Coach Latonia Pitts instructs sophomore Naomi Cohen, senior Brandy Riziki, freshmen Daisy Zhou and Vivian Conner, and senior Heidi Johnson during a timeout in the Jan. 18 homecoming game against Cristo Rey. (Photo by Jacqueline Chao)

Boys, girls basketball teams struggle with drop in participation

Country Day’s basketball program took a hit this season, with fallen participation on both teams.

The boys team has gone from 12 players last season to a record low of seven. 

The girls team’s loss was also substantial; its number of players decreased from 14 last season to eight.

According to athletic director Matt Vargo, a high number of graduates was a prime factor in the smaller rosters.

Five of last year’s boys and six of last year’s girls graduated. 

“I knew that the teams would take a hit,” Vargo said.

“There are just not as many basketball players on campus. In a small student body, one or two players make a big difference.”

Another factor is the lack of freshman players. According to Vargo, most of last year’s eighth-grade players left Country Day.

He added that this year’s ninth graders have participated in sports less than other freshmen have. 

As a result, this year’s boys team consists solely of sophomores and juniors.

Vargo said the small girls team, unlike the boys’, is not due to just the loss of seniors. 

“A couple girls decided not to play because they are focusing on other things, like school or volleyball,” Vargo said. 

He said this could be due to a general decrease in popularity of girls basketball throughout schools.

“Three schools we play dropped their girls basketball program this year,” Vargo said. “Over the years, club volleyball has pulled girls away from basketball.”

Junior Jewel Turner, who has played on the girls basketball team for the past two seasons, decided not to participate this season. She said her involvement in club volleyball is a big commitment, and as a result, she does not have the time to play basketball.

However, Vargo said one benefit to this year’s situation is none of the boys are graduating. 

Junior shooting guard Jackson Crawford agreed.

“Last year’s team improved over the years they played together,” Crawford said.

Crawford said the team is — in a way — starting over this season. The Cavaliers were 3-6 as of Jan. 8.

“We’re trying to win,” Crawford said. 

“But at the same time, this is a growing year for us. Even if we don’t add any players to the team next year, we will at least have a team of seven players, all with a year’s worth of experience together.” 

Point guard Heidi Johnson, one of two seniors on this season’s girls team that was 1-2 entering winter break, agreed with Crawford.

“We have a lot of new players,” Johnson said. “So right now we’re having to teach the fundamentals: rules, strategies, different plays and how to shoot and dribble. 

“In the past we’ve been able to start off the season working on more advanced plays.”

Girls coach Latonia Pitts agreed.

“We can only cover so much in our short practices,” Pitts said. “They also have to be willing to put in the time outside of our games and practices.

“It’s a season of growth for them and me.”

Crawford said the boys team is already improving because everyone is playing extensively in both games and practice. It helps that every player has attended most games, he added. 

“Nobody’s used to playing this much,” Crawford said. 

But Crawford, who often plays the whole game this season, said he is not complaining.

“It’s a fun challenge,” Crawford said. 

“I can play a lot more freely because I don’t have to worry about making mistakes. I know the coach isn’t going to pull me out of the game right away.”

Johnson said the small size of the girls team has caused difficulties, however. 

“It’s hard to push through to the end of the game when our opponents are able to constantly substitute,” Johnson said. 

“But we’ve been doing a pretty good job of sticking it out until the end.”

Pitts agreed, saying the girls’ stamina is “always being stretched.”

“We have one of the smallest teams in our league,” Pitts said. “(So) not having the numbers to substitute and get players the breaks they need is hard.” 

Boys coach David Ancrum agreed that the team’s small size has put them into “positions where they need to produce.” 

“They are learning as they go,” Ancrum said.

Sophomore guard Avinash Krishna, who is playing significantly more this season than he did last, said the increased playing time is a huge bonus.

“Last season, I mainly played at practice,” Krishna said. “But you need time in games to actually get better.

“Now everybody is taking on a much bigger role, and the new dynamic is taking time to adjust to.” 

Krishna said that thanks to the playing time, the team is doing far better now than it was at the beginning of the season.

However, according to Crawford, the team’s small size affects practices as well.

With only seven players, the team can’t scrimmage five-on-five. 

Crawford said the changes the team has faced this season have seriously affected its performance. 

“We’ve already lost more games this year than we did all last season,” Crawford said. “Coach Ancrum understands the situation. He was more demanding and had higher expectations for us last year.

“All of last year’s seniors had played for four years. Most of the players on the team now have only played for one or two years. Experience makes a big difference.” 

But Crawford said he is confident the team will continue to improve.

Senior guard Brandy Riziki, a first-time player on the girls team, agreed with Crawford.

“It’s awesome to see that we are improving together,” Riziki said. “(Some players) are building on previous knowledge, and others are beginners. 

By Anna Frankel

Originally published in the Jan. 15 edition of the Octagon.

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