Rebound is a term synonymous with basketball, and the St. Helena High girls basketball team has done exactly that in 2013-2014.
Last season, the Saints limped to a 6-18 overall record. With Friday’s 53-36 win against the Clear Lake Cardinals, the Saints improved to 15-8 overall and 7-3 in the North Central League I, good for third place behind Cloverdale and Middletown.
St. Helena has achieved that record despite a shaky 1-4 start to the season. The Saints began to right the ship before the calendar switched years, by going 3-0 in the West Coast Jamboree’s Onyx Division with wins over Mt. Diablo (50-36), Redwood Christian (35-32) and Orestimba (30-29).
Why the turnaround? For openers, St. Helena had far more seasoned varsity experience entering the current campaign than a year ago. Therefore, it stood to reason that the team would experience upward mobility.
The Saints entered this season having lost just one senior — Andrea Gomes, daughter of head coach Ouvidio Gomes — and now have five seniors in Zaina DePina, Julie Williams, Mariah Crump, Katie Begerow and Nellie Rodriguez. DePina is Gomes’ niece.
Gomes knew he would have two consistent scorers on a nightly basis with DePina — who is approaching the 800-career point mark in her third varsity campaign — and Williams.
Rodriguez, however, has also emerged as a scoring threat. When she has had her offensive game in gear, the Saints have been tough to beat.
“We play solid defense. We also have three capable scorers and everyone else chips in with a bucket here or a bucket there,” Gomes said. “The good thing about this team is they like each other. They play for each other. They’re all good friends and hang out together off the court as well. That makes for good team chemistry.”
Gomes has been especially pleased with the team’s defense in the post.
“We’ve always defended the perimeter pretty decently but our post players have become solid defensive players,” Gomes said. “We also do a pretty good job on help defense. We don’t play much man-to-man. We play primarily zone.”
While every coach has their belief on which form of defense is better, man-to-man or zone, how a team plays defense is more important than what defense it plays. If players execute the fundamentals, they can win lots of games with man or zone defense.
The Saints enter the home stretch with their CIF North Coast Section Div. IV playoff hopes still in range, even though they are likely to get a lower seed and be forced to travel. The margin for error is small, however. Gomes said the team cannot afford to lose more than one of its remaining four games. St. Helena hosts Fort Bragg on Tuesday, visits Willits on Friday, travels to Cloverdale on Feb. 18, and hosts Kelseyville on Feb. 21.
Based on outcomes of earlier meetings, the Saints appear to be in good shape. They defeated Willits (51-32), Fort Bragg (63-52) and Kelseyville (37-19), and lost to Cloverdale (62-47).
“It would be great to go to the playoffs. That’s what every team strives for,” Gomes said. “If we don’t go, as long as we finish strong, we’ll be fine.
“These kids come to practice every day and give 100 percent. The Middletown loss (40-15 on Tuesday) was an aberration. We shot so poorly, even their coach couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t because they were defending us that much better, we just couldn’t buy a basket.”
Gomes also believes that the help of former Saints head coach Will Densberger has been advantageous. Gomes was Densberger’s assistant when he was the head coach from 2007 to 2011.
“He comes to practice when he can, but comes more to the games,” Gomes said of Densberger. “He has his work commitments. When he comes, he helps me on the bench. The kids listen to him.
“It’s always great to have another person on the bench for the kids to hear. Sometimes as a coach, when you are by yourself, it’s difficult because the kids hear the same thing over and over again. When that happens, they kind of get complacent. It’s nice to have somebody else saying the same thing I’m saying. Will and I agree on about 99 percent of what we see on the basketball court.”