Canyon girls basketball refocusing this summer

Canyon's Rachel Bowers (44) shoots against Vista Murrieta at Canyon. Dan Watson/The signal
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Canyon High girls basketball has made it to a CIF-Southern Section final two years in a row, but they’ve walked away both times without a title, a fact that weighs heavy on the minds of coach Jessica Haayer and her players.

That’s not to say they didn’t have a successful season. They shared the Foothill League title with Valencia High and made it to the second round of the CIF Division 2 state tournament with a final overall record of 22-11.

Canyon has a handful of returning players with that high-level playoff experience. And they are improving even more this summer.

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“I just want to go back (to finals),” rising junior Ellie Villavicencio said recently at a Burroughs summer league game. “I know that we can go further because we’ve been there two times in a row, so we can go further and succeed more.”

The Cowboys lost seven seniors from last year’s squad to graduation, including three-point extraordinaire Daisy Cardenas and all-around standout shooter Alaina Garcia.

However, there’s a crop of returners eager to get back on Foothill League floors. The speedy Talia Taufaasau and rebounding Rachel Bowers will be back.

Villavicencio, Selasi Mawugbe and Brooke Mitchell are also ready to assume starting positions.

“I think those are the three that didn’t start last year and those three have really been killing it,” Haayer said. “At times it makes you feel like you’re not skipping a beat, but we have a lot of work to be done.”

As the summer has progressed, the confidence of those players has grown, especially in Villavicencio, who racked up minutes Tuesday at Burroughs High in Burbank.

“I felt more fearless today than I usually do,” Villavicencio said. “I just have the confidence. More confidence with my team because I know, like, I can count on them and play with them.”

The pieces are there for Canyon. Haayer said the summer will be spent getting the team to work as one and focusing on the simple things.

“Fundamentals all the way,” Haayer said. “We kind of know our stuff. It’s just about refining those skills that we need to keep working at, that you work year in, year out. Even at the highest level, they always work on fundamentals.”

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