The Canyon student section closed out its girls basketball team’s game against St. Anthony of Long Beach with one simple chant repeated over and over.“C-I-F. C-I-F. C-I-F,” repeated the green-clad group.
With a 63-41 win over the Saints (11-15) in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 playoffs, the Cowboys looked like a team headed for the CIF finals.
It was a familiar opponent for Canyon, but a vastly different outcome. In last season’s CIF-SS Division 1AA semifinals, the Cowboys narrowly defeated St. Anthony 62-58.
“(They had) the same kind of personnel,” said Canyon coach Jessica Haayer. “So but you never know, people grow, I think we graduated a lot, so we’re a little bit different but a little bit the same.
“So just had to watch a lot of film, see what they do because you never know. You can look at people from the year before and one player changes the game.”
The Cowboys (25-4) particularly had their eye on Semaj Smith, a 6-foot-5 University of Arizona signee.
“I think when I fronted her, that worked the best,” said Rachel Bowers, who spent time defending Smith. “Being behind her didn’t necessarily work, but fronting her was probably the best mode of defense that I did against her.”
Canyon led the Saints 28-21 at halftime, then saw the lead jump to 49-27 by the end of the third.
Brooke Mitchell chipped in three 3-pointers – one of which pulled the Cowboys ahead 38-23 and seemingly cemented the win.
“She shoots the ball really well,” Haayer said. “When she’s on, she’s on. She always hits clutch three’s that we need and I think she’s one of the best shooters on our team. She has a very, very quick release. It makes it tough for her to guard.”
Bowers led Canyon with 22 points. Talia Taufaasau added 14 and Selasi Mawugbe scored 13.
In the second round of playoffs, the Cowboys will host Martin Luther King High School of Riverside on Saturday at 7 p.m.