New blood strengthens Samurai attack
Can an All-Far East soccer player and two-time All-Far East cross-country runner and a freshman pressed into volleyball setting duty transfer those skills to the basketball court?
That’s the roll of the dice that Matthew C. Perry girls coach April Kelley, in her third year at the helm, takes every year in her endless search for point guards to direct on-court traffic and set up plays.
Height and perimeter shooting have never been issues for Kelley in her term as coach; she has 6-foot-3 junior Ani Erhart and 5-11 sophomore Lebet Erhart as her center and forward, while junior Naomi Ziola, a three-year starter, spreads the floor with three-point accuracy.
Getting them the ball has been the issue. And Kelley thinks she may have found solutions in soccer/cross-country star Bobbi Hill, a sophomore, and freshman Angel Cadavos, along with Hill’s sophomore soccer teammate Sakura Fleming.
So far, it’s been working. After going 2-14 a season ago, the Samurai matched their entire win total of 2013-14 by going 2-2 in last weekend’s Western Japan Athletic Association tournament.
“Athletes from any sport who have that sports IQ, you can put them in a situation and they can figure it out and that’s what you want in an athlete,” Kelley said.
Finding them has been difficult, in a school with an enrollment of 145 – one of the smallest in DODDS Pacific – and 78 of them girls.
As a result, she’s had to search relentlessly for players to fill those maroon and white uniforms. Her first two seasons, she did find bodies, but they tended to not be as engaged or enthusiastic about playing as she had hoped.
With Hill, Fleming and Cadavos, it’s different. “We’re Perry,” Kelley said. “We appreciate that we have players from other sports to help out. We have to recruit athletes so we can be competitive.”
Hill scored 21 goals in helping the Samurai finish fifth in last year’s Far East Division II soccer tournament. “Her soccer skills can translate easily to basketball,” from feet to hands, Kelley said.
Cadavos could have crumbled under the pressure of inheriting the setting job, but experience she gained under pressure while helping the Samurai finish third in the D-II volleyball tournament is carrying over.
“She’s a Cadavos,” Kelley said, invoking bloodlines – Cadavos’ older brothers, Sam and Jon, have distinguished themselves for the last four years in tennis, basketball and soccer.
But more than their skills, the fact that Hill, Fleming and Cadavos are engaged and wanting to be a part of the team is helping the team develop bonds and unity, Ziola said.
“Last year, we had to beg for players to come out,” she said. “They weren’t as connected to the game, so the chemistry was kind of off. This year, the chemistry developed at the (WJAA) tournament. We know where we’re going to be. The passes are going to be there. That’s improved a lot over the first (four) games.”
While the youngsters may be new to varsity high school ball, they did play youth services ball, which gives them an edge, Ziola said.
“They definitely bring athleticism,” she said. “They know where to be, they listen, they don’t freak out, they play with the confidence of veterans. They know what they have to do and how to get it done. Definitely a huge boost from last season.”
“Whenever she plays, she reads the plays and players and what they’re going to do,” Lebet Erhart said of Hill. “Sakura is a smart player. She knows what to do on the court, she knows how to get around players.”
What got Hill interested in basketball?
“I wanted to try something different, a new challenge,” Hill said, adding that she’s adjusting well to her new role.
Cadavos confessed to being “pretty nervous” initially, first with adjusting to setting in volleyball and playing guard in basketball, but she feels “more comfortable” now.
So, too, does Ziola feel more at ease; she started her freshman season at point guard, but says she feels more relaxed as a finisher.
“If I’m given a job, I’ll adapt to it, but I’m more at ease at the ‘two,’” Ziola said.
Perry is not a team to be underestimated this season, Ziola said.
“Teams will look at our record last year and say they’re going to wipe us out,” she said. “Not this year. We all want to win. We have a good, well-rounded team and people who know how to play the game. Last year doesn’t matter. This is a new year.”