Door closes on Open Division aspirations

When the CIF-Southern Section released the 16 teams which qualified for Open Division play, the Wolverines were stuck on the outside looking in. As outsiders, it’ll be much more difficult for these defending state champions to stay gold. Instead of a playoff game against either Sierra Canyon or Chino Hills, boys’ basketball will compete to be the best of the rest, in the CIF-SS Division 1A tournament. They’ll need to win three games in a row in order to qualify for the CIF State Division 2 tournament.

The Wolverines finished the regular season on a high note, climbing to a falsetto in the final quarter of a senior night showdown with Chaminade. The Eagles’ Sebastian Lopez made the first shot of the game to put the visitors on top 3-0. The Wolverines wouldn’t tie the game until less than 90 seconds remained. They trailed by as many as 13 points, and their deficit reached as many as 11 in the fourth quarter. But Chaminade capitulated–the Eagles led 56-48 with three minutes remaining, didn’t even attempt a field goal in the final 2:24, and committed 6 turnovers in that span. By closing the game out on a 15-0 run, the Wolverines clinched an outright second place finish in the Mission League. They went 8-4 in league play and 16-11 overall.

“Coming in second outright without being tied with Loyola and Chaminade was very big for us, it also helps with the confidence,” Ali Iken ’17 said. “Everyone was having fun, the crowd was having fun, HWTV was probably having fun, everyone was having fun. So it was good to come together as one and then finish strong. I  was able to stop their point guard, stop him from getting the ball, kind of disrupted their offense and then we were able to get a couple steals, a couple missed free throws, and then we were up, winning on the scoreboard.”

The team’s season as a whole was characterized by, in the words of both Cassius Stanley ’19 and Johnny Juzang ’20, “ups and downs.” The team’s major goal at the start of the season was to qualify for Open Division play, a goal that was ultimately never realized. However the players still have faith in a run similar to last year’s, culminating in a State Championship. Their first test will be an opening round matchup in the CIF-Southern Section Division 1A tournament against West Ranch tonight.

Another down point would be the injuries that have been plaguing the team since the start of the season. Iken and Stanley both suffered injuries that took them out for several games, and L Simpson ’19 is sidelined for the remainder of the season with a hand injury.

But the team has been learning to work together better and rely on each other more as they spend more time on and off the court. Juzang and Cassius’ twin phrasings may be representative of this — so much time together that they even begin to speak alike.

“We’ve learned that no individual is bigger than the team and that it’s going to take every single one of us to win,” Iken said.

“It’s a process. Everything’s a process, life’s a process,” Stanley said. “Up and downs, we had ups and downs, a lot of them, but we came back, we rallied, to get a strong end to the season.”

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