The Wilcox Chargers girls varsity team came out of the gate strong on Wednesday night as they hosted the Gunn Titans in their league opener. Despite having just nine active players, two returners and no seniors, the young Chargers squad took a 34-19 lead into halftime led by star sophomore guard Anna Neeley. Unfortunately for Wilcox, the Titans completely flipped the script in the second-half, outscoring the Chargers by a whopping 46-17 to take home a 65-51 victory. It was certainly a learning experience for the Chargers who came into league play riding a four-game winning streak. A 15-point halftime lead turned into a 14-point loss is certainly not an easy pill to swallow as the Chargers were overwhelmed by the second-half full-court press by the Titans.
“I don’t want to use excuses, but I’m not gonna lie to you, the pressure was a great adjustment by Gunn,” commented Chargers Head Coach Justin Fujihara about Gunn’s second-half full-court press. “We are a very young team with only nine active players, no seniors, six sophomores and a freshman. They have had to learn a lot on their own without any senior leadership. Pressure was something we were preparing for; however, when it came into the moment, it did prove to be a struggle for us.”
It certainly is odd to see a varsity roster without a single senior on the team. Coach Fujihara had four juniors on his roster last year, but none of them are on this year’s roster.
“There are actually seven players who are still at Wilcox from last year’s team, [only two returned to play],” noted coach Fujihara. “We did have four juniors who would have been seniors this year. For certain reasons some of them either decided to not play this year, we didn’t see them at all for offseason workouts or conditioning. During that time our youth has really shown their commitment and dedication to get better.”
In the first half, it was Neeley’s versatile offensive abilities that led the way. She picked up 10 of her team’s first 19 points, finishing with 27 on the night. The sophomore showed she could nail a three, drive and pull up, as well as drive and finish at the basket.
“I think everyone would like to be that kind of player,” chimed Neeley on taking pride in her versatility. “I also want to be that kind of player to get the team hyped. Just hitting that three or making those layups, to get the rest of the team going as well, I do take pride in that.”
Along with Neeley, the Chargers’ two returners in Kylie Fiaui and Mia Patmon also showed flashes of strong play. Fiaui was particularly a strong on the defensive and, and Patmon showed a knack for hunting down offensive rebounds.
“Mia is bomb on those boards,” praised Neeley on Patmon. “She’s a great player offensively and defensively she always put in 100 percent.”
While the Chargers may be young, they do appear to have a bright future. Neeley has two more years remaining after this season and Wilcox’s lone freshman Elise Corwin is a starter and one of three captains on the roster.
“She’s young, but she has a good understanding of the game and is fundamentally sound,” responded coach Fujihara on Corwin. “It’s obviously a big jump for her going from middle school basketball into varsity high school basketball, but she has demonstrated a lot of the qualities that you want in your team leaders.”
“I think Elise is a really great player,” added Neeley. “I mean also having to be a captain, it’s a really good thing, she knows the game. Her being the youngest too I think it has brought us altogether to be the united team that we are.”
Wilcox may be a young team, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a bad squad. This year’s Chargers are now just 7-6, a better record than last season’s more veteran team which finished 11-14. Both Neeley and coach Fujihara both used the term “unity” when describing this year’s group. That closeness certainly appears to be paying off.