Cary Nerelli admitted that the first opponent for Hancock women’s basketball in the Lady Bulldog Classic was a hard one to prepare for because it wasn’t a team of junior college talent – it was instead a team of former basketball stars who work or live in Vandenberg Air Force Base.

After a brief slow start, the Bulldogs eventually adjusted to the Lady Hawks’ tempo in the end and pulled away with the 83-53 rout in the first day of the 20th annual tournament on Thursday.

The veteran head coach said it was difficult to obtain any film on the players his team was going up against – and his players wound up making their own on-court adjustments to put the game away.

 “We weren’t,” Nerelli said when asked if AHC was prepared for this team right away. “But that was the good news in a sense. We have to learn to play against teams that we haven’t gotten a chance to get film on or we don’t know anything about. I was proud of how our kids adjusted defensively.”

The Bulldogs (5-3) started to eliminate the Vandenberg team’s 3-point element – which saw Akia Carter and Mychea Williams swishing some long-range buckets. The Hawks nailed nine 3-pointers on the night, but were held to 21-of-63 shooting against their neighbors to the north.  

Williams emerged as Vandenberg’s best scoring option, as the Senior Airman not only scored 25 points, but swiftly attacked the paint and buried some pull-up shots – including one that saw the ball sail over three Bulldog defenders in the vicinity. Nerelli himself became a fan of Williams’ game.

“Mychea is a world-class player. If she wasn’t in the military, I think she could play in the WNBA. I think she’s that good,” Nerelli said.

The former Jacksonville resident wasn’t the only Vandenberg player he was impressed with.

 “They have some talent,” Nerelli said. “They’ve got a couple of players who are incredible.”

Outside of Williams, Carter reached double figures with 12 points. Lillian Street added six points for Vandenberg. Like Williams, Carter is enlisted in the Air Force as a Staff Sergeant from Houston. Ten of the Hawks’ 15 players are current active duty, while four are civilians who work on base. Yara Shannon, a forward from Colon, Panama, is the lone military spouse on the Hawks’ roster.

While the Bulldogs clamped down on defense, sophomore Karly Beyers started to fire away immediately from 3-point range. The former Pioneer Valley star dropped 23 first-half points before finishing her night with a game-high 33 points. Beyers nailed seven 3-pointers on the night.

“Her growth has been phenomenal,” Nerelli said. “Her passing efficiency has increased incrementally. She’s always been a shooter but tonight, she was really on and we started going to her.”

While Beyers brought the long game for AHC and collected a team-high 13 rebounds, Grace Rosa added the inside element for the Bulldogs, as the sophomore from Paso Robles scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Taylor Lee-Hammer was AHC’s third leading scorer with 16 points.

Hancock went on to shoot 54.8 percent from the field and out-rebounded Vandenberg 45-31. 

The tournament continues through Saturday. The winners of Thursday's games will play in the championship semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday, while the losers will battle in the consolation semifinals at 3 p.m. The championship game is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday.

High school

Nipomo 67, Atascadero 43

All eight Nipomo Titan basketball players scored in the 24-point rout of the Greyhounds on Thursday night. 

Clarissa Simonson led the Titans with 12 points along with Abby Gutierrez. Olivia Labastida added 10 points. 

The Titans take on Pioneer Valley on Friday at 6:30 p.m. in the San Luis Obispo Holiday Classic at SLO High. 

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Sports Reporter