By Nick Giannandrea
College of the Sequoias landed among very select company entering basketballs' postseason.
COS is one of four schools from across the state that earned top-five seeds for both its men's and women's teams heading into the California Community College Athletic Association championship tournaments.
The Giants' men were seeded fifth in Northern California and will entertain No. 12 Los Medanos at 7 p.m. Friday, while COS' women are the No. 4 seed and are set to host No. 13 Solano at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Ticket prices to both NorCal Regional quarterfinal games at Porter Field House, as determined by the CCCAA, are $12 general admission and $8 for seniors 60-and-older or children younger than 12.
The only other schools with top-five seeds for its men's and women's teams are City College of San Francisco (men No. 1, women No. 5) and San Joaquin Delta (men No. 4, women No. 3) in the North, and East Los Angeles (men No. 2, women No. 3) in the South. There are 15 colleges overall advancing both its men's and women's teams to the postseason.
"It's a real testament to (men's) coach (Rusty) Smith and (women's) coach (Ray) Alvarado," Giants athletic director Brent Davis said. "Not only are they concerned with bringing in highly talented student athletes, they bring in good people. They are team builders rather than talent collectors, and there is a big difference. They bring in good young men and women who mesh well with teams."
Both Giants' teams enter the postseason on a roll.
COS' men (20-8, 13-3) have won six straight, including a 55-49 regular season-ending victory at Columbia on Feb. 23 to edge the Claim Jumpers for sole possession of second place in the Central Valley Conference.
Columbia (21-7, 12-4) ended up seeded 10th and open the postseason on the road at No. 7 Yuba (24-4), which won the Bay Valley Conference four games ahead of second-place Los Medanos.
"It was a difficult ball game. They had a very boisterous crowd," Smith said. "I was super pleased with that win, which really propelled us into the five seed."
COS beat Columbia and Cerro Coso 83-74 on Feb. 20 without first-team all-CVC selection Tristan Forsyth, a 6-foot-10 sophomore post player who averages 12.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
Forsyth, who is committed to play at Cal Baptist next season, returned to his home in Melbourne, Australia, to be with his mother, Monique, who has inoperable brain cancer.
Forsyth is expected back in Visalia in time for Friday's game, where he will rejoin a team that also features fellow first-team all-CVC pick Keyshawn Gibbs and CVC all-defensive team selection TJ Givance. That trio, along with fellow starters Bobby Santos and Mike Johnson, as well as key reserves Garrett Shelton, Dewayne Holmes, Roy Salinas, Savion Johnson, Elihu Cobb and Jarell Holmes have helped the Giants win 13 of their past 14 games after a 7-7 start as Smith worked in 10 new players to his program.
COS' only loss during that stretch was a 61-59 defeat to No. 2-seeded Fresno City on Feb. 2 in a game where the Giants rallied from a 12-point deficit in the final 8:45 before missing a 3-pointer for the win at the buzzer.
"They key as you progress through a year in JC is if you can stick together through adversity, you can really get better," Smith said. "When you have 10 new players, that's really something to overcome in terms of playing together and getting a feel for them. It takes a while."
If COS' men win on Friday, the Giants would advance to the NorCal Regional finals on March 9 against the winner between No. 4 San Joaquin Delta (22-6) and No. 13 Butte (15-12). The best remaining seed will host, with the winner moving on to the state final eight March 14, 16-17 at Ventura College.
"I think we have an opportunity to do that," Smith said of reaching the final eight. "We have the talent and desire I believe."
The COS women (26-3, 11-1) enter the postseason winners of nine straight, highlighted by a 77-75 victory over No. 2 Merced on Feb. 9 that enabled the Giants to go on and capture a share of the CVC title.
The Blue Devils handed the Giants two of their three losses this season, 76-68 on Nov. 4 at the San Joaquin Delta Tournament in Stockton and 90-70 on Jan. 16 at Porter Field House. COS likely would have lost a playoff seeding position to No. 5 San Francisco (22-3) had it not beat Merced in their third meeting. And that would have cost the Giants a guaranteed second home playoff game should they advance past Bay Valley Conference champion Solano (17-8).
"I was really proud of the fact they were able to go on the road and beat Merced," Alvarado said. "That ended up being a crucial win."
Alvarado said the biggest difference between COS' win over Merced on Feb. 9 and the two previous losses was his team's health.
Several players, including star NCAA Division I transfer Janelle Sumilong, were working their way into shape after suffering injuries prior to the start of the season when the Giants lost to the Blue Devils on Nov. 4.
Then, key reserves MaRazelle Quicio and Elyssa Brumfield missed the Jan. 16 rematch, a game that saw Sumilong suffer a deep knee bruise that would keep her out of the three following games.
Sumilong, Quicio and Brumfield all returned to help the Giants go 6-0 in the second half of CVC play and earn at least a share of the conference title for fourth time in the past three seasons.
"The main thing was just getting healthy," Alvarado said.
Sumilong, Shae Sanchez and Hailey Scott all earned first-team all-CVC honors, while Dejanee Gill, Julianna Gutierrez and Alaysia Reed were named to the second-team for a squad that led the state in opponents' field goal percentage at 30.1 percent. Quicio was an honorable mention.
The Giants have also gotten key contributions from reserves Alyssa Burton and Taja Bell while reaching the postseason for the seventh straight season.
If COS defeats Solano, it would host the winner between San Francisco and No. 12 Fresno City (18-11) on March 9. The winner of that game advances to the state final eight, which is set for March 15-17 at Ventura College.
"This is a unique year," Alvarado said. "There are probably about eight teams that could get on a run and win the whole thing. I feel we are one of those teams. But because things are so evenly matched, it could end at any time. We have to take it one game at a time."