Monte Vista Christian junior Gurshan Harika will help lead the Mustangs boys' basketball team that will feature a junior-heavy roster and just one senior this season. (John Thornburg/special to The Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLE—Monte Vista Christian junior Bryce Brogan and his teammates wanted to end the non-league portion of its schedule on a high note before jumping into next month’s important league schedule. 

However, the Mustangs discovered they still need to iron out the kinks following a 76-48 loss to Soquel High in non-league action Dec. 22.

“We just started to get tired, lazy and it just started to get away from us,” he said. “But we thought we could do better tonight.”

MVC coach Abrem Estorga has been emphasizing mental focus this season, especially to start the games. They continue to struggle in the first quarter and tend to find themselves playing from behind the entire way.

“We’re learning that as we go and we’re still not settled in our rotation,” he said. 

The Mustangs have nine players on the roster with just one senior and the rest juniors. Estorga said they’re bound to make mistakes, yet they continue to play hard and compete until the end. 

They pulled to within 10 points at the end of the third quarter. But it wasn’t enough to overcome a 25-point performance by Knights junior Braylon Noble.

Despite the loss to Soquel, the Mustangs qualified for the Central Coast Section playoffs after last week’s non-league win against San Lorenzo Valley. Teams can qualify by having a .500 record in league or non-league play.

“So, hopefully it keeps going up,” Brogan said. “I think we’re looking pretty good, we all have a good connection. It should be a fun year.”

The Mustangs are led by a junior-heavy group in Brogan, Gurshan Harika, Nicolas Jimenez, Devyn Leal, Jack Ryan, Joshua Yonemitsu and Angel Martinez, one of their primary defenders who is recovering from an illness.

Jonny Ledesma is the lone senior and varsity returner from last year’s squad. 

Brogan mentioned the passing game is one of their biggest strengths this season and their shooting was supposed to be one of their big upsides. However, he echoed Estorga’s statement about the first quarter being a challenge for them.

“Trying to get ahead because we always lose the first quarter and then we have to play from behind,” Brogan said. “We just need to have more energy out of the gate, that’s a big thing.” 

Youth is somewhat of a factor for their mistakes on the court. Estorga added that Soquel simply did a good job of pressuring them to force those errors. 

“Sometimes with inexperience, the emotions get too involved so they make a mistake, sometimes they go too low instead of being ready for the next play,” he said.

The third-year coach said a big loss like the one to the Knights are great teaching lessons. He’s thankful the players have been coachable, work hard and like to play for each other. 

“Now they’re starting to coach each other,” Estorga said. 

The mood in the locker room is still positive and it was a great reminder that it’s part of the process to improve, Estorga said.

Brogan added it definitely helps even when they are blown out by 30 points because all it does is light a fire.

“Losing sucks, that’s really it,” he said. 

Brogan—who is also on the baseball team—is doing what he can to be a leader to guide teammates if they’re not on the same page. The biggest goal from here on out is to start winning and at least be competitive the rest of the year.

“I think we need to challenge each other,” he said. “If we’re in practice, challenge each other really hard then in those big games we’ll be able to have that experience.”

MVC will battle in the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Mission Division which includes the return of North Monterey County (1-8) and Stevenson (6-2).

The division also has newcomers Oakwood (9-1) of Morgan Hill, Pacific Grove (4-5), Seaside (3-6) and Soledad (6-3) in the mix for a league crown.  

Brogan likes his chances of winning the division, especially because the games should be pretty even. 

“We gotta play our basketball, it’s a big thing,” he said. “We gotta run against those big guys up and down the court, play fast and try to get them tired.”

Estorga also believes it’ll be a competitive division. He said the teams getting a lot of talk are Oakwood and Stevenson, which have been playing well lately. 

If everything goes according to play, the Mustangs could end up being the dark horse of the division. 

Estorga told the players right now it’s about developing and improving on a daily basis by taking the wins and the losses, but also learning to be a competitor. 

“We’re probably right where we should be,” he said. “If we’re going to compete for a top-3 spot in the league, we gotta take some big steps in a short amount of time.”

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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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