Squad gains experience after loss in semi-finals

Squad gains experience after loss in semi-finals

Star Forward Kiki Iriafen '21 jumps and shoots against Chaminade High School on Jan. 29. (Credit: Will Mallory/Chronicle)

Despite a quarterfinal exit in the CIF Division I Playoffs on Feb. 13, the girls’ basketball team posted an impressive campaign in the Mission League, finishing with an 21-9 and 6-2 overall and league record, respectively. Led by talented sophomores Kiki Iriafen ’21 and Kimiko Katzaroff ’21, the Wolverines will have lots to look forward to both on and off the court in the upcoming years.

For two players, though, the 54-42 loss against Long Beach Poly marked not only the conclusion of their season but also the end of their basketball career. Seniors Emma Sunkin ’19 and Gianna Hubbard ’19, valuable assets to the Wolverine squad, are planning to attend college next year, leaving the young squad without two of its key leaders of this past season.

“I will really miss all of the fun times that we had together,” Hubbard said. “I can’t wait to see what this team does in the future.”

Since winter break, the Wolverines continued to build on their early success as they prepared for league play and CIF Playoffs. They defeated Notre Dame High School in their first league match Jan. 8 in dominant fashion, routing the Knights 66-35 on their home court.

“It was definitely nice to get our first league win in their gym,” guard Mirabella Wong ’20 said. “It helped boost our confidence for the rest of the season.”

After defeating Alemany 65-49 on Jan. 12, the Wolverines, led by program head Melissa Hearlihy, struggled against Chaminade High School, falling 73-41 on Jan. 15.

“I think that our first loss to Chaminade ended up teaching us a lot more that we thought at the time,” forward Ella Price ’20 said. “It made us realize that we needed to increase our intensity in all of our games.”

Hearlihy expressed a similar attitude as Price, labeling the loss a fluke and using it to motivate her players to beat the Eagles in the future.

“The Chaminade loss was very uncharacteristic of us,” Hearlihy said. “We’ll bounce back strong and beat them at home in a couple weeks.”

The squad did just that. After the loss, the Wolverines won four straight league games, including a nail-biting 47-46 victory in a Jan. 29 rematch against Chaminade.

“It felt really good to beat Chaminade after our first loss,” Wong said. “Especially after our first loss against them, it was nice to finally prove that we could beat them.”

Sophomore guard Krista Semaan ’21 shoots a free throw in a one point victory against the Eagles. (Credit: Will Mallory/Chronicle)

The Wolverines fell to Marlborough High School 64-56 in their final league game of the season, eliminating their chances at winning the Mission League Title after going undefeated just one year earlier.

“We were underestimated from the beginning after losing a big part of our team,” guard Krista Semaan ’21 said. “But we showed up to every game ready to win and prove ourselves. The season went really well.”

Despite the loss, the team was able to secure a high seed in the CIF Division I Playoffs. In the first round, the Wolverines travelled to Santa Barbara High School on Feb. 7, where they routed the Dons 60-30 in a statement victory. Just two days later, the squad defeated Esparanza High School 47-42 in the second round to book a Feb. 13 match with Long Beach Poly High School.

The Wolverines’ success fell short in the quarterfinals of the CIF Playoffs, where they lost to the Jackrabbits 54-42. Although the game marked the final home game for Hubbard and Sunkin, it clearly was only the beginning for the young squad.

Along with Iriafen and Semaan, sophomores Kimiko Katzaroff, Melissa Zozulenko and Paula Gonzalez have developed connections with juniors Price and Wong, setting high expectations for the following season. Katzaroff said she was excited with her team’s performance this year but hopes to make it farther in her junior season.

“I’m really looking forward to next year and the years after,” Katzaroff said. “This team has so much potential, because we are such a young group. Hopefully next year we make it even further.”

Zozulenko said she is excited to continue to develop team chemistry as they continue to reach for their goals.

“Next year I’m looking forward to work together with my team to win tournaments we enter, as well as win a league title,” Zozulenko said. “By then, we will have a full year of playing together, which will be exciting to watch.”

For now, the Wolverines are scheduled for a well-deserved offseason for the remainder of the school year. That won’t stop Iriafen, the team leader in points and rebounds per game, from establishing her mindset early.

“I think the season was very successful although we didn’t reach our final goal of getting to the [CIF] championship and reaching state [championships],” Iriafen said. “But next year, I’m looking forward to being more experienced, reaching the state championships, and getting a ring in southern section.”

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