Etiwanda prepared to choose up the tempo in basketball playoffs

Head coach Stan Delus needs one factor straight. When Etiwanda High presses — like, actually presses — you’ll know.

The Eagles ladies’ basketball staff kicked off the season with a 70-22 win over Anaheim Fairmont Prep, nonetheless guarding full court docket up 40 within the third quarter to the grumbles of Fairmont coaches. That, although, was not a press. That is what Delus calls “55,” when he instructs his ladies to match up off the inbound.

Etiwanda’s model is urgency. Playing like they’ve been poisoned and the one antidote is the basketball. Playing pedal-to-the-metal, head-rattling, screaming-down-the-interstate hoops. And the model should stick, irrespective of the opponent, irrespective of the state of affairs.

“I’ve created some monsters defensively,” Delus mentioned. “If I take that away from them, what was it all for when we get to the real game, when we get to playoffs?”

Coming off a Southern Section Open Division championship win over Chatsworth Sierra Canyon final season, the Eagles (26-2) have ascended to nationwide prominence, tabbed because the second seed in Open Division pool play this winter.

Their rise has caught them in limbo at instances: too good for many native packages, however missing the liberty of a personal faculty to schedule more durable competitors. Boasting immense expertise, with the fiery duo of junior Kennedy Smith and sophomore Aliyahna Morris, but fielding a staff with ladies who merely come to Etiwanda as a result of it’s their dwelling faculty.

So their model has to be urgency. They should work. Because they nonetheless see themselves as a public program, punching up towards the most effective.

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“Look who I have to go against,” Delus mentioned. “I’m a public school that has to go against Mater Dei, Sierra Canyon, La Jolla Country Day.”

“… I have to be able to know that my girls are prepared mentally, physically, spiritually, psychologically,” he continued, “to handle the moment that they’re getting ready to go into.”

After the season-opening Fairmont Prep sport, Smith and Morris stood within the hallway of match host Redondo Union as a few of their teammates started to excitedly collect behind them. As Smith and Morris turned their heads, their teammates propped a telephone up towards the door deal with to the health club, hopped into body, and began to movie a TikTok.

The duo stood, flat-faced.

“This is all the time,” Smith deadpanned.

“This,” Morris mentioned, earlier than operating over to hitch in, “they gotta stop at practice.”

The Eagles misplaced a touch of momentum after final season, when now-junior and second-leading scorer Destiny Agubata transferred to Corona Santiago. A core participant was gone. In her place was a handful of freshmen and transfers.

“I don’t think they understand the high expectations that we live up to, where we’re trying to go,” Smith mentioned. “I don’t know if some of them want to go to college, in the high level that we’re trying to reach.”

Smith’s journey, particularly, is charted not by expertise — averaging 24.5 factors, 8.4 rebounds and 4 assists per sport as a junior — however by management. She calls for greatness, Delus mentioned. And in the summertime, tensions ran excessive at instances, with returners telling newcomers they wanted to “get it together,” Delus remembered, “or transfer.”

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“Sometimes, I can come off a little harsh,” Smith mentioned.

She was born right into a basketball household, her brother R.J. a former La Verne Damien standout now taking part in at Colorado. And the whole lot Smith does, Delus mentioned, is to match her brother and please her late father Randolph, who’d name a younger Smith his “Maya Moore.”

Randolph died from colon most cancers when Smith was 6. She’s all the time excited about him, she mentioned. And in Delus’ thoughts, it provides her that fireside.

“It shaped her a lot, and really why she has a hard exterior,” Delus mentioned. “Because she plays the game as if it’s her last. And that’s not just a cliche saying. She feels like her dad was taken away too soon.”

By January, chemistry had shifted.

Trust had grown, Delus mentioned, in practices. Leaders like Smith and Morris had grow to be snug going to the bench, extra assured than an elevated pool of depth may keep their depth. It unlocked sturdy play from freshman guard Arynn Finley whereas 6-foot-2 Cajon switch Mykelle Richards has given Etiwanda one other energetic rebounder and defender.

Yet the issue of competitors continued. At a micro degree, Etiwanda had hassle scheduling video games for about three seasons, Delus mentioned.

“Nobody wants to play us,” the coach mentioned.

Etiwanda coach Stan Delus and the Eagles try to repeat as Southern Section Open Division champions.

(Jeremiah Soifer)

Over the winter, the staff was denied a request to take part within the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona, Delus mentioned. Under district coverage, the staff couldn’t miss that many days of college.

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Therein lies a divide between them and a personal program like Sierra Canyon, the 26-0 juggernaut who appears to be Etiwanda’s barometer. The Trailblazers have traveled out of state for 11 video games this season. Etiwanda’s performed two.

The controllable, to Delus, is fixed depth. Running “55” from tip to buzzer, like they did in an early-season win towards Newport Beach Sage Hill.

“They make you work,” Sage Hill coach Kerwin Walters mentioned.

After final 12 months’s Open Division win and subsequent loss in a regional playoff rematch with Sierra Canyon, Etiwanda is aiming for Round 3 towards the Trailblazers, pushing for one more championship public-vs-private showdown on the Honda Center on Feb. 25 for the Open Division crown.

“They better be ready for Etiwanda,” Morris mentioned. “Just like that.”

“Just like that,” Smith added, laughing. “Period.”