Despite having to share gym space with the football and soccer teams for two weeks while smoke from the Butte County fire forced them inside, the American Canyon High girls basketball team won its season opener for the first time in four years on Nov. 20.
The 54-37 home win over Concord High was indicative of the transition taking place in the program in its third year under head coach Angela Davis.
Leading the Wolves were their two top two scorers from a year ago, seniors Adriauna Samodio (11 points, two assists, two rebounds, one steal) and Robyn-Elizabeth Yan (seven points, four rebounds, two steals), and two freshmen who could be their next leaders, Alexis Woodson (10 points, eight rebounds, three steals) and Trinity Billingsley (nine points, eight rebounds, three steals, two assists).
Rounding out the scorers were junior newcomer Emma Lopez (seven points, four rebounds), returning junior Louralei Salanga (four points, two rebounds), and returning seniors Ma Juliana “AJ” Cayetano (two points, one steal, one rebound) and Chezlaine Barrero (two points, one rebound).
“It was a solid team effort,” Davis said.
Rounding out the Wolves are freshman Jullianna Rose Cornelio and junior Cameron Genteroy, who played for Bethel last season and must sit out until the team begins Vine Valley Athletic League action at Justin-Siena on Dec. 18.
A week earlier, Davis talked about how the returning players set a goal after last season’s 6-20 campaign to have a stronger nonleague start this year. Last season, the Wolves lost their first six games and took a 2-13 record into Solano County Athletic Conference play. They managed to make the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Div. III playoffs by tying Benicia for third place with a 4-6 mark, but had to visit No. 1 seed Christian Brothers-Sacramento in the first round and lost 68-21 to the eventual section champion.
“The ladies who were coming back this year said they didn’t want to bloom late,” Davis said. “They wanted to come out and make a mark in the preseason, too, understanding that every opportunity that they have on the floor is an opportunity to as a program get better and that they had to take a different approach this year.”
Davis would be happy if American Canyon – which hosts its annual Winter Wolf Classic round robin tournament this weekend, playing Bethel at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Santa Rosa at 6 p.m. Friday and Woodcreek at 1:30 p.m. Saturday – can at least make the playoffs during its first season in the North Coast Section.
“If we can’t get into a groove by the time league begins, at least by the second round of league, we should be hitting our stride and going on a nice little winning streak going into the postseason,” she said.
“We know we’re a young team. We’re learning how to jell and play together and we understand that may take us a couple of games to work things out.”
Leading the way are Yan, who led last year’s team with 12.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals a game and added 1.4 assists, and Samodio, who netted 9.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.4 steals.
Yan, who had a career-high 26 points against Bethel last season, was a finalist for All-County Player of the Year. She was a three-sport athlete in 2017-18, playing her second season of volleyball and trying softball for the first time. Instead of volleyball this year, she got involved in the drama club.
“I had the pleasure of watching her in a play called ‘Brainstorm.’ She had a nice role in it where she spoke a lot,” Davis said. “It was really nice to see her off the basketball court broadening her horizons.”
Davis said Samodio, meanwhile, is “all basketball.” The forward scored in double figures 13 times last year, one fewer than Yan, and had a season-high of 20 points against Woodcreek.
The coach said both players prefer to lead by example more than vocally.
“They are like people who, when they do speak, people pay attention because it must be important and it’s usually to your benefit and to the team’s benefit,” Davis said.
The three freshmen probably don’t need as much advice from older teammates as most varsity ninth-graders, as all three came in with AAU basketball experience.
The senior who perhaps leads most by playing over her head is the diminutive Cayetano, who not only uses her quickness to grab steals but her smarts to snag rebounds.
“Rebounding is one of the things we praise AJ a lot for,” Davis said. “She is very good at being in the right place and boxing out the person who’s supposed to get the ball, so even with her height she gives us an additional rebounder when she’s on the floor.
“Whether starting or coming off the bench, we don’t feel there’s a drop-off when any player comes into the game. Each is aware of what her role is on the team. It’s nice to know we have interchangeable parts. Adriauna and Robyn are good at scoring, Robyn can pass the ball, AJ, Louralei and Chezlaine can score as well, and Emma gives us a nice presence in the paint, so we have more options than we’ve had in the past. It’s going to be really nice to see once these young ladies put it all together and find their rhythm, how successful they can be.”
Samodio had 30 3-pointers to lead last year’s team, which shot 25 percent from behind the arc. Davis thinks this team can shoot better from outside, but still wants to go for closer-range shots.
“One of the things we talk about as a program is that the 3-pointer does give you three points and, yeah, it may look pretty going in, but the consistency of that shot is relatively low,” she said. “We want to be an uptempo team and get to the basket, and finishing at the basket and getting the ‘and one’ (bonus free throw) is three points, too.
“We want to take the higher-percentage shot but, naturally, if you lay off us shooting the three we believe we have the weapons to be able to score from there as well. But we know who we are. If a team comes out and hits some threes, we can’t let their game plan become our game plan.”
The VVAL will be both refreshing for the Wolves – who struggled to beat state-ranked Vanden as well as Benicia each year in the SCAC – and a mystery. They played only three of the six VVAL foes in real games last year, Napa, Vintage and Sonoma Valley.
“Going into a new league brings challenges because it has teams we’ve never faced before, so it’s the unknown, but we’re looking to be competitive – even if the outcome is not a ‘W’ – and see what kind of noise we can make,” Davis said.
Perhaps the move to the NCS will lead to their first-ever basketball playoff win after three first-round exits in seven seasons.
Davis, who works as a supervisor in sterile processing at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, is assisted by Kelsee Farmer, who teaches chemistry at ACHS.
Returning are JV coach Andrew Phillips and freshman coach Raquel Rhodes. Like Davis, they are more involved in their players’ off-court activities than most off-campus coaches.
“Part of being able to relate to the young ladies comes from going to things outside of basketball like plays and choir performances,” Davis said. “All of those things matter because we want them to be well-rounded student-athletes, and when things are not going well in the classroom I can relate to that when it’s on the floor. When they make a bad play on the floor, I can say ‘It’s the same thing when you don’t score well on a test. You don’t just give up and say you’re done. You go back and figure out how to get a better score.”