Valley girls expect to build foundation for return to winning ways

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Monday, December 2, 2019 | 4:33 PM


It’s been a long, dark period for Valley girls basketball, but coach Ernie Sipolino believes there might be light at the end of the tunnel.

The Vikings, a program 16 years removed from its last winning season, will face an uphill task ending that run this year, but there’s a sense around the team that this season will be when the groundwork is laid for Valley to experience winning again.

“The goal is rebuilding, and we’re rebuilding from the ground up,” Sipolino said. “We had a successful junior high season last year, and there are going to be seven or eight ninth and 10th graders that are going to be playing varsity ball.”

Sipolino has a mostly new roster from a year ago, when his team went 3-19. Issues with player dedication and attitude have been a problem for Valley in the past, the coach said, but the past offseason and preseason have him encouraged that his current group is a hardworking one.

He does have a pair of upperclass players with some experience in senior guard DeAisha James and junior forward Lyric Alexander, and they sound intent on leading the turnaround for the Vikings.

“Compared to past years, I believe we’re the antithesis of that,” Alexander said. “We have more positive attitudes, more girls coming that actually want to play basketball instead of giving attitudes. I think it’s going to be a great turnaround for us and Valley sports, in general, this year.”

James and Alexander, plus sophomore guard Diamond Guy, represent virtually all the varsity experience for the Vikings. That means there are a lot of unknowns entering the season for Valley, and the few veterans are doing their best to bring along the rest of the group.

“It is really exciting to see them play. We played our first varsity game (a scrimmage at Mt. Pleasant), and they actually did really good running plays and doing what they had to do,” James said. “I don’t want to think about (a win total) because I don’t want to put too much pressure on them. I just want to play and see how it goes.”

The positive takeaways from that scrimmage were shared by Sipolino, who said he rode home from the road game much more excited than he was on the way there.

“We played that Mt. Pleasant game, and there was no quit in our team. We played eight quarters and won a couple of them,” Sipolino said. “The good thing is, most these girls don’t really know what it is, the history here, the losing. It’s kind of like starting over.”

Among the new faces expected to contribute are freshman point guard Tori Johnson and freshman forward Jada Norman. But needing at least seven or eight girls to make up a winning rotation, there is plenty of playing time up for grabs this year, and Sipolino admitted he doesn’t know what lies ahead or which of his freshmen and sophomores will rise to the occasion.

Regardless of who is on the court, the one thing the Vikings are promising is effort. In time, the hope is adding some growth to that effort will result in wins.

“I just try to keep a positive attitude and lead my team to be a group, not individuals. If one of us falls, we all fall,” Alexander said. “Since a majority of the team is freshmen and sophomores, they don’t have a lot of patience, so we’re just going to stay positive and build them up. I think this year is going to be a great foundation for the years to come, but definitely this year, there is going to be a change.”

Matt Grubba is a contributing writer.

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