Crusaders hold on to beat the Panthers in exciting season opener

Photos by Ray Hamill/ – The St. Bernard’s and McKinleyville girls in action at the Arcata tournament on Thursday.

By Ray Hamill — A strong first half lifted the St. Bernard’s girls to a season-opening 39-37 win over McKinleyville at the Arcata tournament on Thursday afternoon.

Junior Lele Tanuvasa scored a game-high 22 points in the win, as the Crusaders outscored the Panthers 14-5 in the second quarter to lead by 10 at halftime.

The Panthers, however, battled back after the interval and tied the game before the SB girls got the better of the late exchanges to pull out the win.

“It was good to see us doing things that we’ve been trying to do,” new St. Bernard’s head coach Augie Valdez said. “But we’re not there yet.”

Emma Wilson chipped in eight points in the win, while teammate Hannah Finck added five.

Kathryn Tinney led the way for the Panthers and finished with 13 points, while Camryn Pinard added nine points and Allie Egbert eight.

“We battled back, but basketball is not just a game of putting the ball in the hole and making the right passes, it’s also a mental game,” McKinleyville head coach Jacob Cheek said. “We’ve got to be mentally prepared.”

The second-year Mack coach, however, believes his team can match up with anybody on the North Coast this season.

“I think we can compete with anybody we’re playing,” he said. “We have the players, we have people who can do a bit of everything.”

Tinney, one of the better all-around athletes in the area, will be expected to play a big role this season, along with Egbert and Pinard, each of whom are also talented multi-sport standouts.

But the head coach is looking for a complete team effort from his roster this winter.

“Team success makes individual success,” he said. “We’re looking for team success.”

The Crusaders, meanwhile, are expected to contend for a Little 4 championship this season.

Emma Wilson

Tanuvasa is one of the most exciting players on the entire H-DNL and will be a force alongside sophomore Madelyn Shanahan, but Valdez believes the team depth is what will define their season.

“I think there’s a tremendous upside for this team,” he said. (Lele and Madelyn) are going to get their points, but the other kids are the ones that are really going to make or break it for us.”

Senior Emma Wilson also is expected to play a big role for the team and continues to play with a lot of heart, while freshman Laila Florvilus looks like she is ready to have a big impact over the next four years.

Another young player, sophomore Amayiah Her, also had a productive game on Thursday and helped set the tone for her teammates.

McKinleyville’s Raina Ausburn reacts during Thursday’s game.

“She’s a kid that’s going to do the dirty work,” the head coach. “I’m really proud of her effort. All of the kids played hard.”

Finck, Brooke Preslar and Mataya Sherman round out an eight-player roster and each also will see plenty of time and play a major role in the coming months.

“In my 22 years of coaching there’s been a few teams I’ve had that have had very good chemistry, and this team I think is really bonding,” Valdez said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing them improve over the next month and a half.

“This team is going to be a fun team to watch.”

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