Basketball season officially ended March 3, when the Yosemite girls were defeated 49-40 by Independence High of Bakersfield in the Central Section D-II playoffs.
The YHS girls had another solid season. Coach Gary Blate continues to maintain an elite program. Unfortunately for the Badgers, it is an all too familiar story - YHS makes the playoffs and wins a game and loses in the semi-finals. Yosemite plays in D-II. The populations of most D-II schools are 2,000+. Yosemite, with an enrollment of 720 and dropping, must face that high level of competition to get back to Selland Arena.
I’ve said it before - the Badgers program gets punished for its eir success. YHS should be in D-IV or D-V based on its enrollment, but the Central Section CIF Czar Jim Crichlow continues to move winning small school programs up, often times into hopeless situations. In my years, I have never met coaches or ADs who agrees with that philosophy … yet it goes on.
It was still a solid season for the Lady Badgers. The 19-10 (9-1 in the NSL) record is deceiving. Blate likes to take on tough competition early and often to prep his team for the season and playoffs. The Badgers also have to deal with Sierra twice. The Chieftains (24-5, 9-1) under head coach Cathy Lauritzen, also must play in D-II and made it the D-II finals at Selland this year. Sierra does a lot with less with around 450 students.
It seems every year the Badger girls put players into the next level. Those playing in college are often times huge contributors to their respective programs. This year is no different. Look for 6-foot-3 center Taylor Burrall to play volleyball at Reedley Community College, and if the basketball coach has his way, she might also play basketball. Senior forward Veronica Miller will play at University of California, Santa Cruz, and guard Mataya Brown will also continue her hoops career at Reedley.
Speaking of the next level ... former YHS stars Sydnee Fipps (UC Davis) and Jenae Herring (Fresno Pacific) each set scoring records of their own this past season. Sophomore Dahlia Lopez (Reedley College) was named All Conference, and freshman Sierra Dominici (Fresno City) saw plenty of playing time. I can’t wait for the 2015 alumni game. Picture a court with Fipps, Herring, Katie Menton, and Karras Blate, just to name a few.
YHS Boys on the rebound
For the boys, the season was a bit tumultuous - but in the end, Yosemite boys’ basketball was alive and well.
Varsity coach Steve Lopez resigned in mid-season, and some players left, while others threatened to quit in frustration, and some parents were upset. YHS appointed interim Coach Aaron Eames to get the team thorough the season. Eames did more than that - Eames restored the team. After a players-coaches only meeting, Eames let everyone have their say, and it was a turning point.
To the YHS administration, remove the “interim” label and hand the program to Eames - Hedeserves it. Eames is a winner, having two CIF football titles on his resume. Eames has another CIF title - the CIF champion 1998 girls’ basketball team.
Have you checked out the tennis program Eames coaches with Stan Lawrence? They just went undefeated and won the NSL title.
His basketball court demeanor is that of a seasoned coach. Eames is passionate and fiery, yet while working the refs, he never got a technical. He has strong game-management skills that improved every game. With most of his core players returning, he will at a minimum get the team back to the playoffs next year.
All-North Sequoia League center Kaden Cross had one of the greatest individual season’s I have seen covering YHS hoops. The team started only one senior, the rest were underclassmen. Brothers Tristan and Cannon Eames should be the best backcourt in the NSL for the next two years. Power forward Peter McLean and Cross will anchor the league’s best front line.
A special thank you goes out to former coach Steve Lopez. Lopez has been a fixture for mountain basketball for over a decade. He knows the game. The former YHS grad coached both the Minarets and YHS boy’s programs. He spent countless hours organizing fund-raisers for youth and high school programs. He coached my son and he was the better player for it. Assistant coach Reg Turner was there with Lopez and was respected by all the players. Players and some parents may have disagreed with the coaching style and performance, but no one can say he did not have passion for the game.
Lopez and Minarets coach Paul Varner helped what I thought was the highlight of the season: YHS vs. Minarets in basketball. Both coaches are friends and worked collaboratively along with both school administrations to make the game possible. It was a good crowd at YHS with high energy student sections from both schools. That type of excitement hasn’t been seen in a while for YHS boys’ basketball.