The strategy of Skyline women’s basketball head coach Chris Watters to schedule as tough a preseason slate as possible has paid off early in Coast Conference-North play.
With last Friday’s 70-64 overtime win over City College of San Francisco, the 15th-ranked team in the state, the Trojans (2-0 Coast North, 13-7 overall) went undefeated in the first week of conference play. They beat College of San Mateo 54-39 in the opener and are the early leaders in the Coast North standings.
“The last six years, the finish (in the Coast North standings) has been mostly San Francisco at No. 1, Chabot No. 2 and No. 3, us,” Watters said. “Between the three of us, it’s really balanced.”
Watters and the Trojans, who are currently ranked No. 9 in Northern California, can thank a non-league schedule chock full of some of the top teams in the state for enabling them to jump out of the gate quickly in conference play. Skyline went 3-2 against teams ranked in the top-15 in Northern California in November and December.
But it was a pair of December losses that had the Trojans thinking 2020 could be special. Two times Skyline faced off with a Mt. San Antonio College team that has won nine state titles since 2004, including three in row from 2016 to 2018.
But Skyline held its own, losing the first meeting by 10, 64-54 on Dec. 6 and by only four, 61-57, Dec. 30.
“Even if there are losses, they’re learning experiences,” Watters said. “Our philosophy is to go out and play the best competition we can find. … It let’s us know we’re at … but it also helps prepare [the players] not only for conference, but helps those girls who are going to play at the next level.”
This season, Watters has a slew of players who can play at the next level, led by 6-foot sophomore center Olga Fa’asolo (Notre Dame-Belmont), who is averaging a double-double with a team-leading 14.8 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
“She’s been huge for us,” Watters said of Fa’asolo, who was a first-team all-conference performer last season. “I definitely think she is playing some of the best basketball I’ve ever seen her play. … She is extremely unselfish. She hasn’t been forcing shots. She’s allowed her teammates to step up. We’ve had some really big games from a number of girls and she has facilitated that.”
Giving the Trojans a potent 1-2 punch in the post is 5-10 freshman forward Nicole Brunicardi (Burlingame). She gives Skyline a second player averaging a double-double on the season, with 11.7 points per game, while shooting 48% from the field. She also pulls down 10.1 rebounds per game. When she is paired with Fa’asolo, it gives the Trojans a significant advantage in the front court.
“When teams try to over help on Olga, Nicole has really punished them finishing around the basket. … At our level, it’s hard to guard two post players who can score,” Watters said. “Nicole has great hands, she finishes well around the basket and she’s a good passer. She’s really turning herself into a complete player.”
Jalene Parangan (Aragon), a 5-5 freshman guard, is tasked with guarding the opposition’s best scorer, but she also has shored up the offense with her 10.5 points per game. Emilia Dougherty (Notre Dame-Belmont), a 5-7 freshman, is moving from shooting guard to the point and continues to improve, all while averaging 7.5 points and 3.1 assists per game.
“We’ve asked her to play point guard, which is a position she is not entirely comfortable with,” Watters said. “But she’s been huge for our team in controlling the pace. Against City, she hit some huge shots. She hit a big 3-pointer in overtime that gave us the lead right away.
“Dougherty is a clutch performer.”
Watters has also been impressed with the play of sophomore Michala O’Donoghue (Burlingame) and freshman Ani Uikilifi (Capuchino), who Watters refers to as “glue players.”
“O’Donoghue has probably been our best 3-point shooter and Uikilifi is someone who is just good at everything,” Watters said. “Teams need players like those two. … They do an excellent job at their role. You can be a great player in your role and that makes you great for your team.”
The Trojans will have another big test tonight when they host Chabot-Hayward at 7 p.m. The Gladiators won the 2015 state title and are ranked No. 4 in Northern California and are tied for No. 7 in the state. So while it’s another big game in a season of big games, the Trojans are ready for the challenge.
“Good teams are supposed to win at home,” Watters said. “As long as we have time to prepare, I don’t think it matters when (we play the top conference teams).”
The College of San Mateo women, who are coming off a 59-53 win over Ohlone last Friday, will also be back in action when the Bulldogs go on the road against CCSF for their only game this week. They’ll return to the court a week from Friday when they host Las Positas-Livermore.
On the men’s side, all three county teams will play two games this week. Skyline (1-1, 8-7) will host Chabot at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Ohlone at 7 p.m. Friday. CSM (1-1, 7-9) will be at San Francisco for a 7 p.m. start Wednesday before returning home and serving as the visiting team when the Bulldogs play Cañada, as the Colts’ gym construction continues.
Cañada (0-2, 2-12) will open the week by hosting Las Positas at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the CSM gym.