Monte Vista Christian junior Rhazelle Gonzales and the Mustangs girls' basketball team got on the right track with a 38-11 win over Notre Dame of Salinas in PCAL Mission Division action on Jan. 3. (John Thornburg/special to The Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLE— The Monte Vista Christian girls’ basketball team began league play exactly how they intended. 

With a decisive win.

The Mustangs defeated Notre Dame Salinas, 38-11, in the teams’ Pacific Coast Athletic League Mission Division opener Tuesday night.  

Sophomore guard Sophia Cortes made her presence known with five 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 15 points for the Mustangs, who improved to 1-0 in league play and 6-7 overall.

“I feel like we have come a long way since the beginning,” Cortes said. “It is a statement win that we are pushing hard. We’re going to be coming back every game, so just expect that.”

MVC began the season with a 3-7 record, losing by as much as 34 against Santa Cruz on Dec. 3. 

However, the Mustangs have turned their season around by winning three straight—their longest win streak of the season.

“I really knew what my ladies were capable of,” said Monta Vista assistant coach Brandon Amigo. “We have been working all season despite our losing record. We’re trying to get to .500.”

It was the second highest winning deficit of the season for the Mustangs, who had a 50-11 clobbering win over Calvary Christian Academy during the Lady Shark Shootout at St. Francis High School on Dec. 29.

MVC never trailed in Tuesday’s meeting against Notre Dame and consistently increased their lead throughout the evening. 

In the fourth quarter, the Mustangs’ defense held Notre Dame scoreless and tied for the fewest points given up this season at 11.

MVC head coach Alyssa Munchinsky was unavailable for Tuesday’s game, but Amigo—who was very vocal from the sideline—gladly filled in as interim head coach for one game.

“They’re adjusting to a new system,” Amigo said. 

Munchinsky has prioritized three-point shooting as part of the new offensive strategy as well as transitioning into man defense rather than zone.

Much of the rocky start can also be attributed to the inexperience of many of the players and developing a team culture throughout the preseason.

Amigo mentioned that five of the players moved up from JV to the varsity level, which is a big jump. 

“We’re a way different team from when we started,”Amigo said. “They were dead at the beginning of the season.”

Additionally, the Mustangs have a limited roster with just 11 players and six of whom are seniors.

Transfer student Gianna Herrera played her first game as a Mustang and made an immediate impact.

She finished the game with four points and, despite being one of the smallest players on the court, fought for several offensive rebounds down the stretch.

“I think we are improving every game,” Cortes said. “We just got our new player Gia, she was a transfer. She’s a good player, I think she will be really beneficial.”

Throughout the game, Notre Dame controlled the rebounds and had significantly more second-chance opportunities than MVC.

For a three-point shooting team like the Mustangs, getting those 50-50 rebounds could mean the difference between winning or losing.

“I feel like they were definitely more confident,” Cortes said. “We need to work on that more. They had some good rebounds.”

After becoming so accustomed to the highest ranking Gabilan Division, the Mustangs are getting used to the feel of the Mission Division where they will play teams such as Alvarez (6-4, 1-0) Pacific Grove (5-5, 1-0) and Monterey (9-5, 0-1).

MVC is used to battling against difficult teams such as Santa Cruz and Soquel, giving them no doubt they’ll be able to thrive this season.

“I’m looking forward to the teams we play and how we can get better and challenge each other,” Cortes said.

After starting league play with such a resounding win, opposing teams may question if MVC’s 6-7 overall record is indicative of its playing level.

The goal for Mustang players, and coaches alike, is to return to the Gabilan Division.

Their goal is achievable but only attainable one way. To continue winning.

“We definitely have something to prove,” Amigo said. “That’s the goal, but I highly doubt we’ll be back there [after] this season. We’re not quite there yet. I think our ball movement still has to be more crisp and we’re still missing some rotations.”

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