Sports & Recreation

Undefeated Anzar High School basketball team ready for playoffs

The San Juan Bautista athletes log a 10-win conference season.
Warren Du. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Warren Du. Photo by Robert Eliason.
From left: Warren Du, Andre Grio, and Josh Vega. Photo by Robert Eliason.
From left: Warren Du, Andre Grio, and Josh Vega. Photo by Robert Eliason.

With a crushing 71-32 victory against Pacific Point Christian School, the Anzar High School boys basketball team finished with a 10-0 win record for conference games, taking first place in the Pacific Coast Athletic League-Arroyo Division. They will go on to the playoffs, with the first game scheduled for Feb. 18, against a yet-to-be-determined opponent.

“A lot of hard work went into this moment,” said Anzar head coach Rance Hodge. “Being undefeated is a new experience I am trying to wrap my mind around. But if you could see what goes into their practices, you’d see how hard their work ethic is at all times.”

The win against the fifth-ranked Pacific Point team was not unexpected, but it was a satisfying end to a great season and bodes well for final games to determine the champion.

“We played pretty slow in the second half,” said point guard Warren Du, who has an almost magical ability to cut through his opponents as he moves the ball. “We hoped to score 100 points, but it didn’t work. This is the first time for us at the playoffs, so we don’t have experience with that. And we know we are going to have to be aggressive the whole game.”

The 39-point lead against Pacific Point is typical of this team. Seven of their 10 conference games were blowouts with at least a 30 point margin. They also played four non-conference games, dropping only one of them, a 54-47 loss to Greenfield High School on Dec. 8.

The final game was at the end of a busy week, starting with an 85-57 win against Kirby Preparatory School on Feb. 8, then beating Trinity Christian High School 79-47 the next day and demolishing York High School 81-39 two days later.

The stack-up of games was caused by a two-week league layoff when COVID forced cancellations. For Du, the uncertainties of the pandemic have been the hardest part of the season.

“We have to get tested every week,” he said. “And our season could have ended immediately if someone got the virus. We ended up with a lot of rescheduled games, but at least we got to play them.”

Their closest game was on Jan. 27 against Ceiba College Preparatory Academy. They trailed for most of the way, finally tying the score at 69 at the end of the fourth quarter. A three-point shot in overtime won them the game, with a final score of 72-69.

Despite the lopsided score in the final game, the players and coach celebrated as hats embroidered with “PCAL ARROYO Undefeated Champions” were passed out. 

Reserve player Josh Vega described himself as a “playmaker,” and particularly shined in the second quarter, scoring five points. He called the game historic for the team and the school.

“We have never gone undefeated,” he said, “so we are enjoying the moment. For our seniors, it is their last year and they can say they went out with a bang. Anything can happen in this next game and I just want to get in there and get the win.”

The evening of the last game was also senior night, muted by spectators not being allowed to attend the ceremony or any of the home games due to COVID restrictions. Andre Grio, who brings an aggressive defense to the team, will be graduating this year. He is looking forward to the finals but said the players are still working to improve their game.

“We need to keep doing better, fix up our mistakes, and polish our work,” he said. “I plan to play 1,000% all the time on defense and get the steals, rebounds and turnovers. I want to take these next games one at a time; just play that first game and see how we do.

No matter how the final games go, and despite family and friends not being able to watch the team at home as they knock down the visiting teams, the players and coach are basking in their record-making season, played out fully despite the obstacles.

“I think there has always been a desire to win at this school,” Hodge said. “I think this year, with COVID canceling a year of play last year, they are hungrier than they’ve ever been. But we banded together more strongly than ever before. Most of these guys have been playing together since middle school, so there was a cohesion there from long before I met them. I think my guys can contend with anybody and we have already made school history.”

 

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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.