The Valencia boys basketball team locked up the Foothill league title last week, but it still had something to play for on Friday night against Canyon.
With the Vikings 82-63 win over the Cowboys, they accomplished a feat no other Valencia boys basketball team has done before in school history: finish league with an undefeated 10-0 record.
“It was more emotional than I thought it would be. We knew we had won it already but we still had that lofty goal of going 10-0. It was emotional,” Valencia head coach Bill Bedgood said. “For me, it was just like a proud papa looking at your basketball family and just feeling happy for every individual member.”
The Vikings got off to a fast start by using a smothering full-court press that forced Canyon into several first-half turnovers, including two 10-second backcourt violations.
Senior point guard Richard Kawakami was all over the hardwood, diving for loose balls, deflecting passes and driving the lane.
He absorbed contact and hit tough shots in the paint, but also made it a point to find his teammates for open looks.
Even with the Vikings building a substantial lead, Kawakami never let up and kept fighting for every loose ball.
Kawakami finished with 17 points, six rebounds, four assists, seven steals and a block.
“He was outstanding tonight. Diving on the floor, making deflections, he was an absolute force,” Bedgood said of Kawakami. “I think that when you have one of your top players showing that way and playing that way, it elevates everybody else’s game. He pulls the best version of those guys out of themselves and to me that’s the ultimate compliment I can give any player.
“Do you make the guys around you better? He absolutely does that.”
Seniors Nick Jenney and Ahmad Loving also made a huge impact on the game, particularly in the first quarter.
Jenney hit two 3-pointers in the first quarter and finished the contest with nine points. Loving, who got the start on Senior Night, made two key baskets in the first eight minutes and finished with eight points, one rebound, one assist and a steal.
“It felt great honestly, getting a starting spot it felt really good,” Loving said. “I just feel really good right now, it’s a blessing.”
Bedgood made it a point to give his seniors plenty of playing time and got solid contributions from all the elder statesmen on the team.
Josh Assiff logged 16 points, nine rebounds and two assists. Jayden Trower had 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal.
Ben Hanvey had six points and eight rebounds off the bench and Nader Hussein hit a big 3-pointer in the third quarter.
“I’m super proud of the seniors. It was not an easy transition when I got here last year. I felt like those kids as juniors had my back and were supportive of the change,” Bedgood said. “As we’ve grown and developed a relationship they’ve worked harder and harder and believed a little bit more and bought in a little bit more and now you see the result. This is what we’ve been dreaming of.”
“It feels amazing. We worked so hard through the summer and regular season so to finally get to the end, it feels great,” Hanvey said. “It felt good to get a good game in. My teammates always try to get me the ball when I’m in the game so it’s all to them helping me.”
Despite trailing early, Canyon kept battling throughout the evening behind strong play from its five seniors: Willie Yomba, Aaron Berko, Troy Bietsch, Ryan Sloan and Cole Sy.
The Cowboys trailed by 31 going into the fourth quarter but were able to cut the deficit in half as they kept grinding.
Sloan finished with nine points, two rebounds and two assists, with seven of those points coming in the final frame.
Berko logged 10 points, three rebounds, one assist, one block and three steals. Eight of his points came in the fourth quarter.
“I’m very proud of them, we come in outsized every game and they just come and work and keep getting better,” Canyon head coach Sean DeLong said. “Obviously there are things we can get better with but they haven’t quit. A testament to them is our last two practices were as good as any of the season and maybe other seniors might have quit, but they came to compete tonight and gave it their best.”
Yomba led Canyon in scoring with 14 points and also grabbed four rebounds, dished out four assists, had six steals and one block.
He also had one of his patented monster jams in the first quarter.
“I’m so proud. Coach came in and his passion and his intensity, his winning nature, we all bought in and we just worked hard. Every day at practice we give it our all and it shows in the games. I’m very happy with the season,” Yomba said. “Since August we’ve been working, it just came to fruition we worked so hard. I love those guys for life, those are my brothers for life.”
Valencia has one more game left on the schedule, facing Colony at 6 p.m. on Saturday at home before CIF-Southern Section playoffs begin next week.
The Vikings, who lost in the CIF-SS Division 2A semifinals last year, are hoping to use that experience to help fuel a run in the playoffs this year.
“We’ve just got to play how we always play. Keep moving the ball, running the floor and don’t do anything out of character,” Loving said. “It’s back to work already. We got to keep pushing.”