The Dioli sisters, Bella and Alli, had never played as part of an official team together.
That changed Saturday night when the Half Moon Bay Cougars opened the 2019-20 girls’ basketball season. And the Dioli girls — the Daily Journal Athletes of the Week — sure did make their first game together a good one.
Trailing by as many as 16 points in the first half, then down by 8 to start the fourth quarter, Half Moon Bay turned to the run-and-gun to go on a 15-0 spree to stun undermanned Menlo-Atherton with a 63-53 victory.
“That was actually more of a group effort,” Half Moon Bay head coach Antonio Veloso said of the fourth-quarter run. “We were finally able to rotate and rebound, and then we were able to run.”
Both Dioli sisters figured into the win though. Alli Dioli, making her first varsity start as a freshman, scored a team-high 21 points, while adding five rebounds and four assists. Senior forward Bella Dioli was the catalyst of the comeback by dominating the boards, totaling 10 rebounds for the game, including four in the fourth quarter, with the Cougars outscoring the Bears 22-4 over the final eight minutes.
“If you don’t get that rebound, you can’t run,” Veloso said. “So it’s tough. So by her being able to be aggressive … it was really nice.”
With Half Moon Bay closing the deficit to 49-48 on a 3-pointer by sophomore Abby Kennedy midway through the fourth quarter, Bella Dioli followed by powering to the hoop for the go-ahead bucket.
The 5-8 senior forward wasn’t aware her shot had given the Cougars the lead. But when the crowd at Half Moon Bay’s home court erupted as loudly as they had all night, she glanced up at the scoreboard and realized the Cougars were in front for the first time since early in the first quarter.
“Everybody just kind of cheered,” Bella Dioli said, “and I didn’t really realize until I looked up at the scoreboard and saw that we were up.”
Kennedy followed with another 3 en route to totaling 17 points. And Alli Dioli finished off the night by hitting two free throws to put her over the 20-point plateau.
One of four freshmen on Half Moon Bay’s varsity roster, Alli Dioli is one of the cornerstone players of the new youth movement on the Coastside. In fact, Bella Dioli is the only senior on a roster that also includes four juniors and two sophomores.
“I think we’re definitely talented enough,” Alli Dioli said of the Cougars’ potential as a playoff contender. “We’re also just super young, so it’s about just staying mentally tough. … But I think we have a good chance of making it there.”
The Cougars have qualified for the Central Coast Section playoffs in each of the past seven years, including in 2016-17 when they won the CCS Division IV championship, the first section crown in program history.
That was a big year for the Dioli sisters as well, starting specifically with the eldest, Katherine Dioli, who graduated in 2018 and is now a student at UC Davis. Katherine Dioli was a junior guard that season, while Bella Dioli played the regular season on the junior-varsity team as a freshman.
Bella Dioli, however, got called up to the varsity squad for the postseason. And while she didn’t see any playing time, it was valuable experience to be one the sideline as then-seniors Addison Walling and Ally Longaker fronted the historic playoff run.
“Winning the CCS championship and seeing all the people from Half Moon Bay coming to support us … it was just a huge impact on the community that I didn’t think we could have,” Bella Dioli said.
One of those fans in attendance through the playoff was Alli Dioli, who also caught Cougar fever that season.
“I loved watching those games,” Alli Dioli said, “and I was there for the CCS (championship) game, and it was just a really good environment.”
That 2016-17 team started three years prior as relatively young group, including four freshmen, just like this season.
“With the team that we have this year, I was getting really excited with all the talent we have … especially having so much younger talent on the team,” Bella Dioli said. “But I am excited for the challenge.”