By GERARDO RECINOS
We’d all like to believe that at our respective jobs, those with the most experience are given the opportunity to be promoted. While that may not always be the case, at Alhambra it is.With the recent hiring of Jason Bautista as the varsity girls basketball coach, the team will be seeing a gaffer who has spent time at every level of the Alhambra basketball program.
Bautista served as assistant with both the varsity boys and girls teams after spells with both freshman teams, and most recently held the top job for each junior varsity side before earning the top job.
His first act as the head coach will be to navigate a young Lady Bulldog team through the final year of the inherently brutal Diablo Foothill Athletic League.
After losing a bundle of seniors who played together for four years, Bautista will need to rely on a small core of returners to aid the progress of some of the girls with less varsity minutes.
“Our biggest challenge right now is chemistry,” Bautista said. “They’re really going to have to do it during the game. We can simulate it during practice, but it’s going to be game time experience that we need.”
Karissa Wiebalk, the team’s only returning starter, will be a big part of that challenge in melding old and new. Wiebalk first came through the varsity program as a freshman.
Wiebalk, along with a trio of guards, Aly Najera, Alanis Lara and Saelym Schmidt, will be the only members of the team who experienced any of last season’s North Coast Section run.
“Last year’s senior group had played together since they were freshmen and we saw their progression,” Bautista said. “They got better every single year. This year we have to build that back up.”
This year the Lady Bulldogs will get some help from athletes returning to the program. Senior Cara DiMercurio, known for her ability at the plate, will be taking over the starting duties at the guard position.
DiMercurio offers that slashing speed guards need to knife to the basket. Jessica Clark, a junior who saw time on varsity as a freshman, returns to the varsity level to offer up a perimeter shooting threat.
Lexi Rosales will fill in the role as the first girl off the bench, and will assist in running the second unit, as well as offering minutes to spell Lara who will run the point for the Bulldogs.
Kieara Rios will need some time to adjust to the speed of varsity play, but Bautista sees her potential. He also makes sure that she spends a lot of time working with Wiebalk during practice so as to develop her skills as a team leader.
The Bulldogs’ preseason schedule will allow them to get ahead of the battle for NCS with an always tough DFAL campaign looming. With Miramonte topping the league, the Bulldogs still see some games where they can come in and upset opponents in league play.
“Do we feel like we’re an underdog? I’d say yes,” Bautista said, noting that he still feels there are winnable games in league play that can propel them into a double digit win total.
“Every coach’s hope it to prepare their girls for the regular season, that’s the most important thing,” he said.
The Lady Bulldogs open their DFAL campaign after the New Year at home on Jan. 8, against Dougherty Valley. They’ll then host the tough Miramonte Matadors on Jan. 12 before their first road game on Jan. 15 at Las Lomas.