Canyon girls basketball seeking next step amidst program’s historic rise

Rachel Bowers (44) gets ready to shoot the ball during practice at Canyon High School on Wednesday, Nov. 29. 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

In three years at the helm, Jessica Haayer has a brought a culture of winning and deep playoff runs to the Canyon girls basketball team.

The team has made it to the CIF-Southern Section finals each of the last two seasons, with trips to the state tournament each year — the two longest playoff runs in school history.

This season, she’ll employ a lineup that includes three players standing at least 6 feet tall, led by Boise State signee Rachel Bowers.

When thinking about the team’s defensive approach, she began to grin, pausing before giving too much away.

“We’ll be able to do some things,” she said.

Canyon is expected to use a more up-tempo style of defense, predicated on traps and the occasional press.

“Our defense is going to be really, really high energy,” said Bowers, an All-CIF-SS selection last season.

Talia Taufaasau (3) gets ready to shoot the ball during a practice at Canyon High School on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

Likely more important than any defensive scheme will be the return of Bowers, along with Talia Taufaasau, an All-CIF-SS performer last season as well.

At 6-foot-3, Bowers has honed in on her 3-point shooting over the offseason after going 2-for-18 from behind the arc last season. Haayer indicated she’ll be taking a lot more 3-pointers this year.

“Rachel, especially, is unmatched in this league,” Haayer said. “Nobody has the skill and size she possesses.”

Taufaasau averaged 11.3 points last season, second behind Bowers (13), and will look to improve on a 25.6-percent mark from 3-point range. That will especially be of importance with the loss of Daisy Cardenas, who made a team-high 69 3-pointers last year, shooting 32 percent.

“It’s obviously big shoes to fill,” Taufaasau said. “I’m definitely going to have more of a shooter’s mentality this season to help fill that role.”

Haayer also raved about the shooting prowess of Brooke Mitchell, who hit nine 3-pointers last year at a 32-percent rate. But with the length in the starting lineup, shooting won’t necessarily be at the forefront of Canyon’s approach.

“I think we’re going to be a lot more big-oriented this year,” Taufaasau said. “We’ll play a lot more inside than on the perimeter.

Along with Bowers, Selasi Mawugbe and Gabriela Sanchez make up the rest of the 6-foot ensemble in the starting lineup. Mitchell is also expected to start.

There’s no shying away from the facts Canyon dropped three games to Valencia, including a loss in the CIF finals, and shared the Foothill Leauge title with the Vikings last season. Each of the three losses, including the one in the finals, was decided by five points or less.

“I know all of us are super excited to play them this year,” Bowers said. “It’s only driven us to be better.”

The excitement won’t detract Canyon from reaching its high-watermark once again, though.

“We’re not focused on them at all,” Haayer said of Valencia. “It’s a quest and it’s a quest we’ve been on these last three years. It has nothing to do with what team we play. We just want to finish what we started.”

Notes — Canyon lost to Valencia (50-45) in the CIF-1AA finals last season at the Honda Center and to Orangewood Academy (53-47) in the second round of the Division 2 state tournament. It lost to Newbury Park (47-33) in the CIF-1AA finals in 2016 and to Lakeside (47-45) in the second round of the state tournament that year. Canyon opens its season on Dec. 4 against Burbank at the Burroughs tournament.

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