The Growth of a Champion

Samantha Ruvalcaba, Tristen Myers, Kaelah Mundley
Samantha Ruvalcaba, Tristen Myers, Kaelah Mundley

The 2014-15 Mission Oak girls basketball team was not expected to do what it did this year–win the 2015 Division III Valley championship over Fresno High at Selland Arena. This is an accomplishment that possibly wasn’t expected until next season by these Hawks.

Head coach Dave Caetano admitted that this team was supposed to be improved this season, with the players he had coming back and a good incoming freshman class, but winning Valley is something that wasn’t exactly expected heading into the season.

“We are definitely a year ahead of schedule,” Caetano said. “I didn’t see this happening until maybe next season.”

Caetano began to realize the potential of his team when they starting getting on the same page, and he credits the girls’ commitment and development as big factor in their success this season.

“This community doesn’t have a strong youth program, so these girls had to develop once they got here, but I have a lot of good athletes that are committed and it was just a matter of them all getting on the same page, and that happened about eight to ten games into the season,” he said.

Being on the same page was something that Caetano considered to be a strength for his team; a chemistry that the team began to share as the season went on. Caetano believes the chemistry and the buy-in from the players tied together to create success this season.

“The team chemistry is something that’s intangible,” he said. “It had to built up through time, and they began to understand the system and understand the defense we were running. I told them about eight games into the season that they have to defend to win, and they totally bought it.”

Another big reason behind the success of the Hawks this season was the strong leadership of three team captains, junior Tristen Myers, sophomore Samantha Ruvalcaba, and senior Kaelah Munley, the coach said. Myers explained that the teams’ success this season has to do with players getting to know each other better.

“We developed from last year to this year. As the season went along we started work well together as a team and we were a high-assist team, so that shows the chemistry we have,” she said. “We’ll just be playing for fun. We have nothing to lose at this point.”

Ruvalcaba stressed how important it is for the Hawks to play as a team, and how vital it has been to their success.

“We don’t play as individuals,” she said. “We play as a team. We have chemistry as a group.”

Ruvalcaba went on to explain team’s outlook on the state playoffs.

“We have nothing to lose. This can be good for us to see what we can do next year,” she said.

Senior Kaelah Munley, spoke about some of the signal wins that the team had earned throughout the season, which gave them the confidence they needed to help win a Valley championship.

“When we beat Monache for the first time, we started to see how good we could be. Also, beating Fresno at Selland was special because we had lost to them twice already,” she said.

Caetano explained that even though he did have captains play well, and carry the team throughout the regular season, he was surprised early on by two freshmen who burst onto the scene, Rhegan Fernandez and Kambryia Elzy.

“They took over day one. They both have very high basketball IQ’s, and on the biggest stage, in the title game, they put on a show,” he said.

Another freshman is 6’ 4’’ Samantha Arellano. Arrellano came into the picture in-season, and Caetano identifies her as one of the reasons the team went on a big win streak during the regular season.

“She came in after about eight games. She can improve on some skills, but she’s still so young. She can dominate the Valley,” he said.

This has definitely made him a happy man, Caetano said. And, his team does not need one player to score like crazy to win.

“We have two seniors this season who contributed, but it’s been the youth of this team that’s contributed the most,” he said. “The team has worked great together and that’s why we’ve been one of the leading teams in the state in assists, and that stat jumps out. We don’t need high scorers to win.”

With all of the positives of the Hawks team (27-5) there are a few negatives to go along. Caetano has stressed consistency as something the team can work on in order to get even better.

“We need to work on being more consistent all the time. We won some close games this year that shouldn’t have gotten that close because of blown leads. We could also learn to grow as a team. There is always more you can do when you when you have team this young,” he said.

With such a young team, you would expect the players would possibly be overwhelmed by the playoff stage. What happened was quite the contrary, according to Caetano.

“The players were never nervous before the playoff games. They were never tight. They were ready to play all the time. Showed great maturity all season,” he said.

The Hawks did lose their State Playoff game this past week, but Caetano discussed his mindset and the team’s mindset heading into that game as Valley champions.

“They already achieved the biggest goal,” he said. “Winning Valley was the icing on the cake, but this game and tournament is about going for the sprinkles on the cake.”

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