By SHEL SEGAL
ALHAMBRA – Not only is the Keppel girls basketball team experienced, it is also quite young with several players still being shy of their senior season. And second-year coach Jose Herrera thinks that will be a recipe for success for the Aztecs. After falling in the semifinals in both the CIF-Southern Section playoffs and the state tournament, Herrera is looking for big things from this year’s squad.
And with eight returners, big things are definitely a huge possibility for Keppel, Herrera said.
“I’m expecting this group to lead,” said Herrera who added his team has eight returning players.
One of those players is Vanessa Aguirre, the team’s sophomore point guard. Herrera said he expects Aguirre to take charge.
“Vanessa is an all-CIF player,” Herrera said. “She was all-CIF as a freshman. She’s our engine. She’s the engine that makes us go. Everything’s going to start with her, running the ball and defensively, stopping the ball.”
Joining Aguirre in a leadership role should be junior small forward Jocelyn Song, Herrera said, adding this should be a big year for the returning player.
“I expect Jocelyn to step up big time,” he said.
Another returning starter Herrera said he is looking forward to seeing on the court is junior power forward Sally Smith. Herrera said Smith is really going to come into her own this year.
“With her, mostly we want her to develop her outside game,” Herrera said of Smith. “Last year, she came a lot inside. This year, we’re working with her on her perimeter game where she’s going to be more aggressive wherever we need. We’ll take her insider if she has a big person. We’ll take her outside so she can drive in. We’re looking to see if we can expand her game from that point of view.”
Other returners helping out Aguirre, Song and Smith will be Alyssa Lee, Fanny Tu, Erika Sato, Catherine Dea and Katie Kuang, Herrera said.
But the real test will be are the Aztecs getting the ball in the basket, Herrera said.
“If we’re shooting the ball consistently, we’ll be good,” he said. “So far in the summer and in the fall we’ve been shooting lights out. We’ve played a lot of competitive games. We’ve beat a lot of competitive games. If we keep shooting the way we’ve been shooting, we’re going to be very dangerous.”
And don’t count out Keppel’s defense as that is what should really win the team some games, Herrera said.
“That’s our main focus right now,” he said. “So far, everyone has been buying into our concept of team defense. It’s produced a lot of wins for us in the summer and especially in the fall. We’re not a big team. We really have to work hard getting after the ball, boxing out, just that hustle. And that’s where I just get them to buy into it. Come game day they just go all out.”
Not only should this be a good year, but Herrera said he is already looking down the line a couple more seasons.
“We’re going to be good for at least two more years, be very competitive,” he said. “The goal is to get back to the status these Keppel teams have been at. If we can get there, that’s great, but this year it should be very tough.”