As a topsy-turvy season for the Rancho Cotate High School girls’ basketball team comes to a close, a substantial loss to Ukiah High School June 3 in Rohnert Park was representative of the difficult task local sports teams faced in 2021.
After the pandemic forced schools to squeeze many sports seasons into about a short window this spring, Thursday night’s 78-41 loss for the Cougars was emblematic of this brief, chaotic season.
“Obviously, it was a tough, crazy season for everyone. Our problem is that I have a lot of athletes. So, throughout the season, you know, I come to one game: I got girls missing for tennis, I got girls missing for volleyball, track, lacrosse, soccer, you know, everything…So a lot of times we didn't know who we're going to have,” said Rancho Cotate head coach Mario Newton about his players being forced to play multiple sports with overlapping games in this shortened season.
Not only were multiple Cougars playing different sports, but with limited players, they also had to play in the junior varsity games. Also, the coronavirus restrictions reduced the team’s ability to practice.
“It wasn't a good game for us at all. This team is, in my opinion, not that much better than we are. Even though we had a JV game, which means half of our team had to play JV, and then they came back up to play on varsity,” Newton said. “Another big difference about tonight's game is because of COVID, and we haven't had a practice since last Tuesday…and having girls that missed a lot of practice prior to that because they’re trying to finish up their other seasons; makes it quite difficult.”
In Thursday’s game, the Cougars and the Wildcats traded baskets in the first quarter, with Rancho finding much of its scoring in the post and off second-chance points thanks to some tenacious work on the glass by Keyonee Neal.
But Ukiah kept it close thanks to a couple of costly Cougars’ fouls that sent the Wildcats to the line, and a late 3-pointer gave them a 16-10 lead heading into the second quarter.
Three steals from Rancho’s Naomi Duport led to points in the second to keep the Cougars’ offense in the game. Still, it was the Wildcats’ relentlessness on the boards, combined with some good ball movement, that extended Ukiah’s lead to 37-18 after one half.
A 3-pointer from Rancho’s Teiya Fronda kicked off a 9-2 run to start the third quarter. The Cougars attempted to double team on defense and got some 3-pointers to begin falling on offense. But ultimately, Ukiah outmatched them. The Wildcats reacted to the Rancho double team by finding wide-open players under the basket and, on defense, forced some costly turnovers for the Cougars.
After three quarters, Rancho trailed 60-32.
But the Cougars did not give in and kept clawing back. In the fourth, they employed a full-court press defense and made the Wildcats fight for every basket.
In the end, Ukiah proved to be too tall a task for Rancho in all facets of the game Thursday night; and the Wildcats walked away with a 78-41 victory.
Rancho’s Neal and Duport led the way for the Cougar’s scoring with 10 points apiece.
The Cougars’ coach is anticipating next season hopefully with lessened COVID-19 restrictions. “I'm looking forward to being able to have seasons where we can have full practices that are full team, day after day; you know, to get to kind of build some of those good reaction habits which we didn't have here tonight, obviously,” Newton said.