By Ray Hamill — Four local girls basketball teams will be in action at this week’s Arcata Invitational Basketball Tournament, one of three local tourneys in the coming days.
At McKinleyville High, the Panthers will also host the 33rd annual Rotary Tip-Off Basketball Tournament, which gets under way on Thursday, while at College of the Redwoods, the Corsairs will host the Coach Tregs Classic on Friday and Saturday.
The Arcata girls have dominated the local basketball scene in recent years, winning six straight Big 5 titles, but this season could be more of a rebuilding year for a young roster.
Eureka, McKinleyville and Hoopa Valley will each also be in action at the Arcata tournament.
The Loggers have a new head coach calling the shots, with Michael Harvey taking over, and are considered one of the two frontrunners in the Big 5 heading into the season.
Hoopa, meanwhile, features a lot of new players but will be looking to push St. Bernard’s in the Little 4 and win a first league crown since 2011.
While McKinleyville will be eager to turn the corner on back-to-back winless league campaigns over the past two years.
The tourney gets under way at 4 p.m. on Thursday, with Hoopa and Foothill in action, followed by McKinleyville and Lower Lake at 5:30 p.m., Arcata and Mazama at 7 p.m., and Eureka and Liberty at 8:30 p.m.
And Arcata head coach Doug Oliveira is expecting some quality basketball over the three days.
“The level of play is going to be very good,” he said.
Senior guards lead the way for Arcata
The Tigers have lost just four games in league play over the past six years combined, and have been without doubt the team to beat in the area over that span.
This year, however, Oliveira has just three players back with any real experience.
“We are very, very young. We only have three players who have played varsity level basketball,” Oliveira said. “But we’ve got a very hard-working group of young ladies.”
The Tigers are 1-0 on the season, with a 62-33 win over Hoopa Valley last week, and will open the AIBT against Mazama, out of Oregon.
Leading the way for the Tigers are three senior guards, Sophia Belton, Kali Zanotti and Raja Cohen.
Belton is the most experienced of the trio, having seen substantial playing time over the past two seasons, while Zanotti started most of last year.
“Those two give us some very good senior leadership,” Oliveira said.
Cohen also saw substantial playing time a year ago, coming off the bench and earning a starting role.
“Those three are who we’re trying to build things around,” the head coach said.
The Tigers’ roster of 12 also features seniors Anna Williams-Garcia, Kylie Conti, and Liberty Kujawa-Seda, as well as juniors Jocelyn Bliven and Tia Franklin and four underclassmen, whom the coach is expecting bigs out of down the road.
“I’m excited about our youth, but we’re learning a lot right now,” Oliveira said.
“I think one of the biggest challenges with youth is taking care of the ball, and I think that comes with experience and knowing what you can get away with.”
Despite the changes, the Tigers will continue to press and try to move the ball quickly.
“I’m stubborn in my old age,” the long-time head coach said with a laugh. “We’re going to try to do what we do.”
Loggers get set to tackle Liberty
The Loggers are off to a 1-0 start after defeating Hoopa Valley last week, but should face a much tougher challenge against Division-I Liberty in the nightcap of the opening day’s action.
Liberty is also off to a 1-0 start, and features a roster with just three seniors after the Lions went 16-12 a year ago.
Liberty defeated Las Lomas 50-42 in its opener early this week.
The Eureka girls begin the season as one of the favorites in this year’s Big 5.
“I think the H-DN championship is going to run through Eureka and Del Norte,” Oliveira said. “Obviously (the Loggers) have a quality team.”
The Eureka girls will rely heavily this season on senior co-captains Makaila Napoleon, Dorshaela Wesson and Paige Lyons.
For a more in-depth look at the 2018 Eureka team, see Tougher preseason in store for Eureka girls …
Jackson back to lead Hoopa girls
The Hoopa Valley girls will open tourney play against Foothill on Thursday afternoon, and come into the new season with a very new-look team.
The Warriors lost five seniors from last year’s 12-12 squad, which finished 4-2 in the Little 4 and fell to International in the opening round of the North Coast Section playoffs.
They do, however, have some key pieces, including senior point guard Alexia Jackson, a four-year varsity starter.
Also back from last year’s team, which pushed St. Bernard’s all the way to the final night of action in the Little 4, are senior small forward Destiny McKinnon and sophomore guard K-Lynn Dowd.
And through two games against Big 5 opponents this year, head coach Floyd Billings likes the chemistry of his players.
“What I like is they like each other,” he said. “I have no friction on this year’s team, and they don’t give up. We have heart, we just have to get the skills up.”
The coach is expecting a battle against Division-I Foothill, a big step up in opposition for the Division-V Warriors.
But they won’t back down from the challenge.
“I know we’re quicker,” Billings said. “And we have been having intense practices, so we should be in good shape. And we should out-last them.”