Verdugo Hills sprints past Chavez on Senior Night
Before taking the floor against the Chavez Eagles on Friday night, The Verdugo Hills Dons varsity girls basketball team honored the seven young women who have been foundational pieces to the recent success of their program. Parents, students and staff were on hand to celebrate the achievements of the girls that played a role in bringing the school a league and city title during their time playing for the Dons. Coach Kevin Peterson-Henry, whose daughter Ayana Peterson-Henry is one of the co-captains and a senior member of the team, lamented before the game how proud he was of the girls. “It’s been so much fun to see them grow and develop. All seven of them have put 3 to 4 years into the program and I love how they support each other and represent the school,” said Peterson-Henry on his senior players
Verdugo Hills closed out its regular season celebrating the contributions of its senior members and the final stats of the ballgame were a microcosm of just how important they have been to the Dons success during the campaign. Seniors Katherine Flores-Escalante, Maria Vukic and Julia Gomez contributed a combined 30 rebounds, 7 steals and 6 assists in the regular season finale. Coach Peterson-Henry believes these kinds of efforts have become the hallmark of what this team is and why they are tough to play. “We are an established city program now and it’s because of these players and their hard work and tough play over the last few seasons.”
Senior co-captain Ayana Peterson-Henry was a force for the Dons on both ends during the regular season, leading the team in assists per game (4.5) for the third consecutive season. She also led the team in blocked shots per game (2.3). Junior co-captain Nicole Vanegas packed the scoring punch all year leading the team in points per game (16.3). Vanegas was also a main catalyst in the Dons aggressive style of play leading the team in steals per game (2.7) as well.
A major tenet of the optimism that Coach Peterson-Henry has for the continued success in years to come, stems from the contributions of the underclassmen who have stood out for the Dons program this season. Morriah Mbachu has established herself as a force on the team, and as one of the best frontcourt players in the East Valley league as a sophomore. She led the team in rebounds per game (11). When league play began, she stepped up even more leading the team with 12.8 rebounds per game. She shot well from the floor during the regular season campaign scoring the ball at a 46 percent clip. Sophomore co-captain Moriah Mosley showed flashes of dominance on both ends of the floor that may be precursors to All-City accolades soon. Despite missing a handful of games with a hand injury, Mosley still averaged 13.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.7 steals per game.
The Dons will now turn their attention to the postseason, where they have been selected as the top seed in the Division 2 section of the City Playoffs. There are some familiar faces in the bracket as league rival North Hollywood is a #8 seed in the bracket and could be a potential quarterfinal opponent if both teams should advance. Other opponents that the Dons have faced this year who have also been selected to compete in the Division 2 playoffs include the #6 seeded Wilson Mules, and the #2-seeded Chatsworth Chancellors. The Dons own victories over both squads, a 55-45 victory over the Mules on December 13th on the road at Wilson and a 59-45 victory over Chatsworth on December 14th at The Barn.
Despite the pressure that comes with being awarded a top seed, Coach Peterson-Henry believes the balance between his veteran leaders and young dynamic players will carry them where they ultimately want to go. “We just need to play our game,” said Peterson Henry on the message he will deliver to the girls in preparation for the playoffs this week. “We know that if we play high energy on both ends, we will have a good run in this bracket. We're looking forward to it.”
Once the Senior Night festivities had concluded and the game got underway, the Dons were off and running and never looked back. In the first period of play, the Dons all-senior starting lineup pushed the team out to a quick 7-2 lead. The Verdugo defense was stout, causing steals and unforced errors by Chavez at the start. Chavez’s offensive strategy to attempt to keep themselves in the ballgame was to bomb away from the perimeter early and often. Chavez senior guard Lysha Gutierrez did her best to keep the Eagles close early on, knocking down two triples to keep the team in striking distance. Ayana Peterson-Henry led the way early for the Dons on the offensive end, scoring 8 points while dishing out 2 assists in the first frame. Katherine Flores-Escalante brought plenty of energy for the Dons on the defensive end of the floor, getting into the Eagles ball handlers and finishing defensive possessions with rebounds. By the end of the first quarter Flores-Escalante already had 6 rebounds a steal and an assist tallied on the stat sheet as the Doons finished the quarter with a 15-10 lead.
The second period of play is where the Dons began to find separation on the scoreboard, beginning the period with a 12-0 run to push the lead to 17. Sophomore Forward Morriah Mbachu followed the lead of the seniors who started the contest and made an immediate impact on the defensive end of the floor, pick-pocketing the Eagles ball handlers twice in the first 90 seconds of the quarter. In fact, the Dons forced Chavez to turn the ball over six times during the scoring run to start the period. In their first action of the game, guards Moriah Mosley and Nicole Vanegas carried the scoring to start the quarter, combining for 10 points with both hitting a three-point field goal. What little success that Gutierrez and the Eagles found on the perimeter in the first quarter had all but dried up completely due in part to Verdugo’s stingy defense. Chavez missed all but one of their perimeter shot attempts in the quarter, on their way to only scoring 6 points total in the frame. By the time the halftime horn blared, the Dons were ahead by a 31-16 margin.
Even though the Eagles hadn’t presented themselves as much of a threat to win the game, the Dons made sure to slam the door or any hope of a comeback right from the outset of the second half. Verdugo held Chavez to just two made baskets in the period and only 8 points total. Mosley came out aggressive on the offensive end and had 8 of her game-high 15 points in the period including 2-4 from the free throw line. Freshman guard Lilly Opper knocked down back-to-back threes to punctuate a dominant 24-8 period by the Dons that saw the lead balloon to 31 points by the end of the quarter on their way to an eventual 70-31 victory.
The Dons will finish the regular season with an 18-10 record overall, and 8-4 in the East Valley league, good enough for a third-place finish.
The Dons will next take the floor for their playoff opener at the Barn on February 17th against the winner of the first-round matchup between the #16 seeded Hollywood Sheiks and the #17 seeded Reseda Regents.