The Orcutt Academy girls basketball team had slowly been building toward something.

Coach Tom Robb, who took over the team for the 2016-17 season, had quietly raised the team's win total in each of his first few seasons, going from five wins in his first year to 20 wins in his third. 

Then came the 2019-20 season where the Spartans took yet another leap. Under Robb's coaching and with a deep, talented core group, the Spartans went 24-5 overall and won the program's first league title with a 10-0 run through the Ocean League.

They made the CIF Central Section Division 4 semifinals, only to be stopped by the eventual champion, Caruthers. 

The Spartans have gone from league pushover, to scrappy underdog, but now, they are no longer the overlooked team that somehow beats expectations.

The Spartans are out to prove that they're a legitimate powerhouse in the making. They'll have plenty of opportunities to show if they can hang with the area's top programs. 

"Absolutely," Robb said when ask if the Spartans' confidence is on a different plane this season. "We've been together for awhile. We have added a couple new people but they've caught on quickly. We're definitely confident."

Orcutt Academy is now in the Mountain League, the Central Coast Athletic Association's top conference.

The Spartans are already off to a strong start. They split their season-opening series against Nipomo, another rising program, then swept St. Joseph last week, handing the Knights their first two losses of the season. 

The team features a bevy of talented players with plenty of experience. Giselle Calderon is now a junior. She was named the Ocean League MVP for the 2019-20 season and was voted the Times' All-Area Defensive Player of the Year. 

"We still have the same goals, the same vision," Calderon said. "Our plan is to go far in CIF and try to take that. Our game has switched from going down more often — because we used to have height — to more guard oriented play. And we're more aggressive."

The Spartans are loaded with players who can complement Calderon or lead the team on their own when needed.

There's Devyn Kendrick, an inside presence who can score and rebound. Chyanna Medina-Tell, a Pioneer Valley transfer, may be the best scorer on the team. Erynn Padhal can shoot and score in a variety of ways while also providing defense. Diaminsol Malicdem may be the team's best shooter.

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"I would have to say all the girls have taken that next step," Robb said. "Diaminsol has really stepped up. We put a lot of pressure on her. She didn't get as much playing time as the other girls (last year). Now we have Devyn, who's taken a leadership role and is taking on more offense as well." 

All five of those players are averaging at least 7.3 points per game. 

Calderon leads the team, averaging 15 points per game. She adds 7.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.0 steals per game. Medina-Tell is averaging 9.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 4.8 steals per game. Kendrick leads the team in rebounding, averaging 9.3 in four games. She's also scoring 8.8 points per game so far this season. Malicdem is averaging 8.3 points, 2.3 assists and 3.0 steals a game. Padhal is averaging 7.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game.

Sophomore Kaehlii Robertson should also develop into a key contributor. She's averaging 2.3 points and 4.3 rebounds a game.

The team's success is usually based on its defense. The Spartans press heavily. In a win against St. Joseph last Thursday, they came up with 26 steals. They average about 18 steals a game as a team.

"We're going game-by-game to determine what we're doing (defensively)," Robb said. "When we played Nipomo, we didn't press we just got back into a zone. We're looking at it game-by-game. We're not the tallest team, but we're probably the fastest."

The Spartans are slated to host Mission Prep on Thursday in a Mountain League game at Lakeview Junior High. Mission Prep has yet to play a game this season after its opening series against Righetti was postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Mission Prep program. 

"Moving up to the Mountain League is pretty tough for us," Robb said after the Spartans beat St. Joseph 53-44 on April 23. "But, hey, we'll take on anybody at anytime. I think we'll do well and we should be right in the middle of the pack."

Robb says his goal is to finish within the top three in the Mountain League. Righetti is a strong favorite to win the league title again this year. It appears second place is wide open, with Orcutt Academy, Nipomo and Arroyo Grande definitely in the mix.

The Spartans won four games the year before Robb arrived. They then won five games in Robb's first season, improving to 10-13 in his second. They went 20-8 and 8-4 in the Ocean League in Robb's third season before going 24-5 last year, winning an unbeaten league title. 

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