LEADER OF THE PACK Watsonville High senior Janet Arias took over a leadership role on a young squad that features a mixed group of underclassmen. (Juan Reyes — The Pajaronian)

Watsonville High girls’ basketball coach Zachary Cook is in year two of the slow, methodical process of rebuilding a program with young talented players.

Last year, Cook’s program went through a season full of growing pains and finished winless in Pacific Coast Athletic League Mission Division play.

The Wildcatz this season got off to another shaky start in league action with a 52-45 loss against North Monterey County High on Monday.

“A couple of things didn’t go our way but I felt we were in position to win that game the whole way through,” Cook said. “I don’t feel like our agenda has changed too much as far as what we’re striving for.”

Despite the loss, Watsonville (9-5, 0-1) is off to a better start compared to last season. It finished with a 4-20 overall record and went 0-10 in PCAL-Mission play.

“We’re just trying to fight for everything that we can whether it be possessions, whether it be quarters or games, whatever,” Cook said. “Just buy into that and build into that. Every game we’re trying to improve.”

Cook’s first stint with the program came in 2004 when he coached the JV team. He followed up with nine years (2008-16) at North Monterey County, his alma mater.

Cook said they came into this season much more experienced and it’s shown, so far.

“The experience plays a factor,” Cook said.

The Wildcatz last won a league title in the 2012-13 campaign, a season in which they won the Pacific division in the now defunct Monterey Bay League.

They have a solid chance of ending that drought this season. Cook said several players got together during the offseason to improve.

“Over the summer we all worked hard and put in the work,” senior Janet Arias said. “I had to make sure they wanted the same goals. It’s helped a lot as a person and to see the girls buy into this leadership.”

Arias said she learned how to embrace the role after the Wildactz lost two seniors–Jennifer Vazquez and Ruby Galvan–to graduation. 

Cook asked Arias to step out of her comfort zone. So far, he said she’s bought into the culture they’ve been trying to build.

“And she’s pushing others to buy into that same culture,” Cook said.

Other returning players include juniors Daisy Ortiz and Andreina Lopes.

Sophomores Marrisa Martinez, Rylee Gomez and Lucy Rosales played varsity ball last season and return with a year of valuable experience under their belts.

“They really stepped up and they worked as hard as other girls, too,” Arias said. “It’s an all-around team and everyone shines with their own skill set.”

Cook was looking for more scoring options but said he knew it would take time for the young players to begin contributing. He mentioned they’ve improved and taken more responsibility.

“Last year it didn’t seem like they were much of that but I foresaw that they would be able to take care of that this year,” Cook said.

Cook said the nice thing about having a young squad is its potential for improvement.

“That’s the scary part about our team,” he said. “Every coach that has seen our team has said how much better we’ve gotten and it’s quite scary that we can get better.”

Arias said last season the team did not quite mesh, but they fixed that issue by attending basketball training camps together and hanging out as friends.

“It was a huge help because it was other girls who wanted to do the same thing and improve,” Arias said.

The Wildcatz will need to turn things around quickly, as league play continues at home against Alisal High (10-4, 1-0) on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Cook said the Trojans are a tough and experienced team that features Mikaela Arista, who can be a dominant player and shoots the ball well.

“She’ll carry that team,” Cook said.

Others in the PCAL Mission division include North Monterey County (6-9, 1-0), Alvarez High (3-12, 0-1), Gilroy High (1-5, 0-1) and Christopher High (6-6, 1-0), which Cook said is a team to look out for this season.

“They have a great coach (Heather Stewart) and the kids are buying into it really well,” he said.

Arias said the Trojans are going to be a difficult task to tackle along with the rest of the teams in the league. Still, she believes they have a lockdown defense that can help them win some games.

“It’s just having a tough mentality and competing,” Arias said.


Editor’s Note:This article will be published in the Jan. 17 edition of The Pajaronian.

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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