APTOS—The Aptos High boys’ basketball team went through a major overhaul during the offseason after it lost 10 seniors due to graduation, leaving many roles to be filled.
One such role belonged to Cameron Saldaña, who averaged 18 points per game and was one of the vocal leaders, both on and off the court, as the Mariners’ team captain.
After losing Saldaña and other pivotal commanders including point guard Marcel Martin, it was up to the next generation of seniors to fill that void.
“It’s been a big challenge learning to lead the team, but I feel I’ve done a good job getting there and helping us move well,” said senior Trevor Brady. “A lot of it is just bringing the energy. It’s hyping everyone up and getting them ready to play.”
Brady is one of seven seniors along with Harrison Bloom this season that were in last year’s starting lineup at some point.
Last year, the Mariners finished 22-6 overall and were Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League co-champion along with Santa Cruz, who both finished with a 9-1 record in league play.
Aptos’ season ended with Saldaña notching 30 points in a 54-46 loss to Burlingame in the Central Coast Section Division III title game. It was the most points scored in a D-III championship game since 2002.
The Mariners began this year’s non-league with some early struggles starting with a 62-33 loss to The King’s Academy, followed by a 64-38 loss to Oakwood.
It was to be expected from a young team that’s in a rebuilding phase.
Aptos coach Brian Bowyer said it took time for players to grasp the new offense.
“Some teams in the preseason kind of tore us apart, but I think we’re much better now than when we played those teams,” he said.
As the Mariners became more familiar with their new offense, their record began to shift and the blowouts started to end.
Much of this new offense consists of ball movement and spacing to create 3-point shooting opportunities.
“Toughness mentally,” Bowyer said. “I think not backing down when things get challenging for us. We also need to get better on the defensive end.”
Aptos has won five of its past seven games and finished 2-1 at the 74th annual Carmel Invitational, including a 68-65 overtime victory against highly ranked Monterey.
However, there is still much work to be done in order to become the team they want to be. Point guard Isaiah Ackerman said they need to adapt to their lack of size and rely a lot more on 3-point shooting.
“We just need to drive, kick, find the open man, and knock down shots,” Ackerman said.
Bowyer said the sophomore guard runs the team well and has helped the team a lot.
Ackerman is the third member of his family to represent Aptos basketball—his sisters Natalia and Jasmine Ackerman also wore blue and white.
As a sophomore, he is the team’s second leading scorer at 9.3 points per game, second in rebounds with 5.3, and second in assists with 1.1.
“When I started it was kind of scary, but I have such a good team and coaches that support me through all of it. I’m excited for what’s to come,” Ackerman said.
Aptos has plenty of players who can knock down shots, especially Brady who leads the Mariners with 12.3 points per game and is dangerous from beyond the arc.
“A lot of it is just the team coming together,” Brady said. “We worked out a lot of kinks and we really came together as a group.”
Aptos also has help off the bench from players who developed their game during the offseason.
Mateo Calfee, a junior, is one such impact player off the bench who can alter the outcome of a game through his intensity.
“He can be a game-changer for us sometimes. He plays amazing defense, gets rebounds, gets blocks,” Ackerman said.
Aptos currently owns a 6-4 record going into the first round of the Santa Cruz Warriors/Aptos High NorCal Invitational tournament. They played earlier today against Mountain View at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz.
After the tournament the Mariners will jump right into SCCAL play at Soquel on Jan. 3 at 7:30pm.
Aptos and Soquel (4-6) will be in the race for a league crown against heavy favorite Santa Cruz (7-3) along with other teams in the league including Harbor (8-4), San Lorenzo Valley (3-8) and Scotts Valley (6-5).
The Mariners are feeling confident after slowly adjusting to their new offense, looking to prove a postseason run is still within reach despite their slow start.
“Just because you have the potential doesn’t mean you’re going to make it, you’ve got to work hard for it. And they’re doing that,” Bowyer said. “If we continue to improve, I think we can make a nice run in the playoffs.”