From the top right section of the visitors’ bleachers at Valencia High on Friday, Canyon students kicked off a chant unspectacular in nearly every sports setting. Not this one. A group of fans in green and yellow began, “I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win.” The Vikings hadn’t lost a Foothill League home game since 2013. They hadn’t lost a league game, period, in their last 23 outings. Yet, the fourth-quarter chant rose in intensity and sincerity. Canyon’s girls basketball team believed it, too. The Cowboys outscored the Vikings by 20 in the second half and won 64-48 to keep the league title in limbo and lift the burden of a five-game losing streak to their hosts. “I don’t know, it was crazy. That’s what we wanted since I was a freshman and we finally did it,” said Canyon junior Talia Taufaasau, who scored nine of her 11 points in the fourth quarter, where the Cowboys made 9-of-12 shots collectively. Canyon (16-9 overall, 7-1 in Foothill) trailed by four at the half but turned Alaina Garcia’s eight third-quarter points and Valencia’s cold shooting into an eight-point lead heading to the fourth quarter of its most crucial win of the year. Now, if Canyon and Valencia win out, the teams will share the Foothill League title: the Vikings’ fifth straight and the Cowboys’ first since 2014 (co-champs). Cowboys coach Jessica Haayer said before the game the key was to control Valencia’s Kayla Konrad. Not necessarily to erase her, but to keep her from a prolific night. Gabriela Sanchez (13 points) got the message. The Canyon sophomore tracked Konrad like a mind-reading bounty hunter, holding the 2016 Foothill League Player of the Year to 17 points on 3-of-10 shooting.
“Heck of a job,” Taufaasau said of Sanchez. “Her defense on (Konrad) was spectacular. She made Kayla fight for every bucket she got.” Jade Jordan scored 14 points for the Vikings (20-5, 7-1), whose last home league loss came to Canyon in 2013. The last time the Cowboys beat Valencia in any setting came back on Jan. 23, 2015, and this year’s losses to the Vikes were especially painful. The Vikings — who could have clinched at least a share of the Foothill title Friday — beat Canyon by one in a preleague tournament final and followed that with a 47-45 win in league. “We’re back to the drawing board tomorrow,” said Valencia coach Jerry Mike. “We have to focus on the last two and close it out. It’s still cool — they had a great run. We’ll be fine.”