New Frontier For Sierra Canyon Girls

Sierra Canyon players celebrate seconds after the final horn of their win Tuesday against Windward of Los Angeles in matchup of state’s top two ranked teams. Photo: Erik Boal.

Trailblazers win in No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown of state-ranked teams on Tuesday night (they were No. 2) over Windward of Los Angeles and now assume catbird’s seat in California girls hoops for the first time in school history. This isn’t new for the Sierra Canyon boys, who are defending CIF Open Division state champions, but it’s believed to be one of the only times in state history that a school can be considered No. 1 in the state for both boys and girls hoops at the same time.

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The starting backcourt for the Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth girls basketball team features a classically trained pianist in Vanessa De Jesus and the daughter of two successful coaches in Ashley Chevalier.

The two juniors not only demonstrated their rhythm and touch, but showcased impressive basketball acumens and maturity Tuesday to upstage Windward senior guard Charisma Osborne and her teammates in the highly anticipated Gold Coast League showdown involving the state’s top two teams in the latest Cal-Hi Sports state rankings.

De Jesus scored 32 points, including seven 3-pointers, and Chevalier added 20 points and five assists to lead No. 2 Sierra Canyon to a 66-57 victory over top-ranked Windward of Los Angeles, securing its first win against the host Wildcats since Feb. 12, 2015.

Sierra Canyon head coach Alicia Komaki was an all-state player at Troy of Fullerton in 2002. Photo: Mark Tennis.

“I got a lot of shots up (Monday) in practice and so when I stepped out there, it just felt like muscle memory. I knew if I was open and I got the shot, I would make it,” said De Jesus, who had 20 points in the first half to help Sierra Canyon build a 35-23 halftime advantage.

“I visualized all these shots and I felt comfortable taking them. As I got into a flow, I just knew they were going to go in and that helped me find my rhythm. I really felt the energy and the confidence from the whole crowd and I just knew if I kept shooting, they would fall.

“It’s the same thing when I work hard to memorize a piece of music. I treat it just like I do working on improving my craft shooting threes and I know at the end of the day, it will pay off.”

The poise of De Jesus and the floor direction of Chevalier paid big dividends for the Trailblazers (19-0), who earned only their third victory in 19 all-time matchups against Windward (16-4) since 2010.

“Special is a definite word to describe (Vanessa) and just how well her and Ashley play together,” said Sierra Canyon coach Alicia Komaki, whose team snapped a seven-game losing streak in the rivalry.

“I think a lot of it comes from Ashley finding her and knowing when she’s hot. Obviously (Vanessa) creates shots on her own as well, but their chemistry is just so good right now and it wasn’t like that a year ago. The two of them together are just out of bounds when it comes to how well they’re playing right now.”

Komaki worked on the Mater Dei of Santa Ana staff with the state’s all-time winningest girls basketball coach Kevin Kiernan before arriving at Sierra Canyon in 2012.

She compared De Jesus’ command of the game Tuesday to what she often witnessed when Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis excelled in the biggest moments for the Monarchs on her way to earning Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year honors during the 2010-11 season.

“The fact that she can come in here and do that, it’s fun to watch and to have a front seat, but it’s kind of just become common now. It was like when we were at Mater Dei and Kaleena was doing all that stuff, it was like, ‘It’s just another big game,’” Komaki said. “The best part about tonight was how calm and collected my backcourt was and how they handled themselves, because I didn’t know how it was going to be. Are they going to be nervous if the game is close because we haven’t had a tight game and what’s going to happen? So this revealed a lot about their character.”

Windward coach Vanessa Nygaard, who lost to Komaki for only the third time in 14 career head-to-head meetings, had high praise for Chevalier and De Jesus, who combined for nine of Sierra Canyon’s 11 total 3-point field goals.

“We missed some shots that we normally make, but I thought they shot exceptionally today,” Nygaard said. “They really shot the lights out and that’s tough when they’re hitting threes and we’re not quite hitting threes and Charisma is missing some threes that she normally makes. But I just think that they had a better game than us today.”

Osborne, the reigning Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year, regrouped following a head-to-head collision in the second quarter with teammate Kaiyah Corona to score 17 of her team-high 23 points in the second half, helping Windward cut a 16-point third-quarter deficit in half during the game’s final minute. But even with Corona contributing 16 points and McKayla Williams adding 10 points, all in the second half, it wasn’t enough for the Wildcats to overcome the combined efforts of Chevalier and De Jesus.

Sierra Canyon also received eight points and nine rebounds from fellow junior Alexis Mark.

“I told those girls after the game what a great job they did tonight and how well they played,” Nygaard said. “They did some great stuff and they’re great young players and I know they’re going to have great college careers, too, and I look forward to following them as they advance. We are fortunate in the Southern Section, especially in our own league, to have so many great players and great coaches.

“Playing against a great team like that and playing against a really strong coach like Alicia is only going to make me better as a coach and it’s only going to make our team better going forward.”

Chevalier, who was a member of the Sierra Canyon team that lost four times to Windward in 2017 – including both league showdowns by one point each – before suffering a 24-point setback at home in the lone matchup last year, was happy to erase those disappointing memories by celebrating a win with her teammates that will likely vault Sierra Canyon to the top of the Cal-Hi Sports state rankings for the first time in the program’s 13-year history.

“I definitely wanted to get this win for Coach Komaki and it was just great to be able to do this for her and my teammates,” said Ashley, daughter of Sierra Canyon boys coach Andre Chevalier and L.A. Pierce College women’s coach Michelle Chevalier.

“We’ve mentally been getting ready for this game since we found out what day we played them. I know the core group that’s been together since my freshman year who lost to them four times, we’ve just been waiting to get our revenge and we don’t want to stop now. We just wanted to start something new and hopefully we can continue this winning streak against Windward until I graduate and even further beyond that.”

Ashley’s dad’s team, of course, has been No. 1 ranked in California since it won the CIF Open Division state championship last March and was still in that position entering this week. Komaki herself also knows quite a bit about a school sitting at No. 1 in the state for both boys and girls. The only times that happened at the end of a season was in 2011 and 2012 when Mater Dei accomplished the feat twice and Komaki was an assistant coach on both teams. Week-to-week ranking archives aren’t available, but it’s believed Mater Dei teams in the 2013-14 season also were No. 1 in the state at the same time.

With only one round of league competition scheduled this season and no Gold Coast tournament on the remaining calendar as in previous years, Komaki wanted to savor the moment and appreciate the significance of Sierra Canyon capturing the first of what she hopes is multiple championships this year.

“Right now, this is really big because our goal is always to put up a banner in the gym and we haven’t won a league championship in years, so Windward is always the biggest game on our calendar, until the game is over,” Komaki said. “It doesn’t matter about the rankings, it matters that it’s Windward and it matters that it’s for a league championship and we finally get to hang that banner.”

Erik Boal has covered high school sports in California for 25 years, formerly serving as editor at the Glendale News-Press and Los Angeles Daily News. He is currently the editor for DyeStat.com and RunnerSpace.com, which focus on track and field, cross country and road racing, but has been a regular attendee at major Southern California high school sports events since the early 2000s.


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