Valencia Vikings girls’ basketball showcased its dominant defense to open up the playoffs on Thursday.
The Vikings opened up CIF Division 3AA postseason play with a 47-27 over the hosting La Cañada Spartans. Valencia (12-16) held La Cañada (15-10) to seven points or less in three of the game’s quarters. The Vikings allowed just eight points in the second half.
The win marked the program’s first postseason victory under first-year head coach Jared Honig.
“The team was pretty hyped up,” Honig said in a phone interview. “They ran onto the court almost as if we had won a championship. The way our season has gone, I think it just felt really good to play well in a big moment. So definitely a big moment, especially for our pretty young and inexperienced group, to come out and beat a really solid team.”
Sophomore Cara McKell led Valencia with 20 points, 10 rebounds and six steals. Senior Libby Oxciano, the only member of the team who has won a playoff game, added 14 points and six rebounds.
Valencia jumped out of the gate to start despite a rocky trip to La Cañada. The Vikings’ bus was just 20 minutes away before getting a flat tire, stranding the team on the side of the freeway for an hour.
The Vikings made it to La Cañada High School about 20 minutes before the game and started out with a 19-7 first quarter.
Valencia had a size advantage and aimed to take away the Spartan sharpshooters behind the arc. The Viking defense did just that and more with the team’s full-court press wreaking havoc and leading to some easy transition points.
“Our press really bothered them,” Honig said. “We started in one and switched over to another one. That switch-over and pressure really bother them. We built a little 12-point lead in the first quarter and then we maintained that through the second and third.”
Neither team found success on offense in the third quarter. Valencia nearly held La Cañada scoreless before the Spartans hit a late 3-pointer but the Vikings only added five points of their own in the period.
Free throws became a crucial part of the game in the second half. Valencia was able to work its way into the bonus, and knock down 10 of its 12 free throw attempts in the third and fourth quarters. The Vikings only made three field goals in that span but collectively played well to get to the line to pull away.
“Early on, definitely turning them over and getting some easy buckets helped us build the lead,” Honig said. “In the second half, honestly it was mostly free throws. Those 10-for-12 free throws were huge. We only had three baskets in the second half.”
Freshman Keira McLaughlin played well in her postseason debut, totaling 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks.
Valencia now advances to face the Division 3AA top-seeded Oak Park Eagles (16-7). The Eagles are the undefeated Coastal League champs and winners of 15 straight games.
The Vikings will be challenged but Honig is excited to see his team respond.
“Oak Park has a lot of size and length at almost every position,” Honig said. “They’re the No. 1 seed so we’ll just need to be able to play at our highest level when it’s required and try to go out and beat a really solid team.”
Oak Park hosts Valencia on Saturday at 7 p.m.