By Erik Boal
For The Signal
As if 10 months of anticipation, inspiration and motivation weren’t enough to have the Canyon girls basketball team prepared for Tuesday’s first-place showdown with Foothill League rival Valencia, the Cowboys were given a little extra incentive when the Vikings were enthusiastically introduced by their public-address announcer as CIF-Southern Section champions.
“We all made eye contact,” Canyon senior guard Talia Taufaasau said. “Nothing had to be said. We were already coming in with a huge chip on our shoulder, but that just flipped a switch and we used that to fuel us from the start.”
After Valencia scored the first five points, Canyon responded with 15 in a row and never looked back, cruising to a 58-33 victory to secure its 12th consecutive league win.
“Usually I try to come up with something inspirational during our pre-game talks, but for this one, I didn’t have to say anything,” said Canyon coach Jessica Haayer, whose team suffered a 50-45 setback to Valencia in last year’s Division 1AA final.
“I already knew they were ready for it. I’m just so happy for the seniors. We didn’t shoot the ball well last week, but (Tuesday) they definitely came ready to play.”
Canyon (19-4, 5-0), which won at Valencia in consecutive years for the first time since 2012-13, used those 15 consecutive points to spark a 26-1 run that carried into the second quarter. The Vikings (12-10, 4-1) missed eight consecutive shots and turning the ball over seven times during a nine-minute stretch.
“I feel so satisfied,” said Canyon senior forward Selasi Mawugbe, who had 12 points and seven rebounds. “We knew they’re a young team and we knew we could pressure them.”
Chyanne Pagkalinawan finally ended the drought for Valencia with consecutive baskets as part of her team-high eight points, but the Vikings didn’t score again the rest of the quarter and trailed 31-11 at halftime.
“Our defense deserves credit for all of that. Our pressure and trapping and our ability to turn them over, that really got things going for us,” Haayer said. “To hold a team like that to 11 points in the first half was huge.”
It didn’t get any better after the break for Valencia, which managed only one basket in the third quarter and endured another stretch of more than eight minutes — including the second quarter — without a field goal.
“They got us out of our offense pretty quickly and we weren’t focused on running our stuff and we just didn’t have any flow out there,” Valencia coach Jerry Mike said. “We haven’t seen that kind of pressure and their trap really bothered us in the backcourt. Obviously they showed us we have some things to fix.”
Canyon executed its offense with as much precision and efficiency as it had all season, with the Cowboys connecting on 10 3-point field goals, including four each from Brooke Mitchell and Ellie Villavicencio.
Taufaasau added a 3-pointer and finished with seven points and a career-high 14 assists for Canyon, which also received eight points, 15 rebounds and five blocks from Rachel Bowers.
“It was a big win, but now our focus is on moving forward,” Mawugbe said. “We’re not going to dwell on it. We’re just going to keep it going all the way to CIF and hopefully this time, we can win it.