The old coaching adage “control what you can control” has been used more in the past 18 months since the emergence of COVID-19. The slogan has become a way for athletes and coaches to stay sane over the past year and a half of tumult.
But now that the basketball teams are back on the court, the College of San Mateo and Skyline College women’s basketball teams have the ultimate control over the opposition. Both programs opened the season with a combined record of 19-1 – Skyline is at 11-1, while CSM records with a perfect 8-0 mark.
“We’re playing well,” said Skyline head coach Chris Watters, who is in his ninth season with the Trojans. “We’re going there with all the freshmen and we’re showing a lot of growth.”
It’s not by choice that Watters faces such a freshman team. His two sophomores, post player Nicole Brunicardi (Burlingame) and guard Jerlene Parangan (Aragon) were lost early in the season. Brunicardi broke his wrist in the season opener and, a few games later, Parangan suffered a knee injury for the year.
Brunicardi is expected to return in time for the Coast Conference season, which begins next month. Until then, Watters will rely heavily on his first-year players. Considering the Trojans opened the season with eight straight wins before falling to De Anza on Dec. 3, things couldn’t have gone better for the Trojans, who have since picked up two straight wins heading into Thursday’s game against East Los Angeles College.
“We had to change everything on the fly when Brunicardi went down,” Watters said. “It forced the freshmen to take on roles that we hadn’t anticipated they would take on so quickly. … They’ve kind of been thrown into the fire. There’s no one to blame. put it back in. They had to mobilize.”
One such freshman who has come a long way is guard Malia Latu (Menlo-Atherton). A three-year college starter in MA, Latu opted out of the 2021 spring season with the Bears. Now that she’s back on the Skyline lot, she seems to be making up for lost time. Her 21.4-point average is seventh best in the state and she is one of 10 players to average 20 or more points for the season.
But it’s not just Latu’s score, she does a bit of everything. She is one of the team leaders in rebounds with 7.4 per game. She also delivers nearly 5 assists per game and defensively averages 4 interceptions.
“[Latu] has possibly the best work ethic of any player we’ve had at Skyline. … She was outstanding. Nothing disconcerted her. … When we saw her move and play (in MA), we saw her as a top player and we feel like that process kind of unlocked some of that. He’s always been there,” Watters said. “She’s a player. She already has a Division I scholarship offer and has only played 11 games and we believe there will be more.
Latu is far from a one-player show. Lala Lautaimi (Aragon), a 5-10 post player, is scoring 15 points per game and grabbing 7.5 rebounds. Tatiana Newsome (St. Ignatius) is averaging 8.4 points per game, while another former Aragon star, Angie Olive is averaging 5 points and just under 5 boards per game.
“I feel like everyone on the roster had a game where they were that player that put us over the top,” Watters said.
If there’s anyone who can sympathize with Watters’ injury troubles, it’s his CSM counterpart, Michelle Warner. Warner and his Bulldogs have been beset with injuries seemingly every season and the lack of players on the roster has made negotiating those injuries more difficult.
This season so far, Warner not only has depth, but he’s been relatively healthy and both factors contributed to an 8-0 start going into Friday and Saturday’s games.
“That’s why we’re doing so well,” Warner said.
Unlike Skyline’s freshman roster, the Bulldogs are blessed this season with all but one player who is in his second or third season with the team and has stuck together through the pandemic and is now reaping the rewards. of the work they put in during lockdown and lockdown.
“It’s nice to have so many third-year players,” said Warner, who is in his 22nd season in charge of the Bulldogs. “So many girls could have been transferred, but they didn’t want to finish during the pandemic.”
Because the team has been together for so long, Warner believes it has given players time to reclaim their philosophy and strategy when it comes to games, which has only made them better players.
“My main philosophy is to get the highest percentage of shots on every possession. … It starts on defense,” Warner said. (if completely).
“I have seven all-state varsity players, 3.5 GPA or higher. It’s phenomenal.
Like Skyline, CSM has a main weapon, post player Chiara Brown of American High School in Fremont, who averages nearly 18 points per game.
But she also has a strong supporting cast. Brittney Lewis (James Logan-Union City) averages 11 points per game, Erica Mendiola (Carlmont) participates with almost 8 points per game. Meanwhile, Lia Lilomaiava, who injured her knee during her 2018-19 senior season at Aragon, is becoming a force in the position.
This is all led by point guard Coral Yu (Summit Shasta). A 5-6 post player in high school, she came to CSM where Warner considered her becoming a shooting guard. But when Ava Augustin suffered an injury during the 2019-20 season, Yu stepped into the role of playmaker and has since made her own.
“She was ready to do whatever she had to do to get better,” Warner said. “She is, by far, our leader. Everyone follows her. She always leads, always encourages. .. She is definitely the key to our success.
Another part of the success that CSM and Skyline enjoy is the fact that they build their rosters from some of the most successful programs on the peninsula.
“It helps a lot (to have players from winning high school programs),” Watters said. “I think there are a lot of good (high school) coaches [on the Peninsula] and they have players… who come to university knowing how to play. … It’s an advantage for our program.