Early in the season, members of the Albert Einstein Academy girls basketball team admitted they’re tackling challenges.
Einstein (3-4 overall, 2-1 Omega League) returned four players from last year’s team, and players said they felt good about how their season has gone so far.
Still, first-year coach Scott Barker is coaching his first girls team after almost three decades of coaching boys basketball. As Barker tries to build a basketball culture at the school, he said the game is still new to some of his players and the school.
“At this size of a school, by and large (players are) coming out for the first time,” Barker said.
Barker is encouraged, though. Of the four non-seniors from last year’s six-player team, all four returned, and 11 additional players came out this year.
Last season’s squad went 6-17 overall and placed third in the Omega League with a league record of 6-4, according to MaxPreps.
“Last year we had an OK record,” said sophomore guard Evanne Tieng. “So it’s definitely a goal for us to win league.”
During their 34-20 loss to Santa Clarita Christian School on Dec. 16, Einstein played a grinding, defensive game. Barker says his team is tall and big for the girls’ game, which can slow down high scoring teams like SCCS.
“With our size and slowness of foot, we need to keep games low-scoring and muddy it up a bit,” Barker said.
At 5-foot-11, Helen Rodriguez is Einstein’s tallest player. A senior forward, Rodriguez is a commanding presence in the lane, and eats up rebounds. In the loss to SCCS, she had five rebounds.
Through seven games, Rodriguez is averaging 17.3 rebounds per game, according to MaxPreps. Teammate Katie Ford is averaging 6.7 rebounds per game. Rodriguez also leads the Rockets in scoring, averaging 12.4 points per game.
Knee problems sidelined Rodriguez from basketball for the past two seasons as she hit her growth spurt. She feels good, but just wants to have fun this season.
“(I’m) a little rusty and trying to get back into it,” Rodriguez said.
Barker, who teaches biology and health, will be Einstein’s third coach in three years.
Rodriguez, Tieng and sophomore guard Sam Sterba said they like their new coach. Barker thinks they’re also adjusting well to his new way of doing things.
“It’s definitely different, having a new coach,” Sterba said.
Tieng said the team feels better playing for Barker and sporting a bigger roster.
“I think he’s one of the best coaches we’ve had through the last three years,” Tieng said. “We’re winning a lot more than we did last year.”
Barker said that despite things going well so far, his team will need to rebuild again next year after his five seniors leave.
He has pieces to build around, though. Sterba is the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 7.4 points per game and 2.3 rebounds per game. Tieng is also averaging 4.4 points and five rebounds per game.
Now that he’s coaching at Einstein and has no plans to leave, Barker said he’s hoping to develop a girls basketball culture that will encourage more students to play.
“Winning will come later when you learn how to play together and have fun,” Barker said. “If they do things right and have fun doing it, they’ll want to come out and win games.”