Valencia girls’ hoops storms past West Ranch 

West Ranch guard Aishwarya Sudan (34) dribbles the ball against Valencia defense during Friday's game at West Ranch. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
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Valencia Vikings girls’ basketball needed a new focal point heading into the second half of its Foothill League road game with the West Ranch Wildcats. 

The Vikings were playing well and up double digits but at the halftime buzzer, senior guard Libby Oxciano went down with an ankle injury.  

Oxciano was leading the Vikes in scoring prior to exiting. Valencia coach Jared Honig called upon underclassmen Cara McKell and Keira McLaughlin to step up. The two promptly answered. 

Valencia prevailed, 60-43, thanks to some strong team defense and the two underclassmen lighting it up on offense.  

McKell scored 15 of her game-high 23 points in the second half while also adding 14 rebounds, five assists and three steals to notch Valencia’s fourth straight win. 

Valencia sophomore Cara McKell (32) dribbles the ball against West Ranch guard Katelyn Contreras (21) during the third quarter of Friday’s game at West Ranch. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

“Since Libby got hurt and she’s our main ball handler, I felt like I had to step up as one of the leading scorers and just help the team get more motivated,” McKell said. “I know we were kind of down and I was a little discouraged when she got hurt but I knew I had to step up and go to the basket.” 

McLaughlin, a freshman, was also a problem for the Wildcats, scoring with ease from the post and perimeter. The freshman finished with 16 points and five rebounds. The two had a strong back-and-forth game, displaying their chemistry that predates Valencia. 

“We played club together for a while so our chemistry is pretty good,” McKell said. “We play pretty well together and I love playing with her. She’s doing so well and it’s only her freshman year.” 

Valencia point guard Keira McLaughlin (13) goes up for a shot against West Ranch guard Aishwarya Sudan (34) on Friday, Dec. 8. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

West Ranch nearly took the lead on a 10-2 run to start the second half. The Cats were led by senior point guard Alanna Topete, who matched McKell with 23 points and five assists. West Ranch took full advantage of the Oxciano-less Valencia, who looked a little out of sync without their star guard.  

Topete was given space to shoot behind the arc but still consistently worked her way into the paint and found ways to score. 

Valencia answered immediately and erupted on a 16-0 run to nearly put the team up 20 heading into the fourth quarter. The two underclassmen, who are also both captains, did all of the scoring but could not be stopped. 

Honig continues to be impressed by his sophomore standout McKell. 

“(Cara’s) phenomenal,” Honig said. “She is just so much more physical than other players. She’s fast, athletic and she can shoot. She is really tough to cover.” 

West Ranch center Flora Lopez Dezan (20) shoots the ball against Valencia point guard Libby Oxciano (23) on Friday, Dec. 8. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

The team also lost junior captain Jayla Wilcox, who fouled out in the third quarter, forcing Honig to utilize more of his bench. The coach was pleased with role players who entered and delivered a win.  

“In practice, I emphasize that you have to be ready for your moment,” Honig said. “Make practice your game so when you get in the game, you’re ready to go. So I thought a couple of them that came in, and were in moments where maybe they wouldn’t ordinarily be in, we’re pretty ready at least on the defensive end.” 

The win marks fourth straight for Valencia, which may be hitting its stride with midseason right on the horizon. 

“We’ve been working really hard in practice and just believing in ourselves,” McKell said. “The other teams have maybe looked down on us and I want to prove them all wrong. We want to dominate out there and try to win as many games as we can.” 

Friday night’s defeat also marked three straight losses for West Ranch. West Ranch is just a couple of wins away from matching its win total from last season as head coach Paul Gross gets the program back on its feet. 

West Ranch guard Alanna Topete (24) dribbles the ball against Valencia point guard Kaydence Johnson (3) during the second quarter of Friday’s game at West Ranch. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Even if the first-year Gross wasn’t in the midst of turning the Wildcats’ program around, Honig knows every league game is a tall task. 

“Every league game is always a battle,” Honig said. “Coming from the West Valley League where the standings or the caliber of the team doesn’t matter. Everybody wants to beat everybody. It’s a battle and we’re expecting a battle every league game. Obviously we had some adversity today with Libby going down at halftime, but I thought the rest of the team stepped up and we played pretty good defense.” 

The Wildcats will look to get back into the win column on Thursday when they host the Cleveland High School Cavaliers at 5 p.m. 

Valencia enters tournament play on Thursday, Dec. 21, and will take on Mark Kneppel at La Salle High School. Oxciano has a chance of returning for the holiday tournament play but will most likely be back to form before league play resumes in January. 

West Ranch guard Alanna Topete (24) attempts to shoot the ball against Valencia junior Jayla Wilcox (0) during the first quarter of Friday’s game at West Ranch. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

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