RV Christian girls and boys excelling on the hardwood

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Flying high in Empire small school basketball, Rincon Valley Christian’s girls and boys teams are aiming for league titles and deep runs in the section playoffs.

Rincon Valley Christian's Arianna Hanson. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat, 2010)

Coming off a North Coast Section Division 6 championship, the Eagles’ girls moved up a division and have only one loss. A seasoned squad that hasn’t been pushed in league play, Rincon Valley Christian plays larger schools in non-league games for the challenge needed to be ready for section playoff contests.

“We have a little more experience than we’ve had in the past. We want to advance as far as we can in the section and if we’re fortunate go onto the Nor Cal championships,” said Rincon Valley Christian girls’ coach Doug Crouse.

A North Central League II South title is the boys’ target, but the Eagles could reach even higher with a squad that locks down opponents on defense and scores enough to win.

“Sometimes we go through scoring droughts, but we usually hold our opponents under 40,” Said Eagles boys coach Darren Nelson. “We’re definitely still getting better.”

A trio of seniors leads the Eagles’ girls. Towering point guard Arianna Hanson scores 15 a game, averages 7 rebounds and nearly a pair of blocks.

“She’s a very smart player. A lot of our offense is designed around getting her the ball,” Crouse said.

Despite Hanson’s skills, Rincon Valley Christian is a balanced and deep team. Post players Hannah Dolan and Claire Bailey each pull down 9 rebounds a game and average 11 points apiece. Bailey is the Eagles best defender, typically in a zone defense that forces opponents to shoot over the Eagles.

The experience of winning a section title and having top players together several years is a decided advantage.

To test their talent, Rincon Valley Christian has played a tough non-league schedule with wins over larger schools including Maria Carrillo, Windsor, El Molino and San Rafael. The Eagles only loss was to St. Joseph Notre Dame of Alameda, the section’s top ranked Division 5 team.

Rincon Valley Christian — 19-1 overall, 8-0 in league play — isn’t far behind as the Eagles seek a fourth section title. Crouse said the team compares favorably with those squads, including the 1997 state championship team.

“We’re quick. Our strength is mostly defense,” Crouse said. “They haven’t really gotten rattled against good teams.”

Rincon Valley Christian T.J. Robert (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat, 2010)

First-year coach Darren Nelson has the Eagles boys headed toward the school’s third league title in five years and a likely section playoff bid. Rincon Valley Christian is 16-5 overall and 8-0 in league play.

Proving the adage that defense wins championships, Rincon Valley Christian has limited opponents overall to 44 points a game, lowering that average to 33 points in league contests. Committing to defense starts in practice.

“We practice hard. Every single day every player is trying to be the best player on the floor,” Nelson said.

On the scoring end, guard T.J. Robert leads with 15 points a game, equally comfortable taking deep shots or driving through traffic to the basket. Younger brother Garrett Robert also is a shooter averaging 10 points to go with 4 rebounds and 3 assists per contest.

Down low, the Eagles have Stephen Fisher going for 9 points and 9 rebounds a game. Most improved this year is Brenn Coyle, a 6 foot 7 center who also scores 9 a game and hauls down 11 rebounds an outing.

After losing a section semifinal last season, Rincon Valley Christian wants more this year. The Eagles won the section title in 1998.

“We constantly keep on our mind what the focus of the year is,” Nelson said.