Winning nine out of the last 11 Western State Conference, South Division games dating back to last season, the 2018-19 Cougars women’s basketball team is striving to repeat as conference champs after finishing as co-champions in 2017-18.
Second-year point guard Alexis Orellana leads the conference in scoring and is fifth in assists, averaging 18.4 points and five assists per game. The sophomore scored 20 or more points in nine contests and poured in 30 plus points in four of those nine, scoring a season and career-high 35 points in a 99-74 win over Mission College in December.
“It took her about a whole year, in the last game of the season where she came to bed and finished with a 25-point effort,” said Canyons head coach Greg Herrick. “I thought that she realized that she wanted to be better. She spent the offseason and preseason trying to do just that. Everywhere I go, the coach of the other team, first thing they tell me is, ‘Hey your 22 is pretty good,’ so I know that not only does she have the respect of everybody we play, but she is the focal point of their gameplan when we play them, so that’s a lot of respect and tell you what kind of player she is.”
Newcomer McKenzie Stoehr follows Orellana in second place on the team in scoring with 13.4 points per game, shooting 38 percent from 3-point range and ranking third in the conference, averaging two 3’s a game to lead the team.
Freshman forward Cristian Patron is averaging a team-high 33.9 minutes per game and ranks second on the team in rebounds (8.1) and third in scoring with 13.2 points per game.
“Last year, I went to see McKenzie play and she only played two minutes in a high school game at Alemany and they had a really good team. She didn’t play very much, so I focused in on the way she carried herself during warmups and I felt that she could play at our level,” Herrick said.
“We recruited her and she’s been very committed to what we are trying to accomplish. We are not only excited about the way that she’s played but the things that she’s going to do for us a year from now.
“Patron, I think, she is going to be one of our all-time great players. She’s not even close to hitting the ceiling of her ability. We recruited her off of a great, great Granada Hills team that went to the state championship. I just saw things in her that I said, ‘Wow. She would really fit into what we are doing.’ We are excited about her development, as well. As we get to the end of Alexis’ career, we are very excited about what those two freshmen will bring us next year.”
Pulling down 42.8 rebounds per game as a team, sophomores Janeth Cruz and Shauna Van Grinsven are first and third on the team grabbing 8.2 and 7.6 boards per game, respectively. Cruz currently has three double-doubles while Van Grinsven has two.
Van Grinsven is third in the conference in blocks averaging 1.8 blocks per game in 25 games of action.
“Let’s just go back a year, Shauna didn’t play very much for us, but I saw some things in her that I felt that we can work with,” Herrick said. “She can go to the boards, defensively she plays with a lot of energy and that’s a testament to the blocked shot. She plays a role for us and plays a lot more minutes than she played in high school and it just speaks about her improvement and what she brings to the table for us. We are excited about her play for us and we have been missing an inside presence.
“Janeth Cruz is a constant rebounder and she is a seven-seven player: seven rebounds and seven points every game. You can count on her and her leadership is important. I really like this team from Day One, I thought that they had a pretty good work ethic and a commitment to what we stand for and what we are all about.”
Beginning the season with a 62-54 loss to Mt. San Antonio College in the Mt. SAC Tip-Off Tournament, the Cougars went on to win the next two games against Long Beach and West LA, finishing the tournament in fifth place.
The team has gone on two three-game winning streaks, winning back-to-back games four times this season. Falling in their third WSC, South Division game of the year on Saturday to West LA 56-49, the same team that handed them their last conference loss in the last year’s season finale, the Cougars are 15-10 overall and 2-1 in the WSC, South Division with three games remaining in the regular season.
“In terms of West LA, we beat them earlier in the year in a tournament and we established the tempo in that game,” Herrick said. “That’s always our focus to increase the tempo and play fast. On Saturday night, they established the tempo and because of the fact that we shot 30 percent and only made, I think, three 3’s, we played right into what they wanted to do, slow down the game.”
The Cougars pick WSC play back up against Bakersfield at the Cougar Cage at 7 p.m. on Saturday and then round out the regular season with road rematches against Santa Monica and West LA.
“Our league situation this year is really bizarre because there are only four teams in our conference because LA Pierce dropped out because they only had two players on their roster,” Herrick said. “We don’t play again until Saturday. At this time of year it’s bad for the flow and your consistency and to keep the team mentally awake for all this time at practice, it’s hard.
“Sometimes we are a victim of our own situation and I don’t think we played as well as we played earlier in the year. We have played six of the top 10 teams in the state and took them all the way to the end. Now, because of the delay in the schedule, we lose our edge and it’s hard to get up for a game when you wait a week, so we are trying to fight that too. We have had a pretty good year and we have won more than we lost and that’s better than being on the other side of it.”