By Nick Giannandrea
Mission accomplished for the College of the Sequoias women's basketball team.
Without a state championship to chase, the Giants did all they could as one of eight California community college programs that opted to play during a season delayed and shortened because of Covid-19 safety precautions: win all of their games.
Sequoias capped an 8-0 run through the one-off, jokingly dubbed Central California Community College Covid Conference with dominating performances in a home-and-away sweep of Taft.
"Our goal was to win the conference," Giants coach Ray Alvarado said. "So to go 8-0 was a great accomplishment. Credit to them for having a goal and achieving it."
Behind a season-high 21 points from freshman guard Nikola Hudson (Liverpool), Sequoias rolled to an 83-37 victory at Taft on April 1 in its season finale.
Hudson also contributed five steals, four rebounds, and three assists in her best game of the season.
"Individually, certain players were getting more comfortable and finding themselves within the system," Alvarado said. "We did see individuals like Nikola play better."
Hudson was one of four freshmen who closed their first seasons as Giants with a flourish.
Alana Roberts (Sierra Pacific-Hanford) delivered 17 points, nine rebounds and a steal; Ella Thompson (Mammoth) had 10 points, six rebounds and three blocks; and Celeste Lewis (Sierra Pacific) contributed five points, seven rebounds, four steals, three assists and a block.
Sequoias, which rolled out to a 41-13 halftime lead, also received 11 points, five rebounds, an assist and a steal from Sapphire Jones (Hanford); seven points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals from Serena Ybarra (Coalinga); five points, three rebounds, an assist and a steal from Neli Diaz (McFarland); and five rebounds, two steals and a block from Kuda Ceesay (Atlanta). All are sophomore returners who have the option of remaining with the program because this season isn't counting against athletic eligibility.
Sophomore Ayon Carter (Oakland), a transfer from Diablo Valley College, added seven points, four rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks.
The Giants were even more dominant on their home court March 31, cruising to an 80-20 victory over Taft at Porter Field House behind 20 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals from Lewis.
Sequoias led 24-3 after the first quarter and never looked back while also receiving 15 points, five rebounds, six assists and a steal from Hudson.
Ybarra just missed a triple-double, finishing with 13 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and five steals.
"Serena was an excellent leader for us all year," Alvarado said. "She was coming into her own."
Roberts had 12 points, 13 rebounds, two steals, two blocks and an assist, while Jones contributed nine points, three rebounds, two steals and an assist.
The Giants also received four points, seven rebounds and a steal from Carter; three points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals from Diaz; two points, five rebounds and two blocks from Thompson; and two points, four rebounds, a block and a steal from Ceesay.
Sequoias closed the season with a pair of blowouts that followed its only two close games, 58-56 and 55-52 victories over Allan Hancock on March 19-20. The Giants had a March 26 home game against Cuesta canceled because of a positive Covid-19 test within the Cougars program.
For the season, Sequoias outscored its opponents by an average margin of 73.8-48.3.
"It was kind of typical of how the season was going to be even if we started at the regular time," Alvarado said. "I felt they would jell the more they played, and they did. They were a fun team to watch and coach."
Alvarado said he was pleased with the way his players handled a season unlike any other, one that started in August with online workouts, progressed to outdoor practices with no contact and mask wearing, moved back inside the gym in small pods in January and required daily Covid-19 testing when full contact practices started in February.
All for a season that was delayed from a typical early November start until March, reduced from a regular-season of 28 games, featured no tournaments or postseason, and did away with post game hand slaps or fist bumps.
"It was important for them to play," Alvarado said. "I told them in August that we're going to plan on playing and let's work toward that. We walked that fine line of getting them prepared to play and at the same time have everything halted. They were very mature in that respect. They worked as hard in August as they did in March."
Alvarado said it's too early in the process to know exactly what his roster will look like in the fall when California community college athletics are expected to return to complete championship seasons.
All 10 of the players who suited up for the Giants have been invited to return, but it's unclear at this point how many actually will be back.
Alvarado said he's received calls from four-year colleges on Ybarra, Lewis, Roberts and Hudson, and that he believes there is a home at the next level for all of his players should they choose to continue.
"It's all going to come down to the experience they had here, are they ready to move on, and financially, can they do it. We'll have to see," Alvarado said. "Regardless of the Covid situation, we are going to recruit. We are going to bring in some good kids. And if these kids stay, it will help us that much more."