After playing varsity as freshmen three years ago, a tough task for the school’s new program, the Minarets Mustang girls basketball team (3-0) held its “coming out” party last weekend, winning the Fowler Invitational Tournament.
This year’s team of seniors have played together for seven years, and have found stability under first year coach Dee Kamalani, who has been reunited with the same group of girls she coached as eighth graders. Along with a seasoned group of varsity players, Kamalani has a JV team for the first time in Minarets girls basketball; a necessity for future success on the court.
The Mustangs rolled off three straight victories to win its first varsity tournament. Facing a talented and physical Washington Union team (3-1), the Mustangs were down nine points at half time, 21-12. The team came out of the break playing inspired defense, holding the Panthers to just six points in both the third and fourth quarter, while the Mustangs scored 23 in the second half.
Senior Natalie Chamberlain hit two of three free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt, giving the Mustangs the lead with 50 seconds remaining in the game. Patrichia Thomasian sank two free throws in the closing seconds to secure the 35-33 win.
Kalea Kamaliani led all scorers with nine points. Center Kristy Berry fouled out with eight points in the early minutes of the third quarter. Chamberlain finished with six points, and Thomasian and Danielle Johnson had four each.
Rebounds were the difference in this tight game as the Mustangs dominated the boards against the Panthers and throughout the tournament. Thomasian, Berry, and Kamalani kept the Mustangs in all three games with their rebounds, forcing change of possession on several occasions.
In the second game, the Mustangs faced the tournament host Fowler Redcats. After taking their lumps in years past playing Fowler, Minarets defeated the Redcats handidly, 45-30, to advance to the championship game against an undefeated Madera South team. Again Minarets controlled the boards, hauling in 40 rebounds in the game.
Berry led all scorers with 12 points, 10 in the third quarter. Johnson added 11, Chamberlain nine, Kamalani eight, and Thomasian five.
Going into the championship game against the unbeaten D-III Madera South Stallions, the Mustangs faced a physical and extremely athletic team with a deep bench. The Stallions’ 16 player roster and size didn’t intimidate the Mustangs, with the Stallions taking a slim 30-26 lead at the half.
With 2:24 remaining in the game Johnson sank a three-pointer to put Minarets up 46-43. She would go on to add a free throw to give the Mustangs a 47-43 win. The Mustangs outscored Madera South 21-13 in the second half. It was a team effort as Minarets played against possibly their most physical opponent of the season.
Berry and Johnson led the team in scoring with 15 points each. Thomasian added eight, Kamalani six, and Chamberlain four.
Berry was selected tournament MVP and was named to the All-Tourney Team along with Chamberlain and Kamalani.
Thomasian was overlooked after getting 42 rebounds in the three games. What a difference one player can make - Thomasian joined the team a week after concluding the Mustangs run at a sectional title in volleyball and has added a presence in the paint that has changed the makeup of the team.
After playing under-sized for three seasons, this Mustangs team has matured and looks to be a contender for the league title this season.
“We played a team with three starting freshman ... our girls chemistry and experience was the difference,” said Coach Kamalani. “Our experience helped us close out these close games ... we need to work on jumping out early, and building on a lead. I always tell them to keep shooting, good things will happen. I am so confident of these girls to battle back and keep the game close.”
The team will play in the Dec. 16 - 19 Madera High Invitational Tournament.