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From left: Kiki Dial, Alexa McCune and Jesse Jenkins are all expected to guide this year's Cabrillo girls basketball team. All three are returning to a Conquistadores team that made it to the CIF State playoffs last year and are now in the Channel League this winter. 

Two higher playing fields now await the Cabrillo girls basketball team.

After four years of sharing or securing the outright Los Padres League title, the Conquistadores are now moving into the Channel League, which brings back two 14-win teams from a year ago in Santa Barbara and San Marcos.

But that’s not all.

After making a run at the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA title but losing to Downey Warren, then chasing after the CIF State DIII title but falling in the second round, Cabrillo is now placed in the CIF-SS Division 2A field and got planted into the state’s DII realm — both a step up from last year.  

It’s become the high school girls basketball version of a job promotion — but one that features new, daunting challenges. 

Head coach Jared McCune, the reigning Lee Central Coast Newspapers’ Coach of the Year from last year, says he knows this time the obstacles will become larger for the Conqs — but he expected this and is currently getting his team to embrace the challenges that lie ahead.

“I think we’re all in a wait-and-see mode. But it’s going to be fun, though,” McCune said before Thursday evening’s practice. “The Santa Barbara schools will provide a lot of competition. But we’ve had a lot of success lately and now it’s time to see if we can do that against them on a regular basis against them.”

Last season’s historic run was nearly the season that fell apart.

Top post presence Britney McCune left the gym in pain in a non-league victory over Righetti in December from a torn ligament in her knee. Her loss put CHS in a bind on who shoulders the scoring load down low. Then, valuable defender Kiki Dial went down with a similar injury during LPL play — further limiting the Conqs’ roster numbers.

But those setbacks energized the first-ever CIF State Playoff run for the CHS girls basketball program. Erin Jenkins delivered another LCCN MVP worthy season while the likes of Alyssa Stewart, Valerie Monzon, Amani Childres, Jesse Jenkins and Alexa McCune emerged as key scorers and defenders in the season to remember for CHS girls basketball.  

There’s this other mountain to scale for McCune and the Conqs, though: Replacing the aforementioned Erin Jenkins, Stewart, Monzon and Childres — plus a deep senior class in general.   

Erin Jenkins is now suiting up for Northwest Nazarene University. Britney McCune, Stewart and the other Class of 2018 members are now college students at various places.

But McCune is optimistic that there’s plenty of talent left over from last season’s run.

“I would love to have a Britney and Erin coming in every year. And the other seniors from that team were phenomenal. It’s definitely going to be hard to replace them — but it’ll be a fun challenge. We have five starters who can replace them and have a lot of experience.”

Players like Dial and Alexa McCune are out to prove that CHS girls basketball isn’t rebuilding, but rather reloading for another league title run.

“We have a little bit of a young team, but we have a lot of potential on this team,” Dial said.  

Added Alexa McCune: “After the season we had last year, we’re more excited for this year. I think we’re even more motivated to do better than last year. Some people may think that since we lost those seniors that it might be a different year and we may not be as good as we were. We do miss them because they contributed so much, but we’re very excited to show people what we can do.”

And CHS will get their first idea of what life can be like in the Channel League by going against a former member to start the season. The Conqs open the 2018-19 campaign by going against Buena High in the Gold Coast Tournament in the San Marcos High gym on Nov. 14 — a Buena High team that has gone more than a decade with finishing above .500 and earning consecutive CIF postseason berths.

“I’m excited to play them. Very well-coached and a very physical team,” McCune said. “It’ll be a good first game for us. I think it’ll be a good first challenge for us.”

Overall, optimism reigns supreme inside the CHS gym with the elevated playing field now on deck.

“It’s definitely hard losing those seniors, but it motivates the people who are here to step up and get those points,” Dial said.

Gold Coast Tournament: The tournament is four days long with every game at the San Marcos High gym. The tournament’s final day is Nov. 17.

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Sports Reporter