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Turlock Christian hoops look to build on strong 2021-22 seasons
TC boys bball preview
Turlock Christian's Case DeJong is expected to help lead his Eagles team this year (Journal file photo).

The 2021-22 basketball season at Turlock Christian was full of success for both the boys and girls varsity teams. The girls achieved a winning record in league play while the boys went on a Cinderella run to win the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI title. This year, mirroring those successes will be difficult.

Not only were there an abundance of graduating seniors for both squads, but each roster will now have new head coaches this year. On the girls side, Turlock Christian Athletic Director Nicole Rodrigues will serve as the new head coach after Edwin Santiago left the position to coach the boys varsity team at Denair High. Similarly with the boys team, Jacob Gregg will take over for Daniel Motz, who left the Eagles program after only one year to return to coach at his alma mater Atwater High.

Gregg isn’t a stranger to Turlock Christian, though. He began his coaching career with the Eagles junior high team back in the ‘90s. After quickly taking over the junior varsity program, took a break to focus on his family. He believes that now is the perfect time to step back onto the hardwood.

Boys Team

Head coach: Jacob Gregg

2021-22 record: 21-11 overall, 7-3 CCAA, CIF SJS Division 6 title

Key losses: Shadon Boswell, forward; Ian Stapp, power forward; Caleb Comfort, senior, center (season-ending knee surgery)

Key returners: Case DeJong, senior, guard; Ben Bylsma, junior, forward; Raffa Babba, junior, forward; Andrew Fisher, sophomore, forward

Key newcomers: Seth Russell, freshman, center


Girls Team

Head coach: Nicole Rodrigues, first season

2021-22 record, 10-11 overall, 6-4 CCAA

Key losses: Mia Foust, guard; Faith Poirier, guard; Bella Spycher, forward; Angelica Villanueva, center

Key returners: Cecilia Perez, junior, small forward; Faith Hayes, sophomore, center

Key newcomers: Emma Dubel, freshman, point guard

“Mid-August is when I found out that the position was open,” he said. “I thought that now that my three boys have all graduated, I’d come back and I’m looking at making a longer run.”

And he’ll have some help making the transition as smooth as possible, as there are multiple returning players from last year’s section title-winning group.

Three of the most prominent returners for the Eagles are Case DeJong and Ben Bylsma and Raffa Babba. Young and Bylsma are seniors who started all of last season while Babba, a junior, has already proven to be worthy of a starting role this year as he is currently averaging over 17 points per game through the first two weeks of action. DeJong is also already putting up big offensive numbers as he is currently averaging 23 points per game.

Another loss that the Eagles must deal with is that of starting senior center Caleb Comfort who suffered season-ending knee injury this summer. Gregg explained that Comfort’s loss means that the team must force to adjust to a different offense.

“Caleb is definitely a huge loss on both sides of the ball, so we don’t really have a dominant post presence this year, but what we do have are nine kids between 6’ and 6’ 2”, so we’ll be playing a lot of fluent basketball with lots of pace,” Gregg said.

Rodrigues will also be making her fair share of adjustments with her young girls varsity squad as the Eagles lost four players to graduation, including starters Mia Foust, Faith Poirier and Bella Spycher. Additionally, this is the first time that Rodrigues has coached at the varsity level.

“I’ve been the JV girls coach since 2013-14 and began as athletic director since 2019,” Rodrigues said. “I was able to what the girls did last year, and I thought we did well. We had a lot of raw talent and a lot of athletes on the team, which helped down the stretch of the season.”

While there were solid results on the court, Rodrigues was already expecting a challenging 2022-23 season for multiple reasons.

“It’s already hard for a small school, and we continued to feel the impact from COVID-19 as we didn’t have the numbers we needed to have a JV team, which then impacts us in that we can’t develop players for varsity the way we’d want to, but I’m grateful for the girls that did step up to play,” she said.

One of the girls making her presence felt on the court this season is junior forward Cecilia Perez. Perez is one of the captains on this year’s squad and is already impressing as she leads the team in rebounding.

“We are very small in numbers, so I appreciate all of their commitment and dedication to this team,” Rodrigues said. “They are definitely showing that they can persevere. I know it’s going to be a hard year for the girls, which I would say mirrors life, and that’s why I love the game of basketball. They’re feeling it, and it really emphasizes what’s really important at the end of the day, which is how we represent our school and how we represent God, and I’m super proud of them in that regard.”