The College of the Canyons women’s basketball team kicked off its season on Friday, Nov. 2 at the annual Mt. San Antonio College Tip-Off Tournament in Walnut.
After dropping its opening game 62-54 against the No. 1-ranked team in preseason polls and host Mt. SAC, Canyons rebounded to win its next two games 67-50 over Long Beach City College and 74-52 over conference rival West Los Angeles College.
The Cougars return a trio of sophomores from last season’s co-Western State Conference, South Division championship team, all of whom have already made a significant impact so far in the young season.
Guard Alexis Orellana leads the team in scoring and assists, averaging 16 points and 7.7 assists per game. She’s also averaging 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals.
“Alexis burst onto the scene from last year,” said Canyons head coach Greg Herrick. “She’s probably the best guard in the league coming into the season. When you have a point guard that can attack the rim and shoot, you’re almost halfway home.”
Forward Shauna Van Grinsven, a Canyon alumnus, is averaging 10 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and one block per game while shooting 56 percent from the field. Guard Janeth Cruz is averaging 6.3 points and 10 rebounds per game.
“Janeth was a starter last year so she comes into the picture this year with a lot more experience and knowledge than most of the other players,” Herrick said. “Shauna is a lot better than she was a year ago. Her ability to give us lots of minutes is important.
“Those three kids played 27 games last year. They’ve gone through a whole year of practice and a whole summer so they have a big advantage going into the season.”
The Cougars also boast a talented freshman in Cristian Patron. Patron leads Canyons in minutes, averaging 37.3 in the team’s first three contests. She’s second on the team in scoring, averaging 11.3 points, while adding 8.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and two steals per game.
Herrick wasn’t shy when it came to complimenting his young freshman. He believes the sky’s the limit for her and she’s just beginning to scratch the surface.
“I think Cristian Patron is going to be one of best players ever,” he said. “She’s a great runner of the floor, she’s a very astute listener, she sops things up like a sponge. She’s going to be a big factor this year and I think next year as a sophomore she is going to be one of those kids you can say could be the best player in the state.”
Along with Orellana, Van Grinsven, Cruz and Patron, freshman McKenzie Stoehr rounds out the Cougars’ starters.
Stoehr is averaging nine points and 2.3 rebounds per game and shot a perfect 6-for-6 from the field in COC’s second win of the season against East LA.
“McKenzie is one of those kids who is a great learner,” Herrick said. “She plays good defense and is willing to sacrifice for the team.”
Sophomore guard Kaitlin Eells has been the main weapon off the bench for the Cougars. She’s led COC’s reserves in scoring in all three games this season, averaging eight points in 16.7 minutes off the bench.
Freshman Bernie Macedo has also been utilized off the bench, playing key minutes in the frontcourt when the starters need a breather.
“Kaitlin Eells, when she gets her stroke going she’s unstoppable hitting 3’s on a regular basis. She’s going to help us as well,” Herrick said. “Bernie is big for us. She comes off the bench and spells our front line when we need it.”
Like most of the teams Herrick has coached in the past, this year’s squad will look to play with an up-tempo, run-and-gun style.
However, with a roster full of depth and size, Herrick says he’s going to change things up a little this year by utilizing the post game more than he has the last couple of seasons.
“The last two years it’s been coach Herrick and the seven dwarves,” he said with a laugh. “We struggled to play against bigger teams. Now we got inside-outside, we run well, got the best point guard around. It’s all engines ahead. I’m very optimistic about our chances this year.”
The Cougars will carry their two-game winning streak to Ventura College on Friday, Nov. 23 taking on Taft in the Ventura College Tournament. The game begins at 4 p.m.