A grueling preseason schedule for the Yosemite Badgers Girls Basketball team (7-12) was intended to prepare them for North Sequoia League competition, primarily Friday’s opponent Sierra High School (7-6).
The Badgers and Chieftains shared the League Championship last season and both teams lost to the same team in the playoffs, eventual CIF D-II champion Independence High School.
Sierra and Yosemite are the two smallest public schools in D-II in the section and the state. Both would compete in D-IV or lower by attendance but the Central Section’s aggressive competitive equity model has moved them up to compete against schools generally three times as large.
This has made it especially tough for the Badgers this season, in rebuilding mode after losing three county All-Stars from the 2015 team. Half the the team are frosh and sophomores with no varsity experience.
In order to gain that experience, the Badgers compete in large school events, the latest being the 14-team Buchanan of Clovis tournament.
A major issue going into the four day competition was an ankle injury to starting senior point guard Jessica Fine. A three year varsity performer, Fine was one of the better outside shooting threats and a tall defender on the perimeter.
Stearns opens Buchanan tourney with 22 points
Senior Lynette Combs was moved to the point guard position from the forward spot and then, the day before the tournament, her replacement at forward, freshman Hailey Rich, fell at practice and a bone bruise prevented her from playing against the Clovis Cougars, a team that had beaten the Badgers by 40 points in the opening game of the season.
With the odds stacked against the Yosemite team, their improvement was displayed by being down only five points at halftime, closing to within three going into the fourth quarter, only to fall apart in the final stanza, losing 45-30.
Senior Allie Stearns scored 22 points to lead the Badgers but received little shooting support. Yosemite remained in the game playing tough defense.
Double-doubles for Stearns
The second game of the tournament was against Madera (11-5). This time the Badgers were up at the half 19-18 but could not hold the pace, losing 46-34.
In the second half, the Badgers were 5-15 from the free throw line and Stearns was held scoreless after scoring 11 in the first half. She did have 15 rebounds for an impressive double/double.
The third opponent was Liberty, a D-I school from Bakersfield. After only scoring three points in the first quarter, the Badgers were able to tie up the game at the half 18-18. Stearns did not score in the first half but found the basket from long range in the second, making four 3-pointers and finishing with 12 points and nine rebounds in a 44-41 victory.
Senior guard Ashlee Harrell also had 12 points and displayed floor leadership to keep the Badgers on top.
Another D-I opponent
The fourth and final game of the tournament was against Central, another D-I school with over 3,000 students.
The Yosemite team was behind at half 18-17, and kept it close but fell by a 40-35 score. Harrell had another good game with 13 points. The Badgers were 1-19 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc.
League opener Friday
Friday’s game against the Sierra High Chieftains is at home with the girls varsity scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. and the boys varsity game to follow.
In the past four years of girls basketball, Yosemite and Sierra Girls Basketball teams have shared the championship twice and each team won an outright title.
Going into that four-year period, the Badgers won the league title nine straight seasons.
Friday Coach Gary Blate figures to start five seniors with Fine and Harrell expected to play in the top of the Badgers 2-3 defense, and Lynette Combs, Tracy Robesky, and Stearns in the back row.
Sophomores Siena Oswald and Allison Bernardi come in at the center spot, junior Katie Long provides some offensive spark and frosh players Hailey Rich, Sophie McGoldrick, Grace Fries and Lilly Graffigna all will contribute as the Badgers make a run for the league crown.