Basketball season has finally arrived for North Bay League high schools after months of waiting, as teams tip off this month in a condensed spring schedule.
The El Molino Lions find themselves in a unique situation, starting the season with a vastly different squad than last year due to several factors, and mindful that this could be their final campaign.
“This is the third official week of basketball and it’s been a struggle so far, but we're making the most of it,” El Mo veteran coach Collin Walker reported. “Unfortunately we've had to deal with season ending injuries, transfers and guys being ineligible because of grades — all of whom were my top players. But I’m very thankful for the players I have and I appreciate all of their effort and hard work.”
The Lions already have three games under their belt, having posted losses to a trio of strong opponents; Healdsburg (84-40), Maria Carrillo (75-43) and Cardinal Newman (62-19).
“While all three are very good teams, we simply have not been playing good ball,” Walker said. “Defense and the first quarter have been our biggest issues — we've allowed 20 plus points in all three first quarters.”
The Lions are fielding a relatively young varsity squad, with just three returning seniors that include Trenton Rivas, Aiden Louis and Noah Kenny. Other first-year seniors (who played JV last year) are Phoenix Dagostino, Trevor Rivas and Jackson Gerren.
“With the exception of Aiden, I coached all of the seniors when they were freshmen,” Walker noted. “It's really cool that it's all come full circle and I’m able to coach them again for this final season.”
Ian Hocheder is the lone junior in his first season on the squad, but has already established himself as a force to be reckoned with going forward.
“Ian is a fantastic athlete and is my most skilled player who’s been second in points per game,” Walker said. “In order for us to be successful this season, he will have to consistently produce on both ends of the court.”
Making up the bulk of the roster are seven sophomores that include Jackson Zapp and Ben Atkinson (played JV last year), Solomon Hall, Charlie O'Donnell, Rio Davenport (transfer student), Ted Broome and Gio Visintin.
Like most teams, the Lions have spent the early going identifying team strengths and weaknesses, a key factor for improvement.
“We really need to focus on running the offense, pushing the break when it suits us, and attack the offensive glass in order to get as many second and third chances as possible,” Walker noted. “However, it all comes back to defense and getting stops. Without the ability to score a lot of points, our defense needs to be the anchor of our team.”
The Lions will begin a road and home series with west county rival Analy, beginning on Thursday, April 29 in Sebastopol, followed by a Saturday, May 1 clash in Forestville. Game times are 4:30/5/7:30 p.m.
“The guys are definitely hyped up about those games,” Walker said. “It will be very emotional, but very fun for what will most likely be the last El Molino vs. Analy basketball games.”