With South Yosemite League play opening for the boys and girls Warriors basketball teams this week, the season starts to count with new impact, the games more important than ever.
Despite both teams entering with an 0-1 SYL record following one December league game against Independence, the development of both squads since, their rest in the case of the boys, and their Arvin High School Tournament win in the case of the girls, have both coaches feeling positive about opening league play this week in a talent-laden SYL.
The Lady Warriors (13-4, 0-1 SYL) enter this week playing Wednesday at Bakersfield Christian (10-3, 1-0 SYL) and home Friday against Golden Valley (10-7, 0-1 SYL). This week alone could tell an important story for Tehachapi, as they will be taking on a very good Bakersfield Christian team on the road before coming home on Friday to face a Golden Valley squad that looks like a middle-of-the-pack finisher in the SYL. The following week is a Wednesday home game against Ridgeview and a Friday road matchup at West. There is little rest in the wickedly-tough SYL.
However, following a strong preseason with quality wins over programs like Centennial, Frontier and West, not to mention handing Garces just one of their two losses thus far and winning the Arvin Tournament after Christmas, Tehachapi has positioned itself as a contender in a difficult league.
“We are coming off a strong first half of the season with that first-place finish at the Arvin Tournament,” said coach Jimi Perkins. “The preseason was loaded with strong teams and I feel like it has prepared us for the strong league that we play in.”
Tehachapi possesses a balanced scoring attack and the ability to defend and pressure the basketball successfully.
Teagan Thurman’s versatility as both a low post and mid-range scorer is leading Tehachapi with 16 points per game while four other players, Mady Cotta, Irey Sandholt, Sara Heier and Emily Williams, are all scoring more than five points per contest. Tehachapi is averaging 16 steals per game but has been using that to offset one of its weaknesses in the preseason — turnovers. The 20-average per game has plagued Tehachapi in its four losses this season.
“I’m encouraged with my team’s toughness and togetherness,” Perkins said. “Defense and the ability to value each possession are the keys to our success.”
Each game is increasingly important for the next five weeks as Tehachapi plays for a league championship and positioning in the CIF Central Section Division II Playoffs.
“The SYL is strong across the board with no weak teams,” Perkins said. “Every game will be a battle and I’m excited to see how we respond to the challenge of the next month of basketball.”
Tehachapi (8-6, 0-1 SYL) starts off with arguably the toughest test of the SYL as Bakersfield Christian (10-4, 1-0 SYL) comes to town on Wednesday before Tehachapi plays at West (5-10, 0-1 SYL) on Friday.
The Eagles are loaded with a host of talent led by senior transfer Kadar Waller (Liberty from 2014-2017). Its fast pace of play and above-the-rim athleticism will create a defensive challenge for Tehachapi. However, Tehachapi has shown its ability to compete with similar teams, having already posted its first win in five seasons over SYL-rival West in tournament action earlier this season.
“I’m very proud of these young men. I’ve watched them grow into a team,” said head coach Moe Cramer. “They’ve steadily progressed and matured together, each with his specific talent contributing through trusting the philosophy and working together. They showed it best against Centennial and again versus West.”
The SYL also includes a talented Independence squad that defeated Tehachapi in the lone SYL game in December, 64-53. Heavily-scouted Elijah Carter scored 18 for the Falcons and was 6-of-8 from the free-throw line. Tehachapi was competitive with Independence until three-point shooting took hold for the Falcons, something the Warriors will no doubt adjust when the second meeting comes along in a few weeks.
“It’s when they lapse and try to force things that changes outcomes, I can honestly say that is how we’ve lost each of our games,” Cramer said. “The greatest challenge will be can they remain disciplined during the challenging times that arise in games? I trust they will. I have faith in them.”
Tehachapi’s last game was Dec. 15, a long break for the Warriors who did not play any tournaments after the holidays. However, Cramer feels that time was used wisely, and he is pleased with the condition of his team following a long holiday break.
“Thanks to my assistant Carson Bethany I returned from a weeklong Christmas vacation out of town to find the team in excellent condition, a main ingredient in our explosive style of basketball,” he said.
Chris Garcia’s role as a leading scorer continues to be a key ingredient. However, in the last few games before the break, the contributions of junior Ryan Jones, sophomore Zack King and senior Riley Thompson started having more of an impact. Jones was named to the All-Tournament team at the Shafter Kiwanis Tournament where Tehachapi posted a 3-1 record including its 75-71 win over West. This versatility and development have Cramer optimistic about the next five weeks of league play.
“I believe this team is fully capable of beating any team in our league,” he said.
The Warriors tip off at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday against Bakersfield Christian at the Tehachapi High School gym.