The Tehachapi girls went into winter break "on a high," coach Jacques Vachon said, and it's not just because they're 6-4 and took second place in their most recent tournament.
"I think they truly came together as a team," Vachon said, "and I think what made them feel best was the fact that Fiona was out for two games," so they had to learn to succeed without her.
Missing their top scorer and only senior, Fiona Ferry, for the first two games of the Shafter Play with Honor tournament, the Warriors still won twice.
They finished second in the tournament, losing only to Stockdale, 61-35, in the championship game on Saturday, Dec. 10.
Ferry, who was out with flu symptoms, not only is the lone senior on the roster, but she's one of only three returning players, also including juniors Stephanie Suarez and Keily Corpus.
"It took us a little while to get used to playing without Fiona," Suarez said at practice on Thursday, Dec. 15, "but after the first couple of plays, we got into the swing."
With Corpus, freshman Teagan Thurman and sophomore Mady Cotta still up front, the Warriors rotated Suarez in the back court along with freshmen Irey Sandholdt and Emily Williams. Ferry returned for the final three games of the tournament.
"Stephanie was really able to assert herself, and along with Irey and Emily, they were able to stand up to the challenge," Vachon said.
Suarez and Corpus find themselves in a position of being team leaders while still only juniors.
"I want the other girls to be able to look up to me," Suarez said, "and I want to help them all I can. We need to have more confidence in ourselves because I know that if we play the way we can, we'll win."
Vachon said that, at times, the Warriors girls have had trouble recovering mentally from tough losses, and that's partially a function of inexperience.
"The younger they are, the longer it takes for them to get that frustration out of their heads," Vachon said.
That's something they'll have to learn to overcome to do well in the South Yosemite League this season.
"How well we do depends on how we adjust to the pressure," he said. "They're such a young team."
The roster includes three freshmen and two sophomores, all of whom suddenly now must adjust to varsity level play.
"The games we've had the most trouble in are the ones that we've allowed the pressure to get to us," Vachon said. "Taft is a good example. That's a game we could have won and didn't, and then we lost the next one to Quartz Hill.
"We just couldn't break through."
The Warriors return to action on Dec. 27 in the Arvin Holiday Showcase.
"That's our toughest tournament of the season, and we have really high hopes for that one," Vachon said.
After games with Rosamond, Mira Monte and Highland, the Warriors begin SYL play on Jan. 13 at Independence.