BARSTOW • With the approaching winter, the days are shorter, the temperature starts to drop, and basketball season is about to get underway.
Basketball begins play over the next week for Barstow Community College. The men’s team starts off by taking part in several tournaments and won’t play at home until early next year, but Lady Vikings fans can see their favorite squad in action this weekend.
There’s some pressure on the women’s team this season. Long regarded as basically a guaranteed win by opponents, last year the Lady Vikings sported their best record ever, and played in the postseason for the first time.
The sophomore members of that squad are all playing ball at four-year institutions this year. Barstow High School grad Nisha Barrett was named Foothill Conference Player of the Year, as well as First Team All-State last season, and is currently playing for Arizona State.
The Lady Vikings have 11 members this time around, including four returnees. Much of the team is new, however, and the first-year players and head coach Tim Woods have been getting familiar with each other over the past few weeks.
“It’s a different type of team from last year. I did a lot of recruiting; I went and got them, for the most part,” said Woods of his players at a recent practice. “We’ve had two intersquad scrimmages. The first one was ok, but yesterday’s was better. There’s still room for improvement, but I like what I’m seeing.”
The whole mood around the team is different this year.
“Last year, we had seven or eight players who had played together in their freshman year and came back. That group had experience and had already jelled by the first game,” said Woods. “This group is crawling; you take baby steps, then you’re walking, then running. We’re still getting to know each other.”
Some of the players did have a head start on that, as several of the hoopsters arrived in Barstow over the summer.
“Some of us have been here since June, practicing together since then,” said freshman Karissa Hayter. “We’ve only been playing against each other, so we’re anxious to play another team.”
“I’m really anxious to play,” agreed fellow freshman Shawnequa Norwood, who’s also been in town since June. “Once we start playing other teams and get into a tempo, we’ll be ok.”
The Lady Vikings and their coaches agree on what their strong points are and what they have to work on at this point.
“We’ve definitely got speed. We’re still bonding, getting to know each other, getting to know each other’s game,” said sophomore Ashley Watkins. Watkins, a Silverado High School grad from Victorville, is a team co-captain who red-shirted last year. “We’re starting to get comfortable and play off each other.”
“We’re kinda small, but quick up and down the floor,” said Hayter. “We’re working hard to keep the tradition going and not let Barstow down.”
“This is an awesome team, it’s been a lot of fun so far,” freshman BreAnne Fraser said. Fraser is keeping busy not only with the Vikings, but is also involved with the club Lady Hoops that supports the team, and is also a student body senator and secretary of her sorority. “Every team struggles in the beginning, but there’s a lot more good than bad.”
“We’re young, but doing ok,” said assistant coach Danah Smith. “We have a lot of quickness and some height, we’re quick at the guard spots and move pretty quick on the post.”
“We’re not the tallest team, but we’ll play an uptempo game,” assistant coach Raford Johnson said. “We’ll utilize all 11 players; each will go two or three minutes hard, and we’ll rotate in and out.”
Also with the squad this year are freshmen Jasmin Cruz, Noella Evans and Audrey Donald, as well as sophomores Ashley Segerra, Shantae Thomas, Chanel Green and Brittany Fraser.
“Academically, this is a strong team,” said coach Woods. “I don’t expect any problems with ineligibility. The girls are all good student-athletes.”
The team will get its first test as it hosts the Lady Vikings High Desert Classic, running this Friday-Sunday. Barstow will play on Friday at 7 p.m. against Imperial Valley. The tourney consolation game will be Sunday at 11 a.m., with the championship tilt scheduled for 3 p.m.
“If we step up and accept the challenge, we can do great things. We’re still improving, not leveling off. We’re climbing the mountain, not plateauing,” said coach Smith. “It gives us a sense of comfort to begin the season at home. It’s a different atmosphere at home, we’ll have the fans behind us. We’re nervous, but excited to get started.”
“As long as we’re a running team and listen to our coaches, we can win,” said Thomas. “Everybody gets along and coach Woods told us what he expects. I think maybe we can go harder, but we’re ready for the most part. We’ve been underdogs for as long as the school’s been open, so maybe we can make history again.”
“It seems like a lot of pressure, but I think we have the team to do it,” said Fraser of a return to the postseason. “My impressions are, we have a good chance.”
As for assistant coach Marcus Anderson, his wants are simple: “Last year we set a school record in wins; I want to break that record.”
The men’s team missed playoff action last year, so a return to the postseason would be a primary goal going into this year.
“Defensively, we have some work to do,” said head coach Reggie Howard. “Our strength is in our guard play, we’re a little more experienced there.”
There are 13 players on this year’s roster. The bulk of the team is freshmen: Evan Jenkins, Josh Perdue, Denzel McCloney, Kalani Magaoay, Micha’el Gant, Nate Lopez, Jeremiah Wilson, Richard Stamps, Henry Jones and Tyrone Smith Jr. There are three sophomores, Erik Burns, Shey Mataele and Tim Pendergraph.
One of the biggest roadblocks standing in the way of success last season was injuries.
“The injury bug killed us last year, we had one too many injuries,” said Howard. “We lost four guys in a three-game span at one point. From there, it took a toll on us. We went from three point guards to zero.”
As long as the team stays healthy, it has a chance in the Foothill Conference. The first league game, though, isn’t until January. The Vikings start with five tournaments, playing today through Saturday in the Fullerton College Tournament. Next weekend the team will be a bit closer to home, taking part in the Antelope Valley College Tournament in Lancaster.