The Wildcats' Nicole Steiner and Ella Rabitz share a light moment after Steiner attempted a rare 3-point shot during their 52-10 win over Live Oak in the SCVAL-BVAL Shootout on Jan. 13. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

At the midway point in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division season, it’s apparent the Los Gatos High girls basketball team’s toughest opponent will be themselves. 

Six wins—all by double digits—has stamped the Wildcats as the prohibitive favorite not just to win the league championship, but to go undefeated in the process. To do that, they’ll need to guard against complacency, stay cohesive in their play and focus on all of the small details that have gotten them to this point. 

Rest assured, Los Gatos coach Sara Quilici Giles intends for the team to stay on track. 

“I think for us it’s a lot of mental focus right now,” she said after a 52-37 win over Monta Vista High on Jan. 19. “Physically, we know we can do things. But it’s a matter of putting complete games together, and not necessarily just being OK winning by 10 points. But really wanting to prove dominance for the whole game.”

The Wildcats (16-2 overall, 6-0 league) were dominant for two quarters against Monta Vista, a team that was supposed to provide a stiff challenge. Both teams entered the contest with perfect league records, but Los Gatos blitzed the Matadors early, going into halftime with a commanding 34-19 lead.

Despite a sloppy third and fourth quarter, the Wildcats were never seriously threatened the rest of the way. They led by as many as 20 points and never saw their lead dip below 13 points despite shooting just 6-of-28 (21%) from the floor and 1-of-14 from 3-point range in the second half. 

“One of the things I always tell them after a game like this, is my dad used to say it’s better to win ugly than lose pretty,” Quilici Giles said. “And we’ll take an ugly win any day over a pretty loss. It was ugly but we got it done for sure.”

Less than 24 hours after beating Monta Vista, the Wildcats whipped Palo Alto, 61-10, capping a busy stretch in which they played five games over nine days. 

“It’s tough,” Quilici Giles said. “But we bring it back to last year when we had three, three-game weeks, and they were Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. So if we can get through that, we can get through this, too.” 

Juniors Nicole Steiner and Ashley Childers have had tremendous seasons and filled up the stat sheet while helping the team win. Steiner shot 7-of-12 from the floor against Monta Vista, finishing with 20 points and 21 rebounds. It marked the third time this season she’s had 20 or more rebounds in a game.

Athletic, physical and agile, Steiner was nearly perfect from the field in the first half, shooting 5-of-6. Childers had 11 points one game after finishing with 23 points in a 59-34 win over Fremont High of Sunnyvale. 

The two along with senior forward Claire Galbo create all sorts of havoc for opponents, flooding the passing lanes and creating steals because of their height and length. Quilici Giles said the team’s defense has come a long way from the first few weeks of the season. 

“I think they’re starting to understand that they can really do damage on defense,” she said. “If they show up and put a lot of effort in, then offense really comes easily. Offense sells tickets but defense wins games, and I think they’re starting to understand that they can always score more than anybody. But wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to work so hard on offense if our defense fueled our fire.”

Junior guard Ella Rabitz has been one of the team’s unsung standouts. She scored 11 points against Monta Vista, her third consecutive game in double figures which represents the longest streak in her career. 

Rabitz has done a nice job of finding open spots in the defense, which scrambles to defend her on the perimeter because so much attention is paid to Steiner and Childers whenever they have the ball. Galbo has been a force defensively and on the glass, and Rita Zhou has been providing steady play as a ball handler and perimeter defender.

Zhou made a magnificent hustle play against Monta Vista, running down a Matadors player who seemingly had a free path for an uncontested layup. However, Zhou sprinted from halfcourt and amazingly blocked the layup attempt, creating a turnover with 1 minute, 40 seconds left in the third quarter. 

Quilici Giles said it’s been nice coaching a group of girls who are close off the court, which makes going through a season that much more enjoyable. 

“They like each other a lot,” she said. “It works out that some of them are best friends in life. And we don’t put up with drama or cliques. We’re all a team, we all love each other. I force a lot of hanging out. If you get a ball and partner in practice, you can’t partner with your best friend because you already see them a lot. Go intermix with somebody else. We’re always that way. In carpools we don’t let them ride with their best friends, we really try to mix it up.”

The team’s chemistry has translated to on-court success in its quest to win back-to-back undefeated league championships. 

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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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