LAFAYETTE, Calif. – In the first game of the season for two defending NCS Champion teams, Acalanes staved off an equally hungry and feisty Monte Vista squad 72-65. The point guards – Karyss Lacanlale for the host Dons and Sarina Nagra for the Mustangs – put on a dazzling show of scoring, tenacity, and speed. Lacanlale had 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and four steals; Nagra registered 23 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two blocks.
The Dons’ Sophia Chinn, who like Lacanlale is just a sophomore, had 20 points and seven rebounds while getting at least one each of an assist, a block, and a steal. She scored 15 of her total in the second half. Emily Du also reached double figure scoring with 10 to go along with six boards.
Nia Coleman proved her importance to the Mustang lineup with a 19-point, 12-rebound, 3-assist night. Alyssa Rudd tacked on 10 points and six rebounds.
“I was happy with their performance tonight, I thought their team was very quick,” Monte Vista coach Steve Cornell said. “We had them all the way down to the last couple of minutes.”
The Dons played with a short bench due to illness and injury, and both coaches acknowledged the number of freshmen and sophomores on the floor.
“I did schedule tougher this year,” Acalanes coach Margaret Gartner said. “It was definitely a good close-game experience.”
The first half saw a flip-flop between one quarter and the next, as Acalanes won the first 21-9 but saw Monte Vista start the second with a 17-6 run and tie the game at 34 by the end of the half. The third included an intense trading of baskets, and the fourth also began with a tie.
While the final quarter included a parade to the free throw line for both sides, Acalanes had a few key plays to gain separation. With just over six minutes remaining, Lacanlale assisted Cameron Thornton for a corner three to make it 57-52 Dons. Chinn grabbed an offensive rebound, dribbled to the perimeter, and sank a three-pointer with 4:51 to go, Lacanlale came up with a huge steal and a layup; and Chinn nailed a step-back jumper from beyond the arc with 1:18 remaining that made the score 68-61 Acalanes.
Coleman responded promptly with a fast break layup, and with 42 seconds left the Dons recovered a loose ball followed by two Du free throws to essentially seal the win.
Gartner took the reins at Acalanes in 2020. The former Carondelet coach came with over 500 career wins, appearances at the highest levels in girls basketball, and a long list of accolades. In her first full season as Dons coach, she guided them to the NCS Division II championship. In between Carondelet and Acalanes, she coached younger ages, did some AAU, studied college practices, and retired from public school teaching.
“I got to see the growth they can make,” she said. “I feel like I grew as a coach. I’m a better coach now that I’ve come back. I feel like I’m enjoying it now more because I have time to get to know the girls as individuals, as people, not just as basketball players.”
Meanwhile, Cornell begins his first year as Monte Vista head coach after various coaching jobs at multiple schools with both boys and girls. Jack Kennedy piloted last year’s Mustangs, and Cornell has a challenge ahead in that two key cogs in that title-winning roster, Alexis Woodson and Sarah Brans, graduated.
“Coming in it was tough,” Cornell stated. “We only had five returners. This is a good start right now. We’ve been together for three weeks and this is our product already. I think we’ll be competitive all season.”