Despite playing 4 1st-year starters, California eyeing 1st section title since '82
TribLIVE Sports Videos
A few new faces have the California girls basketball team thinking about an old accomplishment.
Despite having four first-year starters in their lineup, the Trojans are 14-3 overall, 7-0 in Section 3-A after Monday's 60-28 win at Carmichaels.
They can clinch their first section title since 1982 — the second in school history — with two more wins.
“I know we worked out a lot in the summer,” one of those players, freshman Kylie Huffman, said. “But especially with us starting three freshmen, it does surprise me a lot.”
It has surprised others, too.
After graduating the team's primary source of offense in 1,000-point scorer Courtnee McMasters, California has kept up the scoring while allowing 12.5 fewer points per game.
Sure, contending for the section title in a year or two was expected. But this? Not so much.
“We have the team that can do it,” senior Tristen Conaway said. “That's what we're aiming for.”
Though it's hardly a surprise to anyone around California — Kylie Huffman's older brother, Tanner, was a star guard for the boys team and now plays at W&J — Kylie Huffman has been turning quite a few heads around the WPIAL.
The 6-foot Huffman has the size to play inside but the athleticism and shooting touch to handle herself on the perimeter as well, starring on a middle school team that went 32-2 the past two years, Trojans coach Chris Minerd said.
No surprise, Huffman leads California in points (16.8), rebounds (11.6) and blocks (5.5) per game.
“I've been at California seven years,” Minerd said. “I don't think I've ever had anybody over 5-9. We've always been the ones playing against the 6-footer.
“She changes the way teams attack you.”
Conaway is the lone returning starter from last season, and she's averaging 7.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and a team-best 3.1 steals.
Junior Kat Pankratz, a soccer player who didn't play basketball last season, has been another pleasant surprise.
Though Pankratz is only 5-5, Minerd will take advantage of her aggressiveness and have her guard the opposing team's top post player in order to free up Huffman.
Freshman Jenna Miller has taken over the point guard duties; she averages 8.6 points and 2.4 assists. Dominique Gaston, the third freshman who starts, averages 2.9 points. Junior Olivia Helmick leads the team in assists at 3.8 per game.
California dropped its first two games of the season — to Brownsville and Chartiers-Houston at the Brownsville Tournament — making a section title seem far from likely.
Yet with wins over West Greene on Thursday and Mapletown on Feb. 3, the Trojans would at least share the section and could win it outright Feb. 7 at rival Avella.
“Obviously, we had some things that needed to be worked out,” Minerd said. “Once we started winning, their eyes got a little wide and they started to realize what was going on.
“The best thing about this whole situation is that we have control. We don't need help. All we have to do is take care of our business.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- WPIAL Class AAA boys basketball preview: Experienced lineup has Mars among title contenders
- Sewickley Academy girls embrace the unknown
- Plum boys basketball optimistic entering the season
- Southmoreland boys basketball team has high hopes
- Plum girls basketball has high hopes with four returning starters
- Woodland Hills’ plan starts to come together
- Ligonier Valley basketball team set for season
- Springdale girls seeking fresh start after 0-19 year
- Crop of young players bodes well for Springdale boys basketball team
- Ringgold girls ready for run at section title
- Ligonier Valley girls basketball hopes to stonewall opposition