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Warriors reach girls basketball quarterfinals

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

The 2022-2023 girls basketball season was tougher for Fallbrook High School’s team than the two previous seasons had been. Not only did the Warriors lose six seniors from their 2021-2022 roster including the Valley League player of the year and two other all-league players, but the girls basketball team was moved from the Valley League to the Avocado League and from Division II for playoff purposes to Division I.

Fallbrook was undefeated in Valley League play both in 2020-2021 and in 2021-2022. The 2022-2023 Warriors had a 4-6 Avocado League record to place fourth in the standings. The 2021-2022 team was seeded first in the CIF Division II playoffs and won the San Diego Section championship to give the team 19 consecutive wins before a loss in the first round of the state playoffs gave Fallbrook a final 24-7 season record. The 2022-2023 squad received the 11th seed in the Division I playoffs but still defeated sixth-seeded Grossmont High School before a loss to third-seeded Rancho Bernardo High School ended the Warriors’ season at 16‑14 overall.

“We had a lot to deal with,” Fallbrook coach Trae Harrison said. “It was rough coming in, but our players held their own.”

After beginning the season with a 49-47 tournament loss, Nov. 21, at Academy of Our Lady of Peace, a 47-34 victory, Nov. 23, at Madison High School, and a 37‑32 defeat, Nov. 25, at Scripps Ranch High School, the Warriors won five consecutive matches with the margin of victory for the first four averaging 23 points. Three losses followed that winning streak, but Fallbrook then won four consecutive games before a 39-34 tournament defeat, Dec. 30, against Poway High School, who subsequently defeated the Warriors in two league games and participated in the Open Division playoffs. Fallbrook closed out pre-league play, Jan. 4, at home against Mount Carmel High School, and the 71-64 win gave the Warriors an 11‑6 record.

La Costa Canyon High School hosted Fallbrook in the two teams’ Avocado League opener, Jan. 10, and the Mavericks took a 57-43 victory. The losing streak would reach three games with a 47-41 home league loss, Jan. 13, against San Marcos High School and a non-league, Jan. 14, game against Montgomery High School, the Aztecs won by a 63-39 score.

A Jan. 17 home game against San Dieguito Academy gave the Warriors their first league win of 2022-2023. The 59-35 game included Fallbrook leads of 15-6 after the first period, 17-14 at halftime and 45-16 when the third quarter ended before an emphasis on ball control, clock management and experience for substitutes resulted in a 19-14 Mustangs scoring advantage for the final period. Claire Nordeen scored 20 points, had 12 offensive and nine defensive rebounds for a total of 21, and also had five assists and two steals. Liz Villagran contributed 14 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. Brooke Quintana had 10 points, four assists and two steals. Janice Garcia, a sophomore who was not on the 2021-2022 varsity, provided nine points and seven rebounds. Harley Benitez recorded 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.

A 60-33 loss, Jan. 20, at Poway, a 37-34 home defeat, Jan. 24, against Mission Vista High School and a 59-48 home loss, Jan. 27, against La Costa Canyon gave the Warriors a 1-5 Avocado League record. Fallbrook traveled to San Dieguito Academy for a Jan. 31 game and defeated the Mustangs by a 49-43 margin. Quintana scored 15 points and had five rebounds, three assists and five steals. Villagran accounted for 14 points and four rebounds while also deflecting eight passes. Nordeen had 13 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three steals. Garcia obtained six rebounds and a blocked shot. Benitez contributed five rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots. Lesly Bautista, another sophomore playing varsity for the first year, had five rebounds, two assists, a steal and two blocked shots.

The Feb. 3 game at San Marcos was a 41-27 Warriors triumph. The Knights had a 10-6 scoring advantage in the first quarter, but the Warriors scored all 10 points in the second period and outscored San Marcos by a 19-9 margin in the third period. Nordeen had 15 points, nine offensive and 15 defensive rebounds for a total of 24, five assists and three steals. Quintana had nine points, three rebounds, four assists, six steals and five deflections. Garcia’s stats included eight points, five rebounds, two steals and three deflections. Benitez scored six points while pulling down 11 rebounds.

