Squad bounces back after losses early in season


PAINT PATROL: Forward Kiki Iriafen ’21 guards the basket at home against Sierra Canyon High School on Nov. 23. The Wolverines lost 68-61 to the Trailblazers, who won the CIF Open Division State Championship last season. Iriafen scored 27 points in the loss. Credit: Jay Lassiter/Chronicle

Jaidev Pant

Despite losing its first three games of the season, the girls’ basketball team has bounced back, winning four straight games and looking to continue its momentum heading into league play.

Last season, the squad finished 21-9 with a 6-2 record in the Mission League, and finished second in league behind Chaminade College Preparatory High School.

In CIF Division I Southern Section playoffs, the girls lost to Long Beach Poly High School 54-42 in the quarterfinals Feb. 13, failing to qualify for CIF State Playoffs.

The team started its season with a 44-41 home loss Nov. 20 against Bishop Montgomery High School, which qualified for the CIF Southern Section Open Division last year.

After this loss, the squad hosted Sierra Canyon High School, last year’s Open Division State Champions on Nov. 23. The girls had a slow start and found themselves down 31-19 heading into the third quarter. The Wolverines rallied in the fourth quarter, but ultimately lost 68-61. Forward Kiki Iriafen ’21 finished with 27 points, guard Krista Semaan ’21 with 12 and guard Melissa Zozulenko ’21 with 11 off the bench.

Following the two non-league home games, the girls played two tournaments at Redondo Union High School and Brentwood High School.
In the Redondo tournament, the Wolverines faced Lynwood High School on Nov. 26. Last year, they defeated the Lady Knights 62-56 in the same tournament Nov. 23. This year, the Wolverines lost to Lynwood in overtime 50-44, bringing their overall record to 0-3.

Following this defeat, the squad lost to Windward High School 68-53 Nov. 27, despite a 30-point performance from Iriafen.

The Wolverines secured their first win of the season, defeating West High School 58-56 in the Redondo tournament, with Iriafen finishing with 37 points.

“[The win] felt amazing,” Iriafen said. “We’ve been playing really hard every game but falling short towards the end. So to finally win a game was awesome. We were able to come together and correct the little things which helped us pull out the [win].”

This year, the girls’ basketball program scheduled games against many accomplished opponents early, facing three teams that managed to qualify for the Open Division playoffs last year in the first two weeks of the season.
Semaan described how this scheduling will pay off in the future.

“We started the season off by playing really good teams and this helped us learn how to play together and compete, making us ready for what’s to come in league and the tournaments,” Semaan said.

The squad opened the Brentwood Tournament with a 65-39 road win against Leuzinger High School on Dec. 2.

Next, the girls played a home game against La Canada High School on Dec. 4 for the second game of the Brentwood Tournament.
Heading into this game, Iriafen averaged 24 points per game, along with 19 rebounds.

The Wolverines started quickly and scored 45 points in the first half. The squad ended up winning the game 75-31, with Iriafen scoring 19 points and guard Paul Gonzalez ’21 scoring nine points.

Next, the team played Crescenta Valley High School in a road game Dec. 6, winning the match 62-35.

The squad then played Clovis North High School at home Dec. 7, winning the game 50-35 and finishing undefeated in the tournament and winning the tournament championship. Iriafen finished with 28 points and 19 rebounds for the Wolverines.

Guard Kimiko Katzaroff ’21 attributed the girls’ success in the Brentwood Tournament to their great teamwork.

“Since the beginning of the season we have become a lot more comfortable playing together and we have all individually grown as well,” Katzaroff said. “In this tournament specifically, we have had great communication and we have been working together on offense and defense.”

The team will compete in the Sandra Meadows Classic in Texas from Dec. 26 to Dec. 28 and will play in the Desert Heat Classic from Jan. 2 to Jan. 4.
The squad’s first league match will be on the road against Notre Dame Academy High School on Jan. 7.

The team will play eight total league games this season. Semaan said the teams two upcoming tournaments are key for the team’s long-term success.

“The [Sandra Meadows Classic and Desert Heat Classic] are very competitive tournaments and we should play teams that we can beat who will prepare us better for league games and playoffs,” Semaan said. “We have definitely grown as a team and our goal is to definitely win league.”