The fact that Valencia High girls basketball will play for a CIF divisional title today finally set in for senior Jade Jordan as she sat in Samuel Hein’s fifth-period English class Thursday. “He was giving us a shout-out,” she said. Everyone at Valencia will be talking about these Vikings (26-5) if they can avenge an earlier loss to their Foothill League rivals and win the first CIF title in program history at 1 p.m. at Honda Center in Anaheim. It won’t be easy. In fact, Valencia’s opponent in the CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA final, Canyon High (21-9), beat the Vikings by 16 points the last time the teams met, back on Feb. 3.
As for what Valencia learned from that meeting, when the Cowboys outscored the Vikings by 20 in the second half and snapped Valencia’s 23-game winning streak in league, the answers vary. “I think we just need to keep calm more and use our basketball IQ and play smarter,” said Valencia point guard Chyanne Pagkalinawan. “We don’t have to get too crazy on defense just keep everything calm.” Senior Kayla Konrad, who has scored 20-plus points in each of Valencia’s four postseason games, said, “I think last time we didn’t have the fight that we usually have. I think we’re going to, obviously, have to come out with that.” Ultimately, though, Valencia just didn’t hit shots. The Vikings made one field goal in the third quarter and four in the second half as Canyon overcame what had been a 28-24 Valencia lead at halftime. The Cowboys assigned Gabriela Sanchez to guard Konrad in man-to-man defense, and the 6-foot junior held the Vikings all-time leading scorer to 17 points on 3-of-10 shooting. Since then, Konrad has been on a tear. She scored 39 points on Feb. 10 in a win over Hart. She’s averaged close to 26 points a game during the postseason, capped by a 24-point outing against Oaks Christian of Westlake Village in the semifinals last week.
Backed by Jordan’s three-point shooting and the defense of seniors Kenadee Honaker and Ashlee Ane, Konrad and the Vikings have outscored playoff opponents by an average of 23.5 points. “I think we’ve been a lot more dialed in and intense,” Konrad said. “So we’re going to need to keep that going.” Especially in defending Canyon’s 6-foot-3 center Rachel Bowers. Pagkalinawan said the team has confidence in its interior defense. Konrad knows the Vikings will have to be aware of Bowers and Canyon’s perimeter shooters. “I think if we just pressure them and not make it easy to make those entry passes, that will help us,” Konrad said. “Also not standing on defense and constantly knowing where the ball is and where Rachel is, I think that will really help us.” Another thing that might help: keeping the score in the 40s. Valencia beat Canyon 46-45 in the championship game of the Burroughs tournament earlier this year and 47-45, on a Konrad buzzer-beater, in the first round of league. Canyon’s win in the series came by a 64-48 score.
Ultimately, and obviously, the Vikings will take a win no matter the score. “I feel like we could have put more out on the floor,” Jordan said of the Feb. 3 meeting with Canyon. “But on Saturday, we just need to go out there and leave our hearts on the court.” Both Valencia and Canyon have already qualified for the CIF state tournament, which starts next week.