are the only seniors on a roster that is stacked with juniors.
Mikayla Yagi, McCalister Russell, Aimee Jones and Kaylene Baskin are all returning juniors and sophomore Lauryn McIntire is also back for Santiago.
“We have a very deep team this year,” Santiago said.
As a shorter team, the Eagles must run the court well and handle possession better than their opponents, and luckily with the return of Meghan Mark and Cassie Balswick as guards they look to be well on their way to a very successful season.
“We were young last season the bulk of our players were sophomores and now I am expecting us to play much better this season,” said Santiago. “It will be a challenging year as far as our record and our schedule is tougher, but my philosophy is you can't get better unless you play the better teams.”
The biggest concern for Santiago is getting his team up to basketball speed and conditioning—or at least the players barely arriving from volleyball.
“We have the players for it, they just haven't had enough time out there to get to the highest level of conditioning,” he said. “It absolutely affects their stamina, it's different endurance than volleyball and in the two games, the girls were winded and out of shape but that shall change near the end of it.”
Once the newcomers settle in, the goals for Santiago and this year's team are simple and that is to win more games than they lose.
“If we finish the season in 26 games in a new league then a good regular season would be ideally a 17-9 record,” said Santiago. “Then we have reached our potential with our tough schedule if they reach the highest level of performance.”
The Eagles will have an opportunity to dethrone last year's section champions in a rematch at Valley Christian at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
“Everyone should expect a lot of running, lot of substitutions and lots of playing time from all our players,” Santiago added. “They are all capable and we are looking forward to a fast type of offense and quick transition to defense that should be our trademark.”