Feb. 7 was Senior Night for Fallbrook, although Poway won by a 47-37 margin after overcoming a 24-18 Warriors lead at halftime. Benitez, Quintana, Villagran and Camilla Della‑Spoletina were Fallbrook’s four seniors honored. Villagran had six points, a defensive rebound, two steals and a deflection. Quintana contributed five points, an offensive rebound, a defensive rebound, three assists, three steals and eight deflections. Benitez provided two points, three offensive and three defensive rebounds for a total of six and a blocked shot. Della-Spoletina had a defensive rebound.

Regular-season play for Fallbrook concluded, Feb. 10, at Mission Vista. The 37-33 game in the Warriors’ favor had Fallbrook leads of 19-16 at halftime and 28-27 after three quarters. Nordeen scored 16 points, pulled down five offensive and nine defensive rebounds for 14 overall and stole the ball three times. Quintana had eight points, five assists, three steals and six deflections. Benitez provided nine rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots. Villagran had four rebounds and three assists. Bautista and Garcia each pulled down six rebounds.

“Being in a tougher league definitely changed a lot,” Harrison said. “We underachieved. We had a few games where we had some lapses. Ultimately we ended the season on a high note, which I felt put us in position to be where we are.”

Grossmont had a 5-3 Grossmont Hills League record to share second place in the final league standings, and the Foothillers took a 14‑5 overall record into their Feb. 15 first-round playoff game at home against Fallbrook. Grossmont senior Kaylee Cole was the Foothillers’ leading scorer during 2022-2023, but a concussion from a previous game kept Cole out of the playoff match.

It affected Fallbrook as well as Grossmont.

“We had to change the game plan,” Harrison said.

The Warriors had first-quarter leads of 4-0, 9-1, 18-3 and 20-5 before the buzzer sounded with Fallbrook holding a 20-9 advantage. The score was 38-14 at halftime and 57-19 after three periods. The final score was 68-32.

“We were able to apply pressure the whole game, and we made shots,” Harrison said.

Fallbrook actually made 29 of 60 shots from the field throughout the game, but 16 offensive rebounds contributed to second-chance points. The Warriors had a total of 39 rebounds.

“That’s always a huge factor with us. We rebound well,” Harrison said.

The Warriors only attempted two free throws, making one, while committing only eight fouls. They had 17 steals while only turning the ball over 11 times.

“At the end of the day they were a better team,” Grossmont coach Grace Campbell said. “They just outplayed us.”

Nordeen sank 29 points worth of shots. Her 10 offensive and 10 defensive rebounds gave her 20 for the game. She also recorded five steals, two assists and a deflection.

“It was a great team win,” Nordeen said. “It’s really great to see that all of our hard work as a team is helping us really well.”

Villagran scored 18 points, stole the ball three times, grabbed a defensive rebound and had a deflection.

“It was a good game,” she said. “We played really well.”

Quintana provided 12 points, two offensive and four defensive rebounds for a total of six, four assists, four steals and six deflections. Benitez had three points, one offensive and three defensive rebounds, five assists, four steals, two blocked shots and two deflections.

“As long as we can play like this we can compete with anybody,” Harrison said.

Although Rancho Bernardo finished fourth in the Palomar League with a 3-7 record, the Broncos were 20-8 during the regular season and opened playoff competition with a 63-27 victory over San Dieguito Academy. The 61-40 home playoff win, Feb. 18, against Fallbrook improved the Broncos’ season record to 22-8.

“They just came ready to go,” Harrison said. “We were outmatched.”

Quintana led the Warriors with 20 points and also had a steal and two deflections.

“Brooke had maybe the best game of the year,” Harrison said. “She did everything she could to keep us there.”

Villagran closed out her high school career with five points, three rebounds and a deflection. The final high school game for Benitez included four rebounds, an assist, a blocked shot and two deflections. Garcia led the team with 12 rebounds and also deflected two shots. Nordeen provided 10 points, eight rebounds, two assists and three steals.

“I’m not disappointed in the outcome. I’m actually excited about what I saw,” Harrison said. “We did well. We did very well.”

Joe Naiman can be reached by email at [email protected].


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