WATSONVILLE—St. Francis High junior Aaliysah Gomez and her teammates were given the green light to take as many shots as possible from beyond the arc in last week’s league opener.
The game plan was executed to perfection.
However, the shots came up short and so did the Sharks girls’ basketball team in a 37-23 loss to Greenfield in Pacific Coast Athletic League Cypress Division action Jan. 5.
“I think we came out and we weren’t shooting very well,” Gomez said. “They were getting wide open looks but the shots just weren’t falling.”
St. Francis comes up a tad bit short when it comes to stature and that means they’ve had to rely on the 3-point shot this season.
First-year coach Jesse Yniguez was fine with the shot selection; however, the rim was just not friendly to them Thursday night.
“You saw the ball just go in and out,” he said.
Greenfield also had 6-foot junior center Latai Matelau who was a huge presence in the paint. She took advantage under the rim by snatching offensive rebounds and putting the ball back in the hoop.
The Sharks weren’t boxing out or getting the position like they wanted to, Yniguez said.
“We should’ve fought a little bit more for that position,” he said. “They swung the ball to one side and we needed to get to that side, not let her catch. But, I think she was just having a great time just putting it right back up.”
Gomez mentioned they need to play hard right from the start because they tend to fall back in the first half.
The Sharks bounced back on Jan. 7 with a 30-26 non-league win over Stevenson of the Mission Division—the second highest tier of the four divisions within the PCAL.
Yniguez praises his standout guard for her athleticism and being a “ball hawk” on defense, keeping an eye on where the ball is at all times.
The first-year skipper calls Gomez their spark of energy, whether she knows it or not.
“We need more of that,” Yniguez said. “We’d like to have everybody to step up to be more of that energetic person.”
The Sharks lost three seniors from last year’s squad including multi-sport standout Mariah Montalvo, who was one of the leaders on and off the court.
This year’s group of upperclassmen includes seniors Sam Arradre, Isabella Fury, Samantha Orradre and Isabella Sumano, and junior Nevaeh Litel, Emily Raich and Gomez.
The underclassmen features sophomores Carley Anderson, Damaria Bolden and Yazmin Salas, and Maeve Flynn as the lone freshman.
Gomez mentioned some players have dealt with injuries but they are slowly getting into the groove of things.
Despite losing a trio of seniors to graduation, Gomez believes they’re basically the same team with the addition of some youngsters already making an impact.
“I think our record isn’t as good as we’d like it to be, but we definitely know that we can improve moving forward,” she said.
The Sharks started the season with four straight losses. They snapped the losing streak with a 65-12 win over Anzar in non-league play Dec. 15 and beat Scotts Valley, 33-23, at their own Lady Shark Shootout tournament on Dec. 29.
Yniguez saw the defense step up through those games, especially a full court press that can force turnovers into easy baskets. Plus, their shots were falling.
“We get more confidence when our shot falls and it helps,” he said. “If we can get that going then I think we’ll be a lot better off.”
Yniguez will have help from former head coach Randy Braga, who led the Sharks to three straight Central Coast Section Division V titles from 2012-14.
Last season, they failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in at least 16 years after they finished with a 6-12 overall record.
St. Francis also has two Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League championships from the 2008-09 and 2010-11 seasons.
Yniguez said the challenge is getting the players to play team basketball on both sides of the court.
“I don’t think we’re there yet but they have the capability of doing it,” he said. “The games that we’ve won, we pressed and it worked. We’ve got to come together as a team to really accomplish something.”
Gomez added the mindset all along has been to qualify for a CCS playoff berth.
Teams that finish with a .500 record in the non-league portion of their schedule earn an automatic postseason spot, which the Sharks failed to do so with a 4-8 overall record.
Now the focus is winning at least more than half of their league games to have a chance of extending the season.
“We just need to work hard in practice and really focus,” she said. “It starts with having a stronger first quarter…and playing hard from the get-go.”
St. Francis (4-9, 0-1) returned to the PCAL’s Cypress Division after placing fifth with 3-7 record in league play in 2021-22.
This season they’ll compete against Greenfield (6-4, 2-0), King City (3-8, 1-0), North Monterey County (0-10, 0-1), Seaside (3-1, 0-0) and Soledad (4-6, 0-1) for a shot at a division crown.
The Sharks postponed Tuesday’s league game at Seaside High following flood watch warnings throughout the Central Coast region. They also had last week’s non-league game against Gilroy postponed which will be made up in February.
Yniguez realizes the league season just tipped off, yet he wants to see a little more consistency from the defense because he knows that will be the key to the success moving forward.
“It turns into easy baskets if we can accomplish that,” he said. “The league [season] is just starting. Hopefully going forward we can fix what we need to fix.”
St. Francis hopes to get back on the court against King City in Watsonville on Jan. 12 at 7pm.