Last July, Lady Blue Devil Karen Foster surveyed her basketball landscape, seeing young players wherever she looked.
In the 2011-12 season, Davis High saw two ninth-graders — Emma Stenz and Caitlin Mazzoleni — evolve into front-line starters.
Another 10 or so freshmen then joined the program between that so-so (10-16) campaign and the summer, and Foster hinted that this winter’s squad might again see yearlings in the fold.
Little did Devil Nation know that it would have two ninth-graders not only make the team, but that the pair — Rachael Allison and Anna Belenis — would be in the starting lineup from the first game on.
Mix in veterans like Ashleigh Vandenbrink, Tori Powell and Kylie Drexel, and it’s no wonder that DHS sits at 17-4, smack-dab in contention for a Delta Valley Conference crown at 4-1 in league play.
Foster is amazed by, no, make that pleased with and proud of her two newcomers …
“Their talent levels are that of three-year varsity players,” the second-year varsity mentor insists. “They have worked extremely hard … both players are dedicated and put in the work required to be on a competitive D-I team.”
Belenis is an enabler at point guard. Allison is a forward who can go with the ball. Both come by their athleticism honestly, having ties to Devil basketball programs of the past.
Anna’s grandfather George was a backcourt star for Davis, and both of Rachael’s siblings — David and Nikol — were key ingredients of former Blue Devil playoff teams.
In fact, Allison’s sister was a motivating factor — and longtime mentor — in Rachael’s quick attainment of varsity status.
Nikol, a 2008 DHS graduate and four-year starter, is in her senior season at Cal Poly. The elder Allison has battled through back problems to finally experience a relatively healthy season.
“She’s really helped me in so many ways,” Rachael says of Nikol. “She’s the reason I worked so hard to get to varsity. She started as a freshman and I wanted to do the same.”
Mission accomplished. During what must have been enthusiastic driveway games, big sister clearly worked with little sis on how to bang …
“Rachael is very aggressive (at both ends of the court),” Foster explains. “She has a picture-perfect jump shot and great 3-point range. She is extremely quick and can … drive and finish at the hoop.”
More than a dozen times this year, an Allison basket also has been accompanied by a free-throw opportunity.
Foster calls point guard Belenis her Energizer Bunny, adding:
“She plays the hardest position in basketball, (making) all the decisions on offense. She gets the team into sets quickly and executes. She moves the ball up the court at a high rate of speed, with pinpoint accuracy.”
Belenis averages more than four assists a game. She rarely shoots (1.5 ppg), but is reliable in breaking the press (less than two turnovers a game) and sees the big picture better than most guards with several years’ experience.
Belenis and Allison have repeatedly dazzled fans with their veteran-like passing and, as the DVC schedule begins its home stretch, both are expected to raise their levels of play even higher.
How are they handling the pressure?
“I was a little scared at first,” Belenis explains. “A lot of (teammates and opponents) are really old and pretty big. It was a little intimidating, but I’ve gotten used to it.”
Belenis and Allison said they’ve become more physical in their play and both think DHS has a legitimate shot at winning league. (The Lady Devils are a game behind Monterey Trail.) If not a pennant, Davis certainly can land a playoff berth, they believe.
“We can win it. We have to be focused in practice,” Allison says, admitting that practices have gotten more serious as the season has progressed. “We have all the talent.”
Allison, who averages just shy of five points a night, has a game that almost mirrors the style of veteran forward Vandenbrink. The 5-foot-9 Allison contributes with rebounds (three per contest), assists and steals.
A Harper Junior High student, Allison tries to relax outside of basketball by playing guitar (“I’m not great, but I enjoy it”) and reading.
“Both girls are tremendously poised and mature,” Foster continues. “I had no doubt that they could handle all that entails being on a varsity team. Not one of their teammates questions their ability or why they’re starting — simply they make this team better, having earned their spots.”
Belenis is a former swimming, soccer and field hockey standout. She also loves to surf and is a leadership student at Emerson Junior High.
She credits neighbor (and former DHS water polo star) Max Reilly with getting her interested in basketball at the tender age of 3, and a host of others for being strong influences:
“Playing with (Max) and his dad really made me love the game. Then when I was in junior high, it was Tori Powell. She helped coach our school team. She was amazing and such a great role model. Now it’s our whole team — coaches and players. They’ve been so helpful and I have learned so much from them.”
Now it’s the freshmen’s turn to school the rest of the league.
Notes: Anna is the daughter of Alice and Jim Belenis. She has an older sister Haley, 18, and a 10-year-old brother Matthew. Rachael’s parents are Deborah and Craig Allison. … Belenis and Allison are considering playing a spring sport, but currently are focused on the run to the playoffs. … Youth dominates the Lady Blue Devils. Even though there is no freshman team this winter, DHS has nine ninth-graders on junior varsity, in addition to the Dandy Duo on the Mother Ship.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.