HOLIDAY BASKETBALL: YWLA proving to be quick study, formidable foe

Other area teams struggle Christmas week

AREA TEAMS INCLUDED: East Central, Fox Tech, Young Women’s Leadership Academy, boys basketball.


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Young Women’s Leadership Academy is an institution of advanced learning, but the girls basketball team’s motto couldn’t be more elementary.

“We’re the little engine that could,” second-year YWLA coach La Rhon Fields said. “Or can. Or will.”

On the first day of Christmas break, Young Women’s Leadership Academy (14-10) couldn’t quite pull off a victory, but the Cardinals have been winning on a more regular basis than in the past couple of seasons, when they were assigned to District 28-4A. They have a victory over Class 6A Holmes to their credit.

Half of YWLA’s losses had been determined by 10 points of fewer, including a 48-41 decision Dec. 22 at Comfort.

“We’ve had a good half-season,” Fields said. “All of our girls are growing. It’s a really special group of girls. We’re trying to make them play with camaraderie. We have a lot of leaders.”

Comfort built a 29-20 halftime lead in a wild second quarter, in which both teams were plagued by turnovers. The distinction was that the Deer were scoring off their steals, while the Cardinals weren’t able to convert theirs into layups.

“Scoring in transition is something new for us,” Comfort coach Tracy Damiano said, “but we’re getting better at it.”

Young Women’s Leadership Academy applied full-court pressure in the third quarter and began to reap the benefits.

“I actually feel like we should have started off like that,” Fields said. “Sometimes it takes a half for us to get amped up. I tell them a nine-point lead is not a lead, it’s just a small advantage that can be easily overcome.

“We clawed ourselves back into the game.”

After a post-up basket from Comfort’s Raegan Lauderdale (13 points) to start the second half, the Cardinals scored the next seven points.

Sophomore guard Olivia Balderas, the only player YWLA who plays Amateur Athletic Union basketball in the offseason, began the streak with a pair of free throws that resulted from Karease Williams’ steal. Senior post Clarissa Castro tallied a three-point play and Balderas scored on a fast-break that brought the Cardinals within 31-27.

The spurt turned into a 16-5 run.

A steal and assist from YWLA’s Kassandra Sosa on Jylian Bolton’s fast-break basket closed the gap to 34-29. Junior Valeria Serenil added a basket and Balderas (22 points) hit a tying three-point shot with 6:15 remaining in the game.

Balderas was the only Cardinal who scored more than four points.

“Karease had four fouls, so that hurt,” Fields said. “We were trying to get the ball in to our posts. Meg Garcia has done a 180. At first, she didn’t care about the game, but now she’s all about basketball. We got 12 points from our three posts today. When you can score in the paint, you can play more efficient basketball.

“Right now, we’re just trying to keep it simple.”

Comfort regained the momentum, scoring eight of the next 10 points.

Kassidy Feldman scored from the baseline and Emily Martinez (24 points) nailed two free throws for a 40-36 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Balderas responded with a 20-foot jumper from the right wing, but Martinez scored four uninterrupted points.

“We wanted to get the ball inside quite a bit,” Damiano said. “I’m proud of them. We got the ball inside and blocked out on the boards, and that got us to the line quite a bit. They definitely kept their poise.”

With 45.8 seconds to play, Balderas sank a three-pointer from the right corner. YWLA was within 45-41, but the Deer secured the win by making three of four foul shots.

With a junior-dominated squad that has gained experience playing together, despite its relative inexperience with basketball, Fields is recognizing progress in less tangible areas as well as in the number of close games the Cardinals have played. He admits to having an intense coaching style and tells his high-achieving student-athletes that they’ve signed on for advanced-placement athletics – an extension of their classroom curriculum.

“They’re just buying into our philosophy and the girls have bonded better,” Fields said. “They’re starting to see things and know the reasons for them.”

The YWLA coach also credits the school’s assistant athletic director Jerry Gonzalez with designing a favorable schedule. The Cardinals’ next game is Saturday, Jan. 3 at Brooks Academy (11:30 a.m.).

“He did a great job of giving us a schedule to fit our abilities,” Fields said.

Antonian 54, East Central 39

The Apaches (13-5) bolted to a 21-9 first-quarter lead and pulled away in a non-district girls basketball game Tuesday at Antonian.

Only four East Central players scored, led by a trio of freshmen. Nalyssa Smith had a team-high 14 points. Casey Cosper added 13. Point guard Makayla Hamilton finished with eight points for the Hornets (8-9).

Navarro 73, Fox Tech 47

The Panthers (8-7) dominated a non-district boys basketball game against Fox Tech (7-9) Monday in Geronimo.

Senior Ruben Chapa led the Buffaloes with 13 points. Roger McCracken scored 12, Angel Gonzalez had nine and Mikin Bhakta eight.

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