The Canyon girls basketball team traveled to West Hills on Thursday night to take on Chaminade in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 playoffs.
First-half turnovers plagued the Cowboys with the Eagles’ full-court pressure throwing them out of their rhythm, leading to an early deficit that Canyon couldn’t overcome as they fell 70-41.
With only two seniors on the team, the Cowboys inexperience seemed to get the best of them in the first half, as they struggled to get the ball past half court on several occasions.
“We’re a young team, young in the sense that we have two seniors and only one person has played in CIF in the last four years, so it’s a whole different show,” Canyon head coach Jessica Haayer said. “As much as I try to calm them down, meditation, imagery, you can use it all but nothing compares to the show and the moment and when you step on the court, it’s intimidating, it’s scary.”
Canyon looked like a completely different team in the second half, taking better care of the ball and limiting Chaminade’s offensive rebounds, another factor that hurt them in the first 16 minutes of the game.
The Cowboys were able to cut a 28-point deficit to 19 at one point in the third quarter and held the Eagles to only eight points in the frame.
“They calmed down. It was a much different third quarter than the first two,” Haayer said. “If we played like that it may have been a different outcome. I think that’s why you saw that little second-half run, because they didn’t really have anything to lose at that point.”
Junior Chidinma Okafor led Canyon with a triple-double, logging 13 points, 13 rebounds and 11 blocks.
Playing in her first season on varsity, Okafor is just scratching the surface, Haayer said. Ten of her 13 points came in the second half.
“Chidinma Okafor has never even played varsity before and she’s a double-double machine,” Haayer said. “I’ve never seen a kid improve so much in the last six months like she has, so I’m excited for her. You haven’t even seen the ‘roar’ out of her so once she gets that, watch out folks.”
Riley LaPlant and Miliani Garcia came off the bench and provided a spark for the Cowboys, with the former recording seven points, five rebounds and a steal. Garcia had four points, two rebounds, four assists and a steal.
Junior Lucy Collins added six points, six rebounds, two assists and a block and freshman Kiki Taufaasau had five points, one rebound and one block.
Haayer’s message to her team after the game was one of gratitude, thanking them for all the hard work they put in all year.
She knows this experience will help fuel their fire as they hope to make a deeper playoff run next season.
“I think a lot of people didn’t even bet we’d be here tonight,” she said. “I appreciate their hard work, I let them know that. We work really hard year round. It’s not easy. They devote their entire lives to this program, so I appreciate them.
“They’ll be hungry next year, they are already hungry. They’ll be excited to get back to work.”