Local hoops team competing in Mexicali

August 16, 2001|By JON HINSHAW, Sports Writer

Every few days they make the trek across the international border and are looked upon as outsiders.

They're hacked, bumped, pushed and even knocked to the floor with few fouls called in favor of the "outsiders."

Yet, amid the hard-fought contests, this group of teen-age girls walks away with smiles.

The Hoyas, as they're known in Mexicali in the 29th annual Torneo de Baloncesto Uninvitaver at the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California, are loving the challenge of playing a more physical game against older opponents.

Playing in the open division of the tournament, the Hoyas are 12 Imperial Valley high school players from Central Union, Southwest and Calexico. The open division is mainly players over age 18, but according to Hoyas coaches Enrique Cervantes and Larry Emory, the competition is just what the girls are seeking.

"It's worked out pretty good," said Cervantes, whose squad ranges in age from 15 to 17. "They're improving their aggressiveness, basketball fundamentals and the mental aspect of the game."


Added Emory: "At first they were a little scared but after the initial game, they realized it was the same game they've played before, no matter who or where they play. We knew the experience playing against older players that know more about the game would help them."

The squad has five players from Central — Stephanie Schuler, Janiece Manuel, Alejandra Vasquez, Angelica Asaeli and Johara Arambula; five players from Calexico — Christina Cervantes, Guadalupe Escobar, Carla Chavez, Ivonne Castro and Lizeth Lopez, and two from Southwest — Janette Hernandez and Erika Antunez.

Now in the second round of the tournament, which began in mid-June, the Hoyas are 2-2 and in sixth place with three games remaining. The squad must finish in the top four to move into the final round and a regional tournament in either Ensenada or Tijuana. A win in the regionals leads to a national tournament in Guadalajara.

"I think we have a good chance at finishing in the top four locally," said Emory, whose squad finished 6-4 and in sixth place in the first round to advance earlier. "Every time they step on the floor they think they can win. I believe they can do that and the way I know that is that they come to practice all the time."

Emory said while going to normal practices is not hard, the Hoyas' schedule is anything but normal. The team does its best to find a common meeting place and time, so practice ranges from any of six gyms around the Imperial Valley and from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

"They showed interest that they wanted to play," said Emory, an assistant coach for Central's varsity girls basketball program, which didn't have a summer league team this year. "They didn't know where to play so they asked us and rather than have the girls do nothing during the summer, we figured we'd take the girls somewhere to play."

Schuler, who will be 17 years old Sunday, is the oldest and most experienced player on the squad, with three years of varsity basketball. A three-point gunner for the Spartans, Schuler thinks the summer games are helping the players.

"It's really helping us become more aggressive," she said. "We really didn't play against any players that were aggressive here in the Valley, but against players from San Diego and Los Angeles we do. This league in Mexicali has really prepared us for them."

Added 16-year-old teammate Lopez, from Calexico High, "It gives us all more experience and we learn from every game we play. I've really enjoyed the competition and it's helped me improve my shooting."

In addition to the Hoyas' international contests, the squad has scrimmaged against local high school teams and will be competing this weekend in San Diego at the National Junior Basketball's San Diego Classic. Before the team goes, however, it will have its next game in Mexicali at 8 p.m. Friday.

"All this competition is going to make these girls stronger, smarter and faster," said Emory. "We're trying to build a better basketball player in each of them."

The Hoyas are continuing their efforts to help raise money to support their summer excursions. Those wishing to support the team should call 353-5453.

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