Against Faith Baptist on Jan. 19, the Trinity Classical Academy girls basketball team was trailing by nine points. The players sat on the bench, heads hanging.
“I’m like ‘Guys, there’s still a full quarter,’” said senior Heidi Schafer. “I remember trying to get everybody to pick their head up and smile. In the middle of the game, I’d be on the court singing some song, just goofing around and trying to get everybody excited, just to like, let them know that we could win this.”
The Knights picked themselves up, pressed onward and pressed defensively. Hard. Just like they do almost every day at practice. Myriad players picked off steals, handing the ball off to Trinity Towns, who scored layup after layup for a total of 12 points in the fourth quarter.
With seconds left, Trinity had managed a three-point lead.
“We were all saying, ‘No 3’s, no 3’s,” Schafer said.
Thanks to the Knights’ trapping, suffocating defense, there were no 3’s. Trinity beat Faith Baptist 39-36 to maintain their undefeated league record and hand the Contenders their first Heritage League loss at home in six years.
“Did you guys do that on purpose?” coach Daniel Hebert asked his team after the game.
Only glimpses of the aggressive team that willed itself back from a deficit against the defending undefeated league champions were visible at Wednesday’s practice at the Henry Mayo Fitness Center. Chirping echoes of “Nice shot,” were followed by courteous thank you’s as a handful of players stayed after practice to shoot around.
“It’s like mid-aggressive. We get aggressive when we have to be aggressive,” said Towns of her team’s in-game mentality. “Like, if the other team is aggressive, we try to keep our hands up, we try to trap a lot so that they feel like nervous and that’s how they give up the ball.”
“We just try to be aggressive and intimidating. Just to make them a little nervous.”
Trinity was subjected to a trial by fire at the beginning of the season, competing in tournaments like the Jolene Stethem Tournament in Fillmore and the Burroughs Tournament in Burbank. They played tough competition like Division 3A St. Bonaventure and Division 3AA La Salle. Trinity is in Division 5A, to put it in perspective.
At the conclusion of preleague, the Knights had a 1-7 record.
“It was definitely character-building because we weren’t winning and we weren’t just losing. We were losing, losing,” said senior Hannah Caddow.
“But no other team in our league did that, so we were playing these big teams, really learning how to adjust to things we were not going to see in our league and I think it prepared us better than anything else could have.”
The Knights, who also returned the majority of their starting lineup from 2017, gained valuable experience and tenacity in those preleague games. They developed the phrase, “TCOB,” which stands for “take care of the ball,” and say it before every game.
They developed an interchangeable starting lineup. The typical starters are Towns, Riley Spector, Schafer, Caddow and Howell, but Hebert can put Sam Lee into the mix if he needs a defensive spark or freshman Katie Brown if he wants to have size and length down low with Brown, Howell and Caddow.
And, of course, Trinity is always striving to be fundamentally strong, something that Hebert has emphasized since he took over as head coach for the team for the 2016-17 season.
“We do run our plays but we’re always doing layups and drills and shooting, so that really gels everything together once we put it all together,” said senior Ellie Howell.
As a result, the Knights have yet to lose a game in Heritage League play, sitting at the top of the league standings with an 8-0 record. They have the chance to clinch the league title tonight against Palmdale Aerospace Academy. If they win, it’ll be the first league title in girls basketball program history at Trinity.
When the team last played the Griffins, it won 44-6 on their home court at The Master’s University.
“I know how hard coach has worked to get this and how hard these girls have worked to get this,” Caddow said on Wednesday. “Endless hours. Countless scouting reports and watching film. It would just mean everything to this team.
“And I think after beating faith for that second time in their home gym after being down, I think we’re on a train now and hopefully we just don’t stop. Tomorrow will be a good day.”