This past summer, Alyssa Springs had a chance to go to Texas to take part in some basketball sessions with some players from that state.
She was in a battle, as those players used their quickness and strength to overtake her.
Springs couldn’t wait to get back to California to tell her teammates on the North Salinas High girls basketball team what she learned.
She took those lessons from the summer and channeled it into one of the Vikings’ most successful seasons in school history.
Springs received many accolades throughout the year, and she now receives the top honor from The Salinas Californian, being named the 2014 Player of the Year.
It’s the second year in a row a player from North Salinas was named the Player of the Year; Darjhian Tennant won it last year.
Head coach Darren Jackson said it wasn’t difficult to motivate Springs, a junior, to be a leader of a team that had no seniors.
“She did whatever she needed to do, and she did it as a team to help us all win,” Jackson said. “She helped the other kids buy into the system.”
One big move came before the season began, when Jackson asked the 5-foor-7 Springs to play in the post, becoming a point center of sorts on a team where almost everyone could play guard.
Instead of getting suffocated by the other big girls she faced regularly, Springs thrived.
Springs was one of the top three scorers in Monterey County, averaging 16.3 points a game.
The Vikings went 10-2 in non-league play, losing to two teams that posed a threat to win a championship in their own section.
It was a game against Soquel, the defending Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League champions, that really showed Springs and the rest of the Vikings that this season could be something huge.
Springs went 10 for 17 and finished with a game-high 24 points in an 8-point win over the Knights.
“We knew then that we knew how to finish games,” Springs said.
In MBL Gabilan Division play, the Vikings stormed through the field, winning by an average of 23.9 points. There were games where it appeared the opposition had North Salinas on the ropes. Springs helped guide the Vikings to the win column in a big way.
North Salinas guard Nicole Hermosillo-Wright, who has played with Springs since their days at Gavilan View Middle School, said Springs was a big help in the Vikings achieving their goals this season.
“She was a really big help for us,” Hermosillo-Wright said. “She dominated playing the post at such as short height. All year, it was intense playing with her.”
In the CCS tournament, the Vikings overcame last season’s jitters and won their first contest in a nail-biter. Then they got through Palo Alto to get to the Division I finals for the first time in four years.
In the championship game, Springs powered the Vikings in the second half, finishing with 19 points in the team’s title-clinching win over two-time defending champion Gunn of Palo Alto.
“She came through, and the girls trusted her,” Jackson said. “Our motto was that when you want your season to be over, it’ll be over. She did a great job in the playoffs. The teammates got her the ball, and she lived up to the pressure and the hype.”
With the team having no seniors, it creates the possibility of every player on the roster coming back next season. Springs said she’ll be ready for what could be another huge run on the north side.
“Seeing what we did this season, we’re only going to get better,” Springs said.
Rest of the team
The rest of the 2014 All-County Girls Basketball Team includes many standouts who achieved great things this season.
Nicole Hermosillo-Wright was one of North Salinas’ leaders in the backcourt and used her defense to befuddle the opposition. In addition, she averaged almost 11 points a game.
“Nicole was a rock,” Jackson said. “She plays unbelievable defense, and she’s the generator on the team. She will sacrifice her body diving for the ball. She’s one of those girls that when she’s on the floor, it’s a different game.”
Hermosillo-Wright, a junior, said her favorite moment of the season was when the Vikings won the CCS title.
Soledad High’s Meg Paraguya was the team’s catalyst this season in leading the Aztecs to a runner-up finish in the Mission Trail Athletic League.
The Aztecs won 12 MTAL games for the first time.
Paraguya, a junior, averaged almost 14 points a game this season and had to power through some leg and ankle injuries in the final days of the regular season.
She came within a point of the school record with 34 points in a win over Alvarez on Dec. 16. But it was a 27-point game against Greenfield on Jan. 24 that really surprised coach Alex Medina.
“Greenfield tried to limit her scoring, but Meg scored 21 of her 27 in the fourth quarter, and she caught fire,” Medina said. “Her activity got us going. She’s the QB of the team, controlling the tempo and understanding how I wanted her to manage the other players. She became a good leader.”
Paraguya said her buzzer-beater against King City was her favorite moment.
Salinas High senior Daniela Villegas played a new position this season and transitioned well. Villegas averaged 13 points a game for the Cowboys, who reached the postseason with a 16-10 campaign.
Her defense was a lasting memory for opponents and spectators.
“She would commonly draw the toughest opponents, even when rotating,” Salinas coach Ken Anderson said. “We asked a lot of her. … She played a lot of minutes and did a great job. She was a big reason for the success this year.”
Villegas said her best moment was the regular-season home finale game against Christopher, where she and the other seniors were recognized. Salinas held Christopher to 24 points, its second-lowest total for a game in the season.
King City’s Savannah Valladarez led the Mustangs in scoring this season and did her best in the final couple of weeks to singlehandedly get the south-county squad into the postseason.
Valladarez averaged 16 points a game in her senior season and was the only King City player to average double digits.
