As the final seconds ran off the clock, looks of desperation began to turn into looks of heartbreak as the Mark Keppel Lady Aztecs saw their season come to a close with a 59-45 loss to Westchester High School.
Throughout the season, the team has had to compensate for physical disadvantages with their up-tempo offense and hot shooting. However, their shots were not falling and Westchester’s Lady Comets took advantage of an overwhelming amount of turnovers to eliminate the Lady Aztecs.
“We just didn’t execute offensively and that was our downfall. We normally average around 70 points and they held us [at] 20 points below our average. Bottom line, they made more shots than us and that’s where they got us,” says Head Coach Jose Herrera.
Despite their lack of offensive execution, they were right in the game throughout the first quarter. However, Westchester went on a 10-0 run to start the second quarter, and they never looked back. While self-inflicted wounds hurt the Lady Aztecs, 6’3 junior Destiny Brown, who led her team with 21 points, dominated them in the interior and ultimately spelled Keppel’s demise.
“[Brown] played a phenomenal game. She was active, patient with her shot selection and she didn’t get frustrated. I’m pretty sure she had over 20 rebounds, so kudos to her,” says Coach Herrera.
The Lady Aztecs continued to fight throughout the second half, but costly turnovers allowed Westchester to hold onto their lead, and the Lady Comets were able to walk away victorious.
“It was really disappointing losing this far into playoffs. We were in a good position to win a title, but things just didn’t work out in our favor,” says senior center Sally Smith.
For Smith and co-captain, Jocelyn Song, this would end up being their last time suiting up for Mark Keppel, and Coach Herrera could not emphasize enough how big of a hole their absence will leave.
“Their leadership was impeccable. I knew they were the right ones because they made sure that not only varsity was doing what they were supposed to do, but they also guided the lower levels too. They were people-persons, they were understanding and most importantly, they were true teammates,” he says.
However, while the loss of Smith and Song is hard to make up for, Coach Herrera remains optimistic about the team that he has heading into next season.
“We will be a smaller team and we will have to adapt to a different type of game, but we will be very competitive; there’s no question about it,” Coach Herrera maintains.
Star junior point guard, Vanessa Aguirre, agrees with her coach, stating that, “I’m still really confident that the team we have next year will get just as far or further in season. We don’t want to leave without a [championship] ring, so we’ll come out stronger next year.”
In the meantime, the team is still trying to cope with the loss; regardless of their elimination, they still have plenty to be proud of. The Lady Aztecs eclipsed the 30-win mark for the first time in school history, and while it is no championship, Coach Herrera could not be more proud of his players.
“I know that a lot of our girls wanted to win the whole thing, but words can’t describe how proud I am of the team. They put in their blood, sweat and tears and this group is going to go down in history, not only for their wins but also because of how special they were as a team.”