BOYS BASKETBALL: Cougars Capture Consolation Crown and Ready for VOL

Boys basketball enters Valley Oak League play tonight riding high after dispatching Manteca High 62-50 in the Modesto Christian Holiday Hoop Classic last week. The victory over the Buffaloes gave the Cougars the Consolation Championship crown. It also ended a long and challenging pre-season that saw the Cougars emerge with a respectable 7-7 record and it helped answer some questions about what kind of team the Cougars will be this year.

Early questions about their youth and inexperience (Weston Ranch has one freshman, two sophomores, eight juniors, and one senior) were answered by head coach Nicholas Podesta’s ability to use a rotation of different combinations at various times throughout each game. For example, the Cougars may roll out one five-person mixture for two minutes and then use another for 30 seconds. It’s a frantic pace, but a pace that has created lots of court time for each team member and builds experience quickly.

Podesta’s team adapted to the demanding early-season schedule and got some big wins over big programs. Victories over Gregori, Vanden, Edison of Fresno, and Hoover of Fresno were signature wins. Those wins showed Podesta’s group that they could play big-time talent from high school basketball powers and be successful. Of course, they took some lumps along the way in losses to Elk Grove, Grant, and Clovis West. But, again, both the wins and losses were valuable learning opportunities for the Cougars, and they emerged with a .500 record.

“I was very happy with the growth our guys have shown the past two months,” Podesta told The Prowl. “These kids have worked so hard, playing some of the top teams in Northern California, and their collective buy-in has been impressive. Through the wins and losses, they’ve stayed the course, trusted the process, and just get better each day. I’m incredibly proud of these young men.”

The game against the Buffaloes was the fourth game in four days for the Cougars, clearly affecting their usual run everywhere and pressure from opening minute to closing seconds game. They were sluggish and fought the Buffaloes for every point in the first half, eventually taking a one-point lead into the locker room at halftime 28-27.

The second half of the game was better for the Cougars. After the Buffs scored to take a 29-28 lead, Weston Ranch ran off nine straight points and moved their lead to 37-29. However, as the Buffs battled back, the constant pressure from the Cougars wore Manteca down, and Weston Ranch built a 16-point lead with 1:32 left in the game before finishing with the 12-point win and the Consolation Championship.

Junior guard Khristian Holmes finished the game with 22 points and earned All-Tournament team honors. Over the four days, Holmes posted score totals of 27, 16, 12, and 22.

“It’s nice to see everyone getting on the same page and playing together,” Holmes said. “I have fun playing, and it’s an honor to get the award.”

So, tonight the Cougars hit the floor in Oakdale. The Mustangs (5-9) will be another test for Weston Ranch. It’s the first VOL game, and Weston Ranch will have to work for every point against the Mustangs. The Cougars will have to deal with 6’2″ senior Johnathan Kraude, who is averaging 12 points, three assists, and three rebounds per game.

But, the Cougars can score and score big. Over the past 14 games, Weston Ranch has been averaging 74 points a game. The Cougars get plenty of looks at the basket because their pressure defense creates turnovers. However, not all turnovers turn into baskets, and the Cougars need to make more shots under the basket. If they want to compete for the VOL crown, the Cougars will need to improve their shooting, both from the floor and from the free-throw line. They are shooting 45% from the floor and 57% from the line.

“Our guys turned a corner this tournament,” Podesta said. “I’m very happy and encouraged by what we are seeing. Of course, we have a long way to go, but we’re definitely heading in the right direction.”

Tonight’s game at Oakdale is a triple-header. The freshman play at 4:30, the JV follows at 6, and the varsity concludes the evening at 7:30