“She’s a great kid to coach and works hard all the time,” King City coach Tito Velasco said.
One of Valladarez’s standout games came against Santa Catalina, and she considered it the game of her life. She went 12 for 22 and finished with 28 points. Fourteen of the points came in the final five minutes of the game, with King City staying toe to toe with the MTAL leaders at the time. She also had four rebounds and five steals.
King City pushed the Cougars to the limit before falling by two.
North Monterey County’s Samantha Flores was the top scorer in the MBL Pacific Division, improving from a 2012 campaign where she stepped up to be the team’s leader.
Flores, a senior guard, averaged 16.5 points a game and put up her best total in the team’s penultimate game of the season, scoring 32 against Watsonville on 13-for-16 shooting. She also had seven rebounds, five assists and eight steals in that win.
“She was a scoring juggernaut,” North Monterey County coach Zachary Cook said. “She worked on finishing around the basket. In the Watsonville game, she … was very efficient and knocked down her outside jumper and the three-pointers.”
Notre Dame junior guard Marisa Given was a three-point machine.
The previous season, she surprised the field by averaging 11.4 points a game and burying 67 three-pointers. With defenses putting an extra focus on her, she turned them away, averaging 12 points a game and knocking down 67 three-pointers for the season once again.
“She did good this season, and, as one of our captains, she stepped into a leadership role and handled it well,” Notre Dame coach John Given said. “This year, coming in as an established scorer, things changed. Teams came up with game plans to stop her. She saw a lot of different defenses, and she handled it well.”
Marisa Given, one of the many multisport athletes at Notre Dame, said she has the time of her life anytime she gets onto the basketball court.
On a Pacific Grove team that was fairly even, senior guard Reeve Groebecker delivered in many clutch moments in big MTAL games this season.
And those moments were on defense, when she did her best to shut down the other team’s best ballhandler.
Groebecker averaged seven points, six rebounds and three steals in MTAL play.
“She didn’t care about stats in terms of points,” Pacific Grove coach Ken Ottmar said. “She was a little bit of everything, but her biggest impact was on defense. She was a monster defender. And she wanted to go up against the top players.”
Groebecker said she would never forget the second game against Santa Catalina on Feb. 17. It might have been the lowest-scoring game in the MTAL that year — 24-22 — but it sealed the team’s first MTAL championship in 13 years. After the game, Groebecker and the other Pacific Grove girls cut down the nets.
Alisal senior Natalia Castro was also a Most Valuable Player. The point guard earned co-MVP honors in the MBL Pacific Division after getting Alisal to the brink of its first championship in nearly a decade.
Consistency was something Alisal coach Mick Battaglini noticed in Castro’s game this season as opposed to her previous seasons.
“This year, night in, night out, you knew she was going to go out there and get double digits,” Battaglini said. “She sees the floor very well and finds teammates in traffic.”
Several games stood out, including the Alisal Winter Jam, where Castro had 27 points against King City, 27 in an overtime win over Burlingame and then 18 against Salinas in the tournament finals.
Castro also had a career-best 31 points against North Monterey County. She said that was her most memorable game of the season.
Seaside High junior Ali Briscoe was one of the team’s leaders in helping the Spartans reach the postseason and win a game in the CCS tournament for the first time in two years.
Briscoe averaged 11 points a game this season and was named to the all-MBL Gabilan Division first team.
Her favorite game this season was the double-overtime win against Gonzales in the consolation semifinals of the Sweet 16 Holiday Tournament at Hartnell.
Kylie Moses stepped into an even bigger leadership role at Santa Catalina and powered the team with her shooting and defense.
Moses, a senior, averaged 15.8 points a game in leading the Cougars to a 9-5 record in the MTAL.
One of her most notable games this season was the Jan. 29 matchup in Gonzales that went into double overtime. Moses finished with 28 points on 8-for-11 shooting. Not only did she hit the shot that sent the game into the first overtime, she made two free throws with no time remaining in the second overtime to keep Santa Catalina in first place. Moses also had 11 rebounds and five assists.
Moses said her favorite game this year was the Jan. 24 game against Pacific Grove at Santa Catalina. She had 10 points and nine rebounds as the Cougars won 46-39, jumping back into first place after falling out of the top spot a few days earlier.
Coach of the year
Ken Ottmar, who guided Pacific Grove to its first league championship in more than a decade, is the Coach of the Year.
Ottmar stressed defense with the Breakers, who went wire to wire despite several other teams posing a threat to his squad’s title run.
The Breakers allowed 30.9 points a game and held opponents to fewer than 25 points seven times.
After winning its MTAL opener, Pacific Grove ended up in grinds with Carmel and Soledad, where neither team scored more than 30 points. Pacific Grove then hosted Stevenson and held the Pirates to 16 points, showing that its defense was going to be the catalyst.
The Breakers started the season 4-6 before MTAL play began and then turned it around. And on senior night, the Breakers won the championship — it held Santa Catalina to 22 points — and held a rare net-cutting ceremony after the game.