WATSONVILLE—The Monte Vista Christian girls’ basketball team surprised a lot of people after it made a deep run in last year’s Central Coast Section playoffs.
The Mustangs were eliminated in the Division IV semifinals. Yet, returning players such as senior guard Angelina Cortes are more than ready to help lead a young hungry squad seeking to get back in the postseason.
“I’m honored to be a part of this team and help run it,” Cortes said. “I’m proud of the girls and how even the younger ones are able to fit in with us, so that’s been really cool to watch.”
Junior Mackenzie Tellez said she’s seen some major progress from her teammates and feels like they’re all gelling at the right moment.
“Just being able to work together and develop our skills together has helped us become a really good team and a good unit,” Tellez said.
Tellez said they’re doing unexpected things on the court such as running different styles of defense and being able to run down the court smoothly on the offensive side.
Junior Hanna Harvey, a 6-foot-4 center, has been a big presence under the basket, while senior forward Madison Hill continues to take command of the offense.
Hill said she always looked up to the upperclassmen back when she was a freshman. She mentioned now it’s her turn to guide a young but experienced group of players.
“It inspired me to lead this team and I feel like this team’s energy this year has been different,” Hill said.
Monte Vista Christian last year finished with a 19-8 overall record and it went 5-5 in PCAL Gabilan play.
Still, it earned the No. 5 seed in the CCS Division IV bracket, beating The King’s Academy and Terra Nova High, before being eliminated by Sacred Heart Prep in the semifinals.
The Mustangs haven’t won a league title since the 2015-16 season when it was part of the now defunct Monterey Bay League Gabilan division. They shared the league title with North Salinas High.
They continue to battle against the Vikings (7-1), co-champ of the PCAL-Gabilan, along with San Benito High (7-2), Notre Dame of Salinas (7-2), newcomers Salinas High (4-2) and the other cochamp, Seaside High (3-1).
The Mustangs begin league play on the road against the Spartans on Jan. 15 at 7 p.m.
A majority of the team is returning including Hill, who averaged 9.4 points and five rebounds per game in 25 games played, according to the Max-Preps website.
Hill said the first day of camp was a bit rough. At that point, it was just about getting used to playing together, especially the six returners from last year’s squad.
“But they jumped in and by now it’s been great,” Hill said. “Our team bonding has helped us so much and we’ve become one big family.”
Tellez last season averaged 7.36 points, three assists and 2.8 steals per game in 25 games played, according to the Max-Preps website.
It’s her third season playing at the varsity level. She said the one thing she learned in the first two years was to be mentally composed as a captain.
“My composure reflects onto my teammates and when I’m calm, in the game and playing my hardest they’ll give me their hardest the whole time,” Tellez said.
Tellez said they also have a pregame ritual that’s been helping them get ready. She said the players bang on the lockers and get as rowdy as possible prior to their games.
“It works really well,” Tellez said. “It’s a staple and it’s been happening for a while.”
Last year’s group featured 12 players, including Angel Alcantar, Grace Dziuba, Sara Gallardo and Abby Guerrero, who graduated last year.
Tellez said this year’s roster got smaller, including the addition of two freshmen: Jaynelle Ragasa and Mackenzie’s sister, Sophia, who have been small contributors to this year’s strong start for the Mustangs.
“It’s a smaller team but it helps us become closer,” Tellez said.
The Mustangs (8-3) play against Aptos (5-4) on Friday at 6:30 p.m.