California’s Sierra Canyon eyes championship, undefeated season

Amanda Olinger. (scanyonsports photo)
Amanda Olinger. (scanyonsports photo) /

Big dreams for the Trailblazers.

It was four years ago when the Sierra Canyon High School girls basketball team last won a championship.

During the 2014-15 season, they were both California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section champions as well as CA state champs. That was when the duo of Cheyanne Wallace and Kennedy Burke patrolled the paint. They both have since gone on to have solid college careers at LMU/USC and UCLA, respectively.

But this season, the Trailblazers are on the verge of something special. With last Friday night’s win over Bishop Montgomery, Sierra Canyon continued their undefeated season at 29-0, and punched their ticket to the championship game of the CIF Southern Section’s prestigious Open Division.

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Alicia Komaki has been the head coach at Sierra Canyon since 2012, and guided the Trailblazers to three consecutive championships in her first three years as coach. This year, however, has been quite special and Komaki noticed it right away at the very beginning of the season.

“I think the key is that we’ve been preaching early that we want to be a championship team. We do that every year, that’s always the goal is to win a championship, but I think more than anything, this team has bought in from day one and they haven’t let it go,” Komaki told High Post Hoops. “Every day they come to practice, that’s what they work for. Every game they don’t take a day off, it doesn’t matter if we’re playing a team that’s 0-20 or a team that’s 20-0. They just don’t take days off, that’s what’s most impressive about them.”

A huge part of Sierra Canyon’s success this season has been the depth of their roster. For the most part, this has been a group that has grown and developed together over time. This season is almost like a culmination of that growth.

One of the challenges that comes with having such a talented team is getting everyone to buy into the system and understand when to pick and choose their spots. It’s something that Komaki made sure to address at the beginning of the season, and something she’s continued to preach to her team all year long.

“I think in a lot of different ways they’ve all been ready to kind of take the big stage, but they’re all really big team players. It’s really hard when you have that much talent on a team to make them understand that being unselfish is going to be the key to success because everybody is good enough,” Komaki said. “They’ve really bought in to that. Every single night somebody different leads us in scoring. I think the biggest thing is that they trust each other and believe in each other.”

One of the key players in the team’s success thus far is starting point guard Ashley Chevalier. A junior this season, Chevalier has really stepped up and emerged as the team’s floor leader and extension of the coach on the court.

She’s an elite playmaker with great court vision, but she’s able to go out there and put points on the board if need be. She’s able to get into the lane and attack the rim as well as step out and shoot from distance.

“I’m a distributor, I get my teammates shots. I do what I have to do. But when I need to, I can score,” Chevalier told High Post Hoops. “I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t really consider cause my point average might not say that, but I can do what I got to do when I need to do it.”

Chevalier just recently received an offer from the University of Texas and she’ll play AAU with Under Armour’s West Coast Elite program. She’ll most likely continue to draw additional Division 1 interest over the summer as she heads into her senior year. When it comes time for her to choose a school, she doesn’t want to take the easy out.

Ashley Chevalier. (scanyonsports photo)
Ashley Chevalier. (scanyonsports photo) /

“I want to go somewhere where the conference is tough,” Chevalier said. “I don’t want to go somewhere where I’m going to just step right in and be a starter, I want to be pushed, I want to be challenged. I want to go somewhere where I have to earn my spot, earn my due.”

This season, Chevalier has formed a deadly backcourt along with fellow junior Vanessa De Jesus. The two of them lead Sierra Canyon’s potent offense and cause havoc for opposing defenses. They both can score from anywhere on the court at any given moment.

It’s terrifying for opposing backcourts to see either of them flying down the court and leading the fast break. Both are capable of going all the way to rim and finishing the play or dishing it off to an open teammate as the defense collapses.

“You have to guard us 1-5, we have shooters at every spot, we have someone who could score at every spot, and not everybody has that,” Chevalier said. “Not everybody has a defense that can take care of us. Me and Vanessa, we’re a nightmare in the backcourt and there’s not a lot of people who could stop us.”

While Sierra Canyon boasts a great offense, they are strong on the defense end of the court as well. They have solid perimeter defenders, but the strength of their defense lies with senior center Amanda Olinger.

She is often the last line of defense and team’s shot blocker in the paint. While defense is her strong suit, she can score as well. She hit the go-ahead layup off a pass from Chevalier in the win over Bishop Montgomery and she has a solid outside shot.

Olinger is committed to the University of San Diego and she’s looking to use this summer as a stepping stone to get ready for Division 1 college basketball.

“My role is mainly defense. I focus mostly on being the last defender in help and being ready to help if I need to, get a rebound, and get my shots when I have them,” Olinger told High Post Hoops. “I feel like this summer is going to be big for me in getting better and fine tuning some things. But I think that I’m just going to keep working hard and see what they need me to do and find my place on that team.”

Olinger arrived at Sierra Canyon as a freshman a year after they won their last championship. Chevalier arrived the following year and the team has come a long way to get to where they are now.

“I feel like this year, we just came out focused. We just knew that from the start we wanted to win a championship and we had the mindset all year that we wanted to win games,” Olinger said. “If we weren’t winning games, then it wasn’t enough for us. We just play hard every game and try to be consistent and it’s working well for us.”

Before this season began, Windward High School, coached by Vanessa Nygaard who is a disciple of the legendary Tara VanDerveer, and led by Charisma Osborne who is arguably the best player in the state, was considered the top girls basketball team in California.

But as the season progressed, and Sierra Canyon continued to rack up the wins, things started to change. It all came to a head on Jan. 15 when the two teams met for the first time this season. Sierra Canyon walked into Windward and came away with a 66-57 win, solidifying their spot as the top team in CA.

The two teams have developed a rivalry over the years, and it’s only fitting that they will meet in the Open Division championship game next Saturday. A victory would be especially sweet for Olinger in particular as she finishes up her high school career.

“Just the fact that it’s Windward is so big for me personally since I’ve played them so many times over the years,” Olinger said. “I’ve only beat them once. For me it’s going to be everything I’ve got and everything we’ve got. We want it so bad and I think we’ll be ready for sure after a whole week of practice.”

The entire season has been a build up to this moment. Ultimately, should Sierra Canyon fall short, the success up to this point would all be for naught.

“Our biggest goal is to win a championship. If we would have lost, it wouldn’t have mattered if we were undefeated, it wouldn’t have mattered if we were ranked in the country,” Komaki said. “All that stuff doesn’t matter unless we bring it home, and that’s what our focus is on.”

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