Using balance most teams only dream of, the Lady Blue Devils have one final hoops tune-up Wednesday night at powerful Brookside Christian before heading into Delta Valley Conference play.
As defending league champions, all DVC eyes will be on the Davis High girls, who now sit at 10-5.
“I strongly feel this team can contend for another title,” says third-year Devil varsity coach Karen Foster. “We have key returners … and a complement of new players.”
In going 23-5 a year ago, DHS posted a 9-1 conference mark and beat Napa in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs before losing at Kennedy.
Davis hosts Elk Grove (10-7) in Friday’s DVC opener for both squads.
The locals — led by forward/center Emma Stenz — press, pass and penetrate with a host of different looks.
Junior Stenz, at 6-feet with a daunting wingspan, is averaging 13.2 points per game while collecting almost 10 rebounds an outing.
“She’s our key rebounder … plays strong in the post and can also hit from outside,” Foster says of her third-year starter.
But there’s plenty of help, too — and that depth is what makes the Lady Blue Devils the odds-on favorites to repeat.
Meanwhile, DHS guard Anna Belenis is content to set things up for her teammates. Her 4.5 assists and two steals per game have been augmented by 3.5 rebounds a night.
Sophie Seng (6 ppg, 6.1 boards), Rachael Allison (7.1 ppg) and Kelly Goedde-Matthews are, like Belenis, sophomores who play a relentless style.
“Anna and Kelly are the point-guard duo,” Foster explains. “Both have great court leadership, always looking for their teammates, both are great distributors.”
Juniors Katie Grahn, Caitlin Mazzoleni and Sarah Bloise have combined for an evenly distributed 15 rebounds a game with some firepower on the offense end.
Swingman Mazzoleni is averaging 8.7 ppg, play-anywhere Grahn has a 7.9-point average and is the team leader in steals. Bloise is an able defender who knocks down 5.1 points and corrals 5.3 rebounds each time out.
La’Rell Cato — with sharpshooter Ariane Rusanganwa are the only seniors on the 12-girl roster — “is a beast inside,” according to Foster. “Very hard to guard, rebounds well … she gives us a strong presence in the paint, something Davis hasn’t had since Krista Prado-Matthews (Class of 2005).”
Foster says varsity newcomers Seng, Alaina King and Bloise “all come off the bench and absolutely make a difference” while Jamie Bautista and Rusanganwa are “multi-purpose players who do whatever is asked of them.”
This Devil team has chemistry — 12 players rowing in the same direction. DHS can play inside, shoot and presses until opponents cry uncle.
Despite the loss to graduation of DVC Player of the Year Ashleigh Vandenbrink and hard-charging Tori Powell, there is no rebuilding at The Cage.
“I would say the biggest — and most important — attribute to this team is that we all get along and value each other and do many things together,” Foster adds. “This makes us tight and we have each other’s back from every coach to every player.”
Here’s a look at the five other DVC teams:
Elk Grove — The Thundering Herd has served notice.
After going 9-18 last season (2-8 in DVC), Elk Grove is up and running thanks to sophomore guard Madison Wong (16.7 ppg) and freshman guard/forward Mira Schulman, who is averaging 13.1 points with 5.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.5 steals a night.
With a roster featuring no one taller than 5-foot-9, The Herd nonetheless hits the boards hard (five players average 4.5 or more caroms) and feature senior leadership in Naomi Alexander and Tierra Leisure.
Franklin (11-6) — The Wildcats have a stocked lineup with senior forward Elizabeth Evagelista doing most of the inside duty.
The 5-8 senior has a 14.4-point average and grabs 10 rebounds each start.
Swingman Sabrina Wu (7.3 ppg, three assists and three steals) and forward Ellie Hong (8.1 ppg, 5.7 rebounds) join guard Jordan Baker-Tealer as the nucleus of the starting corps. All are seniors.
Franklin has been idle since a 55-34 loss to Pleasant Grove on Jan. 8 and is coming off of a disappointing 12-14 season.
Grant (8-7) — One of the squads that Foster believes will be a DVC-title contender, the Pacers were 17-11 last season and won a first-round playoff game before bowing out to powerful Sacramento (which lost the state championship game to St. Mary’s of Stockton).
Captain Raynell Lynn is a 6-1 center who is averaging 15.1 ppg and eight boards.
Shontell Elliott and Autumn Jones add height to the Grant attack as coach David Kendrick carries only nine players.
For comparative-score fans, Grant lost to Brookside Christian, 77-32, Davis’ Wednesday opponent.
Laguna Creek (3-8) — The Cardinals’ struggles continue.
After a 3-19 campaign in 2012-13, Laguna Creek is having a tough time scoring this winter (averaging 39 ppg).
Of its three wins, two are against Valley and one is over Johnson (teams that combine for a 3-19 mark).
Freshman point guard Airahsel Chavez-Douglas has been a breath of fresh air. She’s scoring at a 9.3 clip.
But it appears the Cards are susceptible to pressure.
Once in the attack zone, LCHS turns to center Nikki Douglas (8.4 ppg and 8.8 rebounds) and shooting guard Brandie Jackson (7.8 ppg and 4.2 boards).
Monterey Trail (8-8) — Brilliant Qiana Levy has graduated so the burden falls on forward Jasmine Redmon and guard Tiara Webb.
Both can get the job done.
The physical Redmon is putting in 15 points a night, collecting her share of rebounds (3.6) while dishing out 4.4 assists and making 3.4 steals.
Webb is scoring in double figures (10.5) and distributes well (4.3 assists) while playing tough defense (3.6 steals a game).
Six-foot Kamrynn Williams and 6-1 Alex Holt cause problems for opponents inside.
The Mustangs were 20-9 and won a first-round playoff game last year. The Trail and the Devils each won on the other’s home court last season.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.