With one nonleague game left before her American Canyon girls basketball team’s Solano County Athletic Conference opener, having 11 or 12 losses won’t matter to head coach Angela Davis.
Playing as a team, waiting for open shots, setting good screens, making smart passes and boxing out are the kinds of things Davis will want from her Wolves (2-11) when they visit Napa (4-7) at 7 p.m. Thursday. It will be their last tune-up for their SCAC opener against visiting Benicia a week later.
Davis could have scheduled easier nonleague opponents in her second season at the varsity helm, but it’s more important to her to be competitive in conference than it is to win now.
In Tuesday night’s 43-36 loss to a much taller and more experienced Vintage squad, the Wolves struggled on the boards but stayed aggressive until the end, pulling to within five points three times in the fourth quarter.
They looked like they’d taken a lot of punches since playing Vintage at the Justin-Siena Jamboree a month and a half earlier, but with only three returners, they seem to have benefited from the challenges.
Their 11 losses have been to teams netting 7.5 wins each. Yet five of those losses have been by an average margin of only eight points.
“One of the things that we’re learning is that success, lasting success, doesn’t come easy,” Davis said after Tuesday’s game. “If you’re trying to be part of a winning tradition and create a legacy, it’s going to come through hard work. We could in preseason play teams that are not as competitive as the ones we see in Division I tournaments in Sacramento, but the big picture for us is we know we’re a small team and we need to get used to the physicality. Height has always been challenge for us, but if we can play through that and be competitive, by the time league starts we’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends.
“Nobody likes a losing preseason, the players or the coaches, because we’re all competitive. But it’s about the big picture, the success of the program, so we’ll take it. With the experience we’ve gotten, hopefully for us it will start to click (in SCAC play) and take us into the postseason. If it doesn’t happen this season, we have next season to build upon and continually get better.”
The Wolves’ previous two head coaches guided similar teams to the playoffs, squads with young leading scorers who seemed to inspire their peers to pick up their games by their second season together.
“They’re learning to be young ladies of character, persistence, hard work and being able to face adversity,” Davis said, “asking ‘if that didn’t work, what are we going to try to do next?’ I tell them all the time ‘The alphabet is 26 letters, A through Z. A don’t work, you go to B. B don’t work, you go to C. You just keep plugging away until you figure it out.’ Same thing in the classroom: If this study habit doesn’t work, then you figure out another study habit. Even though you may not have success, you know what doesn’t work and you’ll never repeat that again.
“It’s not easy not having those wins. But I think our maturity, our composure in how we handle losses, has gotten better. It’s nice to hear them saying at the end of the game ‘I’ve got to make free throws, so I’ve got to work on that, or I’ve got to work on my ball handling.’ When it’s something they want to do, it makes it easier for you as a coach.”
While two juniors are carrying most of the scoring load, Adriauna Samodio (10.7 points) and Robyn-Elizabeth Yan (10.5), Davis likes that others are trying to get into the mix. American Canyon was led in one of its two wins by senior Lauren Summers with a season-high 14 points, and in the next game, freshman Micah Lawrence put up a season-high nine.
Fellow seniors Mariah Carlyle and Trinity Tapia are the only other varsity returners.
Rounding out the team are senior Erika Culannay – who didn’t play last year – and juniors Ima Tapaoan, Jade Miller, A.J. Cayetano and Chezlaine Barrero.
“They’re a good group of ladies,” Davis said. “They work really hard and they’re really coachable, but (most of them) are learning their way, learning the pace because these are much bigger bodies than they saw at the JV level. In the beginning of the season, they were OK with giving the ball to the seniors, thinking ‘it’s your team and you know this offense.’ Even though there have been mistakes and not as much scoring from them, they’re getting better at boxing out, passing up the floor and making the extra pass.
“I tell them, sometimes the things you do aren’t going to show in the scorebook, but they will on the scoreboard. The little things you do help us as a team and impact us as a program. Don’t worry about the points. If you do what’s right for the team, the other ladies will make sure you get your shot by making the extra pass to you.’”
Some might notice the Wolves have only one player with a single-digit number – the 4-foot-9 Tapaoan. Some football coaches won’t allow small numbers because they might give a player more attention, and feel higher numbers reflect the blue-collar attitude of, say, an offensive lineman.
“That’s just a coincidence,” Davis said, but added she does think the blue-collar numbers of her players is fitting. “Based on our size, that’s how we’re going to have to be. We’re going to have to be that team that digs in and grinds through. Our hat has to be hung on our defense. We’re going to have to be able to dictate what you do on offense.”
They’re going to have to keep it up for 32 minutes a night, too, she said.
“It’s been a tale of two halves for us so far,” she said. “We put together a good first half and struggle in the second, or (vice versa). We’ve got to put together two solid halves, figure out our energy level at the beginning of the game, get a little bounce in us and grind through that second quarter. It’s about character building for the younger ladies who have just moved up to varsity.
“I believe we’re on the cusp, of putting together two solid halves. If we come out Thursday against Napa and put in the work on the defensive side, the offensive side will take care of itself. We’ll just need to keep them off the offensive boards, not let them get putbacks, and get back on defense.”
Vanden has won 50 straight in the SCAC since a regular season-ending loss to Benicia in 2012, routing American Canyon by 54 and 77 points last season. But Davis doesn’t want her team give up even against the mighty Vikings before moving to a new section and league next year.
“We know who Vanden is, but at the same time, we need to come to compete and do what we do well,” the coach said. “The message we want to send is that when you see us on your schedule, know that we’re coming to compete.”