Coming off a strong 83-62 win against Reedley, the College of the Canyons women’s basketball team (2-6 overall) has been preparing for a tough four-game stretch starting Wednesday versus Rio Hondo (10-4).
“Let me put this in perspective,” said Canyons head coach Greg Herrick. “We play four games with playoff atmosphere and playoff talent. It’s going to be tough in the next four days. We’ll see what we’re made of.”
Over the upcoming four-day stretch, Canyons’ opponents all have winning records, including one-loss Pasadena City (11-1) and undefeated Ventura College (12-0), who is ranked No. 1 in the state. Remaining is Allan Hancock with a 7-6 record.
Canyons’ record falls below the mark of its opponents, but Herrick is not worried by the early look of his team. He stays true to a philosophy that he adopted in his days as a high school coach.
“Our teams historically have always gotten better at the end of the season,” said Herrick. “It doesn’t matter how you look in October. It matters how you look in February and March. We’ve only played six games, so it’s early.”
After Canyons’ win over Reedley Dec. 7, sophomore guard McKenzie Stoehr noticed a change in the team. One that may be the spark that will lead the Cougars in an upward trend.
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“After that win we really bonded to the point where we know each other really well,” she said. “We’ve gotten that chemistry now with those first few games out of the way. Now, we’re really in the hang of things and we’re starting to get the ball rolling.”
Looking forward, Stoehr wants to build off of the team’s newfound chemistry to fix issues that emerge in the second half.
Throughout the start of the season, Canyons’ has struggled with its play in the second half. The Cougars pride themselves on coming out strong in the first half. In their first six games, they have either lead at the half, or trailed by five or less points. However, Canyons’ is prone to losing steam after the break and letting a lead slip.
“It’s our second-half mentality,” said Stoehr. “That’s what we’ve been trying to change. We have to keep it going hard like we have been. Just play like it’s the first half.”
Another key to the Cougars’ game plan will be spreading out their offense to open up shots for their 3-point shooters. Stoehr and freshman forward Diamyn Davis ranked No. 29 and second respectively in 3-point shooting in the state.
“McKenzie Stoehr is one of the best shooters in the state,” Herrick said. “So, we lean on her. Diamyn Davis is 50% from the three line, and she’s an inside player. I never tell the kids to ever pass up on one, especially those two. If we can make some of those and feel comfortable about it, that’s a big part of our ability to score.”
Three-point shots have been important to the Cougars so far this season. In both of their wins, the team has made eight 3-pointers and attempted over 20. Herrick believes this works, because it loosens the defense and forces them to move away from the basket, which opens the inside for points in the paint.
With the floor opened up, Canyons will be able to implement a staple of the program since Herrick’s arrival. Fastbreak points have been a large part of Herrick’s offense for decades.
“That’s the essence of our program for all the years I’ve been here,” he said. “We try to get the ball down the floor before you can guard us. Our history has shown that it’s worked.”
With a strategy like that, Herrick hopes to take advantage of teams trying to keep tight pressure on his players. Pressing his players allows the offense to go over the top and stretch the ball down the court. He hopes to keep opposing teams off balance and away from their game plan.
“Once you get out of that pressure because were scoring easily, we’ve won half the battle,” Herrick said. “We’ve changed what you’re trying to do to us. That seems to work.”
The Cougars start their four-game stretch versus Rio Hondo at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Glendale College for the Glendale College Crossover. The tournament continues 5 p.m. Thursday versus Allan Hancock.
Canyons will return to Santa Clarita to host Pasadena College in its first home game of the season at 5 p.m. at The Master’s University on Friday. The Cougars will end the weekend with a showdown at Ventura College 5 p.m. Saturday.