Girls Basketball Enters Winter Break with League Championship in Sight

The 2018-19 SPHS girls basketball team, from left: Kayla Zhang, Elaine Yang, Flannery Clark, Alyssa Chan, Allysan Tse, Emily Newhall, head coach Cody Masden, Megan Yee, Charlize Kruzic, and Sydney Sakamoto. Missing Lauren Kafkaloff. Photo by Harry Yadav

On Dec. 5, the South Pas High varsity girls basketball team will take the floor at San Marino High School in a 7 p.m. tipoff to commence Rio Hondo League play. It will be a hostile environment, as San Marino is every year for Tigers athletics programs. Battle-tested by a challenging slate of non-league away games, South Pasadena will be heavily favored to take down the Titans on the road, where they haven’t lost since 2012. However, in the intervening weeks, the Tigers have to improve their chemistry on the court if they have any hopes of reaching their potential and achieving their goal of a league championship.

At 2-7 entering this week’s play, the Tigers had an identical record through nine games to a year ago, when they finished 7-3 in league and reached the second round of the CIF championships. That’s one reason head coach Cody Masden, a 2009 graduate of SPHS, isn’t discouraged by his squad’s slow start.

“Our goal every year is a league championship, and this year I think we have the talent to do it,” Masden said earlier this week. “Unfortunately, some of our main pieces weren’t able to join us until fall sports ended, so we’re still trying to fit together on and off the court. We always schedule really tough non-league games so our players are prepared for league, and a few of the losses easily could have gone our way.”

The Tigers have four captains this year: seniors Flannery Clark, Lauren Kafkaloff, and Kayla Zhang, and junior Megan Yee. Clark is the team’s vocal leader and primary ball handler and Kafkaloff is the center point of the offense; everything runs through her. Masden says the idea is to establish Kafkaloff as a scoring threat in the painted area early in ballgames so as to force defenses to collapse and leave other Tigers open for shots.

Joining Clark, Zhang and Yee on the perimeter to knock down those shots are juniors Charlize Kruzic and Emily Newhall. Though the team has struggled from the field through the early part of the season, especially from beyond the 3-point line, South Pas is a highly skilled group with the ability to outshoot most of the Rio Hondo League. The third-year coach knows the girls will break out of their shooting slump, the only question is when.

“I really think our shooting will improve when our chemistry improves,” Masden said. “We’ve got to figure each other out, understand our roles out there on the court.”

That task has been made tougher by a recent injury to one of the Tigers’ emerging stars, freshman Allysan Tse, who scored 18 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and notched 2 steals in her last game before sustaining a fracture in her hand in that same game two weeks ago. She’s expected to return by the end of the month.

“Allysan is a cerebral basketball player and an all-around athlete. She’s probably a scholarship worthy swimmer, she’s that good. And on the basketball court, she’s extremely skilled,” Masden said.

To build the desired chemistry, Masden has changed the typical practice routine in recent weeks. Last month, for example, the team went on a hike on the Echo Mountain trail at the top of Lake Avenue in Altadena. Sometime in the next few weeks, the team will hold a workout at the beach.

“This is always a fun time of year,” the coach said. “The best part is we get so much practice time, so we can have unconventional practices. All the kids and their families sacrifice a lot during this time. 100 percent of our team is there. Everybody is really committing to the grind.”

Right now, Masden said, the team’s main competition in league will be the defending champions, La Cañada. According to Masden, the Spartans are the gold standard for fundamentals and discipline.

“We’re working on disciplining ourselves,” he said. “In La Cañada, they start basketball from such a young age that they have great fundamentals, and they are always very disciplined.”

“Right now, we’re missing the intangibles,” the coach continued. “Hopefully, some of the tough losses help to build resolve. We’re focusing on what we are learning from each game, and what we are finding out now that we will use later in league. Always playing away, with minimal fans, in hostile environments, I think will only help us down the road.”