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August 7, 2020

Girls basketball: Sharks caught on the short side

WATSONVILLE—St. Francis High girls’ basketball coach Randy Braga has a motto that goes “progress, not perfection.”

It’s a saying that has stuck with him throughout his coaching career, which has seen success from league championships to Central Coast Section titles.

“I don’t expect perfection but I do expect progress,” he said. “If we progress a little bit we’re going to be good basketball players at the end and that’s how you build a program.”

St. Francis junior Audrey Hernandez is one of five returners from last year’s roster. She said the biggest obstacle for them so far has been the lack of height at all five spots on the court.

But she said what they lack in stature, they’ve more than made up for it with speed and athleticism.

“We’re all still getting into our groove,” Hernandez said. “We’ve adjusted really well to our height and we’ve all just been playing ball.”

Hernandez said the progress is still in the works but mentioned the team has improved quite a bit throughout the season.

Other returners include seniors Grace Kovacs and Darlene Toscano along with junior Mariah Lyle and sophomore Elizabeth Nino.

Kovacs said the height disadvantage has been a challenge but believes they’ve been coping with it very well. She said one way to overcome that adversity is focusing on playing better defense.

“With our short girls we’re going to need a full court press and push the ball on offense,” Kovacs said.

St. Francis High senior Grace Kovacs is one of four seniors on this season’s girls’ basketball team. (Juan Reyes — The Pajaronian)

Braga returns for his second stint with the program. He left to help start the girls’ basketball program at Watsonville-based Ceiba College Prep in 2016-17.

Braga replaces athletic director Adam Hazel, who served as interim coach after Meghan Garcia stepped away from the program early last season.

Hazel helped the Sharks finish with a 12-13 overall record and they went 7-3 in league play, earning them a share of the Pacific Coast Athletic League Cypress division title with Carmel High.

It was the program’s first league title since the 2010-11 season. The Sharks advanced to the CCS Division V semifinals against Notre Dame of Salinas.

The Sharks currently own a 5-4 overall record. They will compete in the PCAL-Cypress for a second straight season.

St. Francis will face familiar foes such as the Padres (4-4), King City High (4-5), Pacific Grove High (5-3), Soledad High (4-3) and Stevenson School (6-2).

Braga coached St. Francis to three straight CCS D-V titles from 2012-15. The Sharks reached the D-V semifinals in 2016.

It’s his first year back with the Sharks but Braga said there was one thing he instantly noticed about this group.

“They’re hungry,” he said. “They’re eager to learn, they’re super coachable…they’re all aggressive and they’re all fighters. For the lack of height we have, we gain in aggressiveness.”

Braga said this year’s team is going to have to step up on the defensive side, which means some more trapping and “controlled chaos” as he likes to say.

St. Francis High coach Randy Braga returned this season to coach the girls’ basketball team for a second stint. (Juan Reyes — The Pajaronian)

“They just have to realize they have to play as a team,” Braga said. “They can’t rely on a 6-footer or even a 5-foot-10 girl.”

Braga said he still believes their group of guards can compete with just about any body. He said it’s been a learning experience for them to get adjusted to things such as gang rebounding.

“I think they’re having a lot of fun,” he said.

St. Francis came into the season without Janessa Yniguez, who was last year’s PCAL Cypress division’s Most Valuable Player. She currently plays at Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore.

Kovacs said she felt like she needed to be the one to step up this season for her teammates with the departure of Yniguez, who averaged 20 points, 4.7 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 3.5 steals over the Sharks’ 10-game league slate.

“I knew that me and Audrey and Darlene, the captains of the team, we needed to step up,” Kovacs said. “Especially me, I needed to get that leadership role…but also just working hard, too.”

Braga said he doesn’t expect perfection but there are ways to control effort.

“Just give me effort out there and make or miss, I’ll live with the result as long as we’re competing,” Braga said.

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Editor’s Note: This article will be published in the Dec. 27 edition of The Pajaronian.

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