Harvard-Westlake High School captured a 51-40 victory the girls’ non-league matchup against Ventura High School Saturday, their last game as of press time. Head coach Melissa Hearlihy used the team’s depth to rotate girls in, giving starters breaks from their intense full-court defense and filling the offensive void left by the injury of Athlete of the Month Teeana Cotangco ’15.
The girls’ basketball team will use high pressure defense and an up-tempo, guard-heavy offense to compensate for its lack of height as the league season gets underway, Hearlihy said.
“We worked really hard from the jump ball,” Jayda Ruffus-Milner ’18 said. “We really pushed the intensity up and went on a really big run at one point.”
Even though the team pulled away at the end of the game, there was a period in the middle of the matchup when Ventura took the lead. Ruffus-Milner said she and her teammates need to practice being more consistent.
“Starting the game with so much intensity and then going through the game with that same level of intensity is going to be a big key for us this season,” she said.
Cotangco, who rolled her ankle going for a rebound the game against Hart High School on Dec. 19, is listed as day-to-day, meaning it will be a game time decision whether or not she can play. Her absence hurts the team because she is a big offensive threat, Hearlihy said. As a result, various players have had to go beyond their usual duties to maintain the team’s level of play.
“It’s been different people different games,” Hearlihy said. “Sydney [Tsutsui ’17] has done a good job stepping up, Jordan [Brown ’16] has stepped up her scoring and Lindsey [Tse ’16] is really starting to lead us on the floor and do what we need her to do.”
Hearlihy believes that when the game was going well against Ventura in the first and fourth quarters, it was because Tse’s intensity was there. In both quarters, the team outscored Ventura, yet in the second and third quarter, with less intensity from Tse, the team let go of its lead and let Ventura back into the game.
“Our defense was really good at the end. We were able to pressure and trap the ball all over the court,” Tse said. “In the future, we need to keep our intensity up throughout the entire game so we can hang with better teams and just keep up the good run we are on.”
Defense is the team’s selling point, Hearlihy said. It has always been the selling point of her program. Hearlihy uses the lack of size as a defensive and offensive advantage. Although the team sometimes struggles with half-court offense because it has a limited number of threats in the post, it relies on tough, aggressive defense from the many quick guards on the squad to generate steals and easy points via fast break on the other end.
“The problem is teams know we want to break so they will get back and sit, causing us to walk the ball up, which gets us out of our flow,” Hearlihy said.
When they do have to rely on half-court offense, the girls use a four out, one in scheme. This means four guards move around the perimeter while one player sets screens for the others and plays in the post.
Ruffus-Milner and her twin Jayla Ruffus-Milner are considered stretch fours. The four refers to their position of forward, a spot reserved for bigger players that like to play in the post. However, because they are stretch fours, they can run the floor and shoot the ball on the perimeter as well. As a result of this versatility, they can play as the one in or one of the four out players at any given time. Lauren Lapesarde ’17 can also play with her back to the basket in the post at the one in slot.
Jayda Ruffus-Milner said she feels still only at about 70 percent in terms of recovery from her ACL tear. She is on limited minutes right now and expects to be fully recovered by next season.
“Coming off the injury you are kind of scared to play, but for me, I want to get out there and actually score,” she said.
“What you saw [against Ventura] was almost an embryonic stage if you ask me,” Hearlihy said on the injury. “What’s really stopping her is that brace. If we took that brace off she would be much more fluid, and that’s how she and her sister play. They play like dancers. So that brace kind of holds her back, but it’s just a necessity since they are growing and with an ACL tear and replacement you just have to make sure it’s stable before going on.
The team is 1-0 in league and 13-5 overall as of press time, yet some of its toughest competition is yet to come according to Hearlihy. Chaminade, who is in the squad’s league, is a top five team in the state and beat basketball powerhouse Mater Dei earlier in the year.
“I think we just need to collectively come together offensively and build that same confidence we have on defense,” Hearlihy said.
Follow on Twitter @hvogel5
Photos by Henry Vogel