Warriors pack a 1-2 punch | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Warriors pack a 1-2 punch

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune

There is no way that returning Whittell High girls’ basketball players can forget what happened on Feb. 20, 2009. They want to learn from it and use it for inspiration during the 2000-’10 season.

Only a half away from an unexpected berth in the state tournament, the Warriors went cold in the second half, enabling Incline to rally from an eight-point deficit. Incline, however, waited until heaving in a final desperation three-pointer as time expired to beat the Warriors 28-25.

“It was brutal,” said Whittell coach Tom Esposito. “It took about 20 minutes to get in, and then everyone breaks down and cries.”

Many of the players on the court for the Warriors that night are back with another chance to make it to the state tournament.

Whittell’s mission, however, became even tougher during the volleyball season when two starters – senior Lauren Andrew and sophomore Megan Mize – went down with knee injuries. There is an outside chance Mize could return by the end of the season, but the Warriors are proceeding as if they will need other inside options.

“It’s major. It’s like asking Scottie Pippen to take over with (Michael) Jordan and (Dennis) Rodman out,” said second-year coach Tom Esposito. “Losing two 5-11 girls, our work has gotten a lot harder, but we’re still going to be OK.

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“At the end of her freshman year, Megan was (averaging) 13 rebounds and 12 to 14 points. With her and Isabel (Concha-Foley), there is no way they’d be able to defend (both).”

Softening the blow of the untimely injuries is the return of senior Isabel Concha-Foley, one of the top players in the Northern 2A League. To slow down Concha-Foley last year, many opponents resorted to double-teaming the 6-foot post. Still, Concha-Foley consistently averaged in double figures in points and rebounds.

Esposito expects no less from Concha-Foley this season.

“No one works harder than Isabel,” Esposito said. “After volleyball practice, I’ve seen her running on Highway 50. She goes to Kahle and practices her left hook and her right hook.”

Concha-Foley has already decided to attend Cabrillo College in Aptos, Calif., next fall and continue playing volleyball and basketball.

“I’m very excited. It’s my senior season, and we’re gonna try to take it to state,” she said.

Senior point guard Gabriella Tracy and junior off guard Lea Manzano give the Warriors an experienced backcourt. Tracy dedicated additional time to basketball in the offseason and is expecting to make a bigger contribution in her last season for the Warriors.

“Gabby has been practicing her shooting, and she’s knocking down shots,” Esposito said. “They’re gonna double Isabel all year, which is great, because she’ll kick it out and we can make some shots. With Megan (inside), they wouldn’t have been able do that. We would have drove them nuts.”

The smooth stroke of sophomore Nina Jimenez should help the Warriors spread out their scoring. Esposito thinks his team will shoot better in the coming season because of the Warriors’ use of the Shoot-A-Way, a shooting training aid.

“The Shoot-A-Way is awesome. It helps a lot,” said Tracy, a varsity member for 31⁄2 years.

“They are getting a quicker release, a better release and they are a able to catch it in a shooting pocket,” Esposito said.

Junior Karin Sharon and sophomore Jessie Sayre provide the Warriors with additional strength in the low post.

The injuries to Andrew and Mize caused Esposito to bring along 5-7 freshman twin sisters Emily and Amanda Harris quicker than anticipated. Esposito had expected them to start the season on junior varsity, but now they will both see varsity playing time right away.

“They have talent. They are gonna be awesome as they get older,” said Esposito, who coached the twins last year on the eighth-grade team. “They are going to help us out because they are really competitive. Both of them are very quick, they have good hands and they have good ball skills.”

The battle for Northern 2A League supremacy should be a four-horse race. Besides Whittell and Incline, Battle Mountain and Lovelock should be in the title picture. The Longhorns welcome back one of the state’s top players in Jordan Waugh, and Lovelock has been a regional contender year after year.

“You never know who is coming up,” Esposito said. “What I do know is that with our two stars, Isabel and Gabby, and our with role players, I think we’re gonna be fine.”

Tracy believes that additional work put in by players in the offseason will help them overcome the losses of Andrew and Mize.

“It was a little shaky at first with Megan and Lauren out with injuries, but we have enough talent to make it through,” Tracy said. “We had summer (workouts) that helped. A lot of the underclassmen were there, so they got time and that developed them more than if we didn’t have it.”

Their season goals haven’t diminished either.

“We’d like to make it to state this year and do well in league,” Tracy said.

Whittell will have one of the tougher home openers in the state as Yerington, the 2008 state champion, visits Zephyr Cove on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.

The Warriors’ first matchup with defending league champion Incline isn’t until Jan. 27. Concha-Foley is anxiously looking forward to playing their Lake Tahoe rivals and creating a different outcome.

“We are gonna give it all we got when we play them, and we’re going to make sure they don’t get any more lucky shots,” she said.

“Tom has been focusing on turnovers. We’ve been practicing our passing a lot. That was one of the keys to that loss.”