Varsity girls basketball team develops throughout season


Heidi Zhang

During a scrimmage against Santa Clara High School, Selin Sayiner (12) dribbles the ball while avoiding an opposing defender. The girls team qualified for CCS in their preseason.

by Prameela Kottapalli, Winged Post Features Editor

At the beginning of every girls basketball practice from November to February, 15 players–of varying heights and grade levels–convened at the center of the Howard Nichols court. Their hyperdunk shoes squeaked across the polished wood floor as they came together, encircling the eagle emblazoned atop the half-court line. Once each player was present, they sat down to listen to head coach Daniel Pringle.

On certain days, he congratulated the players and recapped a victory; on others, he emphasized the need to retain hope and bounce back after a tough loss. Sometimes, he highlighted the significance of a work ethic in game situations; at other times, he stressed the importance of dedication to the team. Every so often, his start-of-practice talks were a special treat: “story-time,” as the players called it, when Pringle recounted lighthearted anecdotes of his experiences as a coach. He spoke to the team as one, and they looked like one too–seated side-by-side in a circle, all sporting black-and-white practice gear and matching team shoes.

Regardless of what these beginning of practice discussions would revolve around, they all reflected one of girls’ basketball’s most predominant team qualities: camaraderie. Whether it was an hour-long bus ride to Crystal Springs Uplands or a pre-game locker-room “hype fest” (usually involving a pseudo-moshpit and the ‘High School Musical’ soundtrack), the team developed a strong internal bond that translated into chemistry on the court.

“I really enjoyed being a part of the team,” freshman and first-year varsity player Maria Vazhaeparambil said. “They all welcomed me in and I felt really close with them by the end of the season.”

The team’s league record was 5-7 (including a senior night victory against Mercy High School), finishing 9-12 overall and placing fourth in the West Bay-Skyline League ahead of King’s Academy, Mercy Burlingame and Crystal Springs Uplands. After finishing their league season with a 3-win streak against the aforementioned teams, they advanced into the postseason qualifying for a home playoff game.

“I’m really proud and happy of how we’ve done this season and how far we’ve come as a team,” co-captain and fourth-year team member Selin Sayiner (12) said. “It’s really nice to have seen everyone develop and achieve more in terms of the number of wins and qualifications.”

On Feb. 20, Pacific Grove High School defeated the girls’ basketball team in the first round of the 2018 CIF Central Coast Section Girls Basketball Tournament, with a final score of 54-35.

“It’s an accomplishment that we made playoffs, and I’m really proud about that,” transfer player and power forward Kaidi Dai (10) said. “I think there’s a lot of room to improve. We have a lot of things to work on, and by next year–once we’ve worked on and fixed all those things–I think we’ll do better.”

This years’ team also observed many milestones in Harker athletic history, from being the first girls basketball team to practice in and the first upper school sports team to host a playoff game in the new athletic center.

“It’s fun to see the team practicing and playing in the new gym, and seeing how happy the team is and the smiles on [their] faces,” Pringle said. “There’s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm in the new gym.”

While the athletic center served as one addition to Harker girls’ basketball, the shift in the coaching staff also brought changes to the program. Pringle had been the team’s assistant coach the previous year, and Joan Marciano joined at the start of the 2017-2018 season as the new assistant coach.

Marciano trained the team in conditioning exercises and defensive drills, but she also played a pivotal role in team development off the court. Before each game, she provided the team members with motivational words of wisdom, encouraging them to pour their heart into their playing time regardless of which opponent they faced. Sometimes, following a match or a practice, Marciano commissioned “homework,” by which players were assigned various tasks such as writing down ways in which they wished to improve their game or finding a famous quote about winning.

“It was really motivating with the new coaches. [We] wanted to start the new system and coaching staff off right,” Selin said. “Especially with someone whom we [knew] we wanted to make proud.”

For next year, players look forward to performing at a higher level and advancing further in playoffs. They hope to accomplish these goals by joining club team leagues in Spring and attending mandatory offseason training sessions with strength and conditioning coach Garrett Jones.

“[This year] was a good start to building the program,” co-captain and 2019 head captain Akhila Ramgiri (11) said. “Next year, we’re going to get a lot more comfortable by starting things early and getting comfortable during the off-season. We definitely had fun this year, and next year we want to build on that fun–keep getting more competitive and growing as a team.”