Benefield: Santa Rosa girls basketball looks to reload

Santa Rosa High School girls basketball head coach Jim Gomes directs his team during practice on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

Santa Rosa High School girls basketball head coach Jim Gomes directs his team during practice on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014.
(Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

By KERRY BENEFIELD

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It’s hard to fathom the Santa Rosa High girls basketball team as underdogs. With five players standing 6 feet or taller, returning first-team All-Empire center Devin Murray and scoring threat Kylie Oden, who won third-team All-Empire honors last season, many teams in the NBL would kill for such riches.

But underdogs they are. The anticipated team to beat this season is crosstown hoops rival Cardinal Newman.

And Panthers sophomore sensation Emily Codding is OK with that.

“We are going to come in 100 percent unexpectedly,” she said.

But this is Santa Rosa girls basketball — so Codding still expects to win.

Still, unexpected might be the best way to describe these new Panthers. Because despite returning the Murray-Oden-Codding triple threat, they are decidedly new.

These Panthers have a new coach: longtime junior varsity coach Jim Gomes, who replaced Steve Chisholm on the eve of the season. And they don’t have Morgan Bertsch and Katy Daly — the most potent inside-outside tandem seen in girls basketball in ages.

Under Chisholm, the Panthers went 132-73 and 72-26 in league, including a run of 60-10 in the past five seasons.

It’s no shame in admitting the Bertsch-Daly combination will be missed. The pair was named co-All-Empire players of the year last season and provided years of excitement and wins for the Panthers. They also pumped in the numbers:

Daly’s 9.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 4.7 steals per game and Bertsch’s 17. 3 points per game, 10.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists in their senior seasons.

“We are going to be a different ballclub without Katy Daly and Morgan Bertsch,” Gomes said. “We have some holes to fill.”

Oden, a senior co-captain with Murray and senior Libby Paternoster, agreed.

“I think the main difference this year is a lot of us have to step up in ways that we didn’t have to last year,” she said.

Oden is second on the team with 9.2 points per game and third in rebounds with 4.8 going into Thursday night’s game against College Park High in Pleasant Hill.

So far, the biggest hole was left by playmaker Daly.

Santa Rosa has an impressive array of height and strength in the post positions, but getting the ball to the heart of the lineup will be the Panthers’ biggest challenge.

“We are going to change our offense a little bit so it’s not so focused on the point guard,” Gomes said.

The Panthers will run a motion offense that relies less on a playmaking point guard and more on athletic post players. Time and again at practice this week, Gomes urged his players to move aggressively toward the hoop.

“I’m giving you full range to move and be an offensive player,” he told his players. “There is no way you can be on the floor and not be an offensive player.”

In preseason, Gomes has cycled through players in the point guard position, often leaving much of the ball-handling duties to an unlikely (on paper) candidate: Codding.

But Codding, a 6-foot sophomore, is fit, skilled and quick. She can also sink threes from NBA range. In her temporary position, Codding was averaging 4.6 points per game and 7.4 rebounds going into Thursday night’s game. She also is leading the team in assists with 4.2 per game.

“When you step into that (point guard) role, you definitely have to feel comfortable with yourself dribbling and not freak out,” she said. “That is the one thing I feel I have gotten a lot better with.”

But the Panthers will use their tools, and Codding, to better advantage when sophomore guard Sara Howard is reactivated after the first of the year and takes over point guard duties.

“I saw a huge, huge progression over the summer,” Murray said of Howard. “She’s going to kill it.”

Murray, who Gomes credited with working hard in the offseason to become a more complete player, will be called on to do more underneath without her longtime playmate Bertsch.

“I have thought about that since the last game last season,” she said. “It’s terrifying. At the same time, it’s what I’m preparing for.”

Murray, the tallest among a tall team of Panthers at 6 feet, 2 inches, has made her presence known in the early stages of the season.

Murray leads the team in scoring and rebounds with 16.6 points and 8.2 rebounds per game going into Thursday’s contest.

Gomes knows his roster is loaded with athletes but he also knows the Panthers are redefining themselves this season.

“Me, being a brand new coach, we are still learning,” he said. “We are a team in progress.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com and on Twitter @benefield