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July 6, 2020
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Cougars extend streak

  • Rancho's #12 Keyonee Neal did a multitude of layups with either hand helping to lead Rancho to a 10-0 season and a 63-52 win against El Molino. Photo by Robert Grant

By: Paul Matli
February 14, 2020

Thursday night was a night every coach dreams of, a night when they can honor the seniors for the work they’ve put in. Rancho Cotate Women’s head coach Mario Newton paid homage to his four seniors by having all four of them start and finish the game. 

“Senior night started out great for me, just having Sarah come out for the jump ball and being able to walk off the floor meant the world to me,” Newton said. “I’m thankful to coach Keith (of El Molino) for letting Sarah do that. It was great to see her back on the floor; it meant a lot to her and meant a lot to me.”

As if it was written in the clouds, the Cougars were led by their two senior guards Leslie Bejaran and Jada Buckley, scoring 15 and 9 points respectively, in their 63-52 victory. This victory extended the Cougars’ winning streak to 11 and the girls ended the regular season with an 18-8 record. They are one of the hottest teams around and will look to keep that momentum going when the postseason starts.

Though the Cougars won the game, it was clear the team didn’t quite play the way they wanted to. For those in attendance, it was clear the game was sloppy, rugged and much more of a grind it out win. According to Newton, the Cougars were expecting this because of how El Molino plays.

“We knew the game would be a battle,” Newton said. “They gave us a battle last time at their house, and I knew they would come in with high energy, so we were expecting this.”

The first quarter was the perfect example. Though the Cougars led 17-15 after one, the game went back and forth, and it was easy to see the Cougars would have to work hard.  However, like they did against the Maria Carrillo Pumas Tues. night, the girls took control in the second quarter and never looked back.

Since it was senior night, it was only fitting for Bejaran and Buckley to be the catalysts. Bejaran dominated from the point guard spot all night and was the Cougars’ Most Valuable Player, but Buckley’s hustle, clutch shot making, and leadership also stood out. They helped the Cougars withstand El Molino’s several pushes and Keyonee Neal’s off game, by her standards, though she still had 15 points.

“Leslie did an excellent job inside and out,” Newton said. “She had a couple plays in the post, a couple plays outside, a few attacking the basket, defensively she had some steals. She definitely stepped her game up for today and it made a big different because they were keying on Keyonee.”

The first time the Cougars played El Molino, Bejaran didn’t start and it was clear her presence in the Cougars’ starting lineup makes them who they are.

Newton also had praise for his other two guards, Buckley and junior Teiya Fronda. Together with Bejaran they form a very formidable trio capable of playing both off the ball and on the ball. Having three shot creators in the backcourt makes the Cougars a very difficult team to stop and a team with the potential to accomplish big things in the North Coast Section Playoffs

“Jada, Teiya, Tatum, we are kind of like the Warriors, strength in numbers,” Newton said. “We really embrace the team concept, together everybody achieves more. We are well distributed in our points, like tonight everybody scored. It’s just a very collaborative effort.”

Perhaps the best moment on the night was seeing senior power forward Kenadi Akin score for the Cougars. She doesn’t play a whole lot, so seeing her score on senior night and making it possible for every player to contribute in the points column made the whole stadium happy. Having strength in numbers sounds cliché, but it’s true; the Cougars are incredibly deep and Thurs. night showed they can win even when their star has an off night.

Most of Newton’s post game comments were about the playoffs. He knows this is the most important time of the year and it’s important for the girls to continue focusing.

“This coming week is NBL Playoffs and then the week after is NCS,” Newton said. “They are still working on seeding for the NCS Playoffs. We should be seeded high enough to get a home playoff game, if the two top teams move up to open division.”

If Thurs. was any indication, the Cougars should have a good amount of fan support for the playoffs. The crowd got loud in the second half and Newton said he appreciated the crowd and that the girls feed off the support.