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CHS girls’ basketball’s sweet season ends in second round of playoffs — podcast

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

On Wednesday night, the Claremont High School girls’ varsity basketball team’s postseason fairytale came to a conclusion when Cerritos High School defeated the Pack, 46-52, at home in the second round of the CIF Division 3AA championship tournament.

On February 12, the team traveled to Garden Grove defeating Santiago High School in the first round of the tournament. The Cavaliers were on Claremont’s heels throughout four quarters but the Wolfpack put the game away, 51-41.

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Though Wednesday’s loss concluded the Wolfpack’s 2021-2022 season, the team saw a remarkable renaissance in a matter of months under new head coach Chilavo Anderson.

Coach Anderson stepped up from assistant to replace outgoing head coach Michael James in December about seven games into this season. Coach Anderson has been with the program for the last four years and said it wasn’t a huge transition going from assistant to head coach, especially given the core group of players he’s worked with.

“Some people might be surprised with how successful we are this year. I know in our group, we’re not surprised at all, this is what we expected,” coach Anderson said.

The Wolfpack ended this season with a 21-9 overall record and a 8-2 in Palomares League, which earned the team a second-place finish in the league. During the preseason, the Pack won the Edison Tournament, a first for the team

“It was a battle of four games on the road all the way down to Huntington Beach and we beat some pretty good teams,” coach Anderson said. “I think it was a good start to the season as well. After that, we really started playing with some confidence.”

In two months coach Anderson has transformed the program into a powerhouse. The coach has raised the team’s standards to new heights and showed the players they can play confident and competitive basketball while still having fun.

“It was a journey, a process but I’m proud at the point where we are because it’s been a lot of four years of hard work,” he said.

During the 2018-2019 season, the girls placed fourth in the Palomares League with a 4-6 record. The following season, they slid down a place and finished fifth with a 2-8 record.

COVID-19 slashed the 2020-2021 season in half and the team managed to climb back up to fourth in league. The girls even hosted a first-round playoff game against San Dimas as part of the 2021 CIF-SS girls basketball Division 3A championships but lost, 49-56. Last season, the team finished with a 10-9 overall record and a 5-5 league one.

“That San Dimas loss was devastating, I remember being in the locker room crying my eyes out,” said senior forward Halle McDaniel. “But I think this year we’re even hungrier for that win because of what happened last year.”

Coach Anderson credited the team and his six seniors for the program’s turnaround, including the two that were present during Tuesday’s interview: center Sydney Sparks and McDaniel.

“I think once they stepped in, [the team] got some different culture and gained some pride and a little bit of respect,” coach Anderson said. “That expectation and holding each other accountable in coming in and putting in that additional work has been the huge payoff with…seeing the changes in terms of wins, losses and all of that.”

In the players’ eyes, the switch in coaching staff and Anderson himself, is who they credit for the program’s stellar turnaround.

“I think Anderson is being a little modest, he definitely does most of the work,” Sparks said.

“Every time we have a new opponent, he’s like ‘here’s six films of them, here’s exactly what they do, their players do, their stats.’ He knows everything about everybody we play and he doesn’t give himself enough credit for that…. He is the backbone of the team.”

They all agreed it has been a group effort, from the seniors stepping up as leaders and the younger girls getting up to speed that has put the program back on the map.

“It’s taken a lot and like I said it’s been a huge buy-in from the players,” Anderson said on Tuesday. “We’ve had some underclassmen…that have come in and been on board with the whole process and when you have that group of senior leadership and then you get those underclassmen that can…add to that, that’s what builds not only a strong team this year, but a program [for the long run] ….It’s just all the extra work and the willingness that the players are willing to put in.”

Whether they won or lost on Wednesday, Anderson said this season has been a success. The team—especially the graduating seniors—have given it their all and it would have been a testament to the girls hard work if they hung a CIF winners banner up in the gym.

“I think our goal all along [this season] wasn’t to get to the playoffs, it was to win in the playoffs,” he said.

Unfortunately, the girls are going to have to try their luck at a playoff run next year. While six seniors, including Sparks and McDaniel, will graduate, the team has the talent to compete both in league and Division 3AA for years to come.

“Looking into next year, there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re that team to beat,” coach Anderson said. “Speaking to the other coaches and knowing some of our young talent that’s here and how the program’s changing, there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re that team to beat next year.”

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