Two nearly polar opposite schools from the Napa Valley met last Wednesday in a girls basketball summer league game at Vintage High that ended in a startling result.
The Calistoga Wildcats made the trip south to face the hosting Vintage Crushers and left the floor after the 40-minute game concluded with a 29-24 win in their pocket.
For two schools with drastically different enrollment numbers – Calistoga, which plays in Div. 6, had fewer than 300 high school students last year, while Vintage, a Div. 1 school, had nearly 1,900 – it was one of the more shocking upsets a contest between two local schools could produce.
And that’s not to mention the recent success that each team has experienced. Vintage racked up 20 wins last year, while Calistoga put together arguably the best season in school history. The Wildcats made it all the way to the Div. 6 NorCal playoffs with not a single senior on the roster.
So how much does a win like this actually mean to a school like Calistoga, which is looking to take another step this upcoming winter?
Well, not actually all that much, said head coach Ray Particelli. After all, this is only summer league.
“The win in and of itself means absolutely nothing,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to take away from it.
“The ability to play a decent team and have to play well to win, that’s what’s important,” he said.
And that’s exactly what Particelli saw from his team that Wednesday night.
The Wildcats blitzed the Crushers with a suffocating full-court press for nearly the entire game. Both teams struggled to score, but Calistoga converted a flurry of turnovers into an 8-0 run at the end of the half to take a 13-6 lead into the break.
Things got tight in the second half as the Crushers rallied to even the score at 21-21 with less than 10 minutes left. But several more timely defensive plays led to Calistoga buckets, and the Wildcats held on down the stretch for the win.
Vintage gave the Wildcats a good fight, but the Crushers seemed to be still adjusting to life without Alyssa Andrews, the reigning Vine Valley Athletic League Most Valuable Player, and Nicole Gleeson, the VVAL Defensive Player of the Year. Also gone is All-VVAL First Team selection Kate Ilsley, who along with Andrews was a four-year varsity starter.
Luckily for Vintage, head coach Joe Donohoe – the reigning VVAL Coach of the Year – hasn’t gone anywhere and should have the Crushers in tip-top shape come the start of the season in early November.
As for the Wildcats, Wednesday’s win was simply another feather in their cap from an already jam-packed summer circuit. They spent most of June playing in Santa Rosa Junior College’s summer league, and have gone most of the summer with a limited roster. They were close to a full roster against the Crushers, but Particelli still wasn’t expecting the outcome they got.
“Even the summer, you say to somebody ‘Calistoga is playing Vintage tonight,’ they’d probably lay a pretty good spread against us,” he said with a laugh.
He went on to explain that their key to victory was simple but important.
“For us, it’s perfect, because the reason we won was because we executed a little bit better, and our execution made up for the physicality and the difference in depth. We just had a good sense of what we had to do to succeed and it worked.
“And you don’t play these games to win; you play them to get better. But playing a team that is more talented, that’s the kind of basketball that we need to play. We don’t step on the floor and have a lot more talent than other teams that we play.”
Such was the case most of last season. The Wildcats went 15-12 overall but just 4-4 in the newly-aligned North Central League IV, which featured talented private schools such as St. Vincent de Paul and Sonoma Academy.
The Wildcats will meet those same teams again this year, but they’ll carry a much different reputation than they came into the new league with.
“We went from totally being an underdog in everybody’s eyes to being one of the teams you don’t want to see on your schedule too much – at least for a Div. 6 opponent,” Particelli said.
In the past three seasons, the Wildcats have won a total of 48 games. They won a total of 50 in the nine seasons prior.
Particelli and his team have their sights set on lofty goals again this winter. Most of the core of the team played on the section champion volleyball team last fall before coming out for basketball, and they want to taste that type of success again.
The continuity they have will help with that. Nearly all of the returning players have experience in Particelli’s up-and-down, blitzkrieg playstyle. Last season was about learning it. Now, they’re refining it.
“I’m not going to tell them much that they haven’t heard, and now that I’ve been coaching for two years, they know that I believe what I say, that it wasn’t just to get you up for the game,” Particelli said. “I don’t think the motivation part should be tough because they know my expectations and I know theirs. They want to succeed and they want this to go close to the way that we hope.”
The Wildcats will also be getting their starting point guard back after she missed most of last season. Her absence forced every other player to improve last season and she’ll return this winter to a roster that was better than the one she left.
Some players said their goal is to win a section title, building on last year’s success after advancing to the semifinals and getting eliminated by eventual runner-up Laytonville.
Aside from returning all of last year’s starters from arguably the best team in school history, only time will tell how the season will play out for the Wildcats.
“I’d be disappointed if we had bad year, for sure,” Particelli said. “I’m certainly looking forward to a good year, not hoping for one. I’m expecting one. But how good remains to be seen.”