It’s been an adventure so far this year for Santa Maria girls basketball coach Courtney Cameron.
In her first year with the Saints, Cameron has inherited a team that graduated 11 players from last year’s squad, leaving her without a single player with varsity experience.
“We only have one senior on the roster, but so far I have been impressed with how far they have come since the first game,” Cameron said.
“Its going to be a growing season, we just have to keep chugging along.”
In part of the learning process for both players and coach, the team continues to figure out how to play together, as evidenced in the Saints’ 55-24 loss to the North Bakersfield Stars Friday night at the Moriarty Enterprises Holiday Classic at Morro Bay High.
“We had a lot of good shots, we just didn’t make our layups and free throws,” Cameron said after the game.
It was a tough game for the Saints, as they struggled against the Stars’ smothering defensive press. When the Saints managed to crack the back court pressure, they found success in the form of Michaela Rucobo’s softball skills — as she showed off her arm in the form of a gymnasium spanning pass which, when it reached her teammate, often resulted in an easy layup attempt.
“These girls haven’t faced a varsity press and the pressure got to them,” Cameron said. “The girls saw the intensity of the game and what we need to do is practice with the intensity of this game every day.”
Cameron, who spent four years on the Cal Poly Women’s Basketball team and a year coaching at the JV level at San Luis Obispo High, takes over for former coach Larry Carney, who continues to help mentor Cameron through her first season at Santa Maria. Cameron is the first new girls basketball coach at Santa Maria in 20 years.
With the stiff learning curve that is girls varsity basketball, the tough start for the Saints was to be expected, as the Saints dropped their third game at the tournament.
“A lot of the expectations right now are on rebuilding, but there are expectations for the progam,” Cameron said. “I look forward to the challenge of the hard season, but these girls work hard every day — it will be fun.”
Leading the Saints on Friday were sophomores Cassy Lewis and April Gonzalez, who both scored a team high eight points on the night.
“Lewis will carry us this year,” Cameron said. “She is one of our lone post players and our captain. She’s not very tall but she plays taller than she really is.
“Gonzalez is very athletic, very quick, and can take it to the hoop, so we expect her to score some points, too.”
Other girls who scored for the young Saints include Maya Smith (four points) and Stephanie Landens (two).
After today’s game against the Nipomo Titans, the final at the Holiday Classic for both teams, the Saints will go two weeks without a game over the Winter Break — allowing the team ample time to get prepped for its Los Padres League schedule.
“The two weeks off will do us a lot of good,” Cameron said. “We will work on a lot of fundamentals.
“We can shock some teams in league; people underestimate Santa Maria, but we’ll get there.”
In the other games at the Holiday Classic, Nipomo (2-1) defeated Mission Prep (1-2) 37-30, St. Joe (3-0) topped Frontier 76-49, Paso Robles beat Elk Grove 38-30, and Arroyo Grande defeated Cabrillo 54-18 .
Coach Cameron and the Saints face the Titans at 9 a.m. today at SLO High.
St. Josph 76, Frontier 49
At San Luis Obispo, the Knights ran their season record to 3-0 with their third lopsided tournament win.
Heather Madrigal led four St. Joseph players in double figures with 18 points. Aly Beebe and Brianna Bognuda scored 14 points apiece. Analise Riezebos added 10.
Meagan Sweet led Frontier with 12 points. gabby Morales added 10. The Knights play Arroyo Grande at 1:30 p.m. at San Luis Obispo in their final tournament game.
Nipomo 37, Mission Prep 30
Tessa Underwood scored nine points as the Titans took this low scoring game at San Luis Obispo and moved to 3-5.
Arroyo Grande 59, Elk Grove 22 (Thursday)
Nine Eagles scored in this tournament game at Morro Bay High School. Maddie Carr led AG with 16 points.
Gold Coast Tournament
Amanda Spence scored 10 points for Santa Ynez (1-4), which fell 55-31 to San Marcos.
The Pirates have lost their leading scorer, Hailey King, for the season. Santa Ynez coach Cheyenne Dietrich said King tore her ACL Friday night.
San Marcos is 5-2. Santa Ynez plays Moorpark at 1 p.m. today in its final tournament game.