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Warriors reach CIF girls basketball semifinals

Fallbrook High School’s girls basketball team won the Warriors’ third Valley League championship in four years and the reached the semifinals of the CIF San Diego Section Division I playoffs.

The Warriors won all 10 of their Valley League games, entered the post-season with a 21-7 overall record, and won two playoff games before losing to top-seeded Cathedral Catholic.

“I had really no expectations,” said Fallbrook coach Trae Harrison.

Claire Nordeen was Fallbrook’s only senior starter, and the entire team had only three seniors. Three of Fallbrook’s 2023-24 starters – Grace Nordeen, Emery Pizzo, and Taylor Thomas – are freshmen. The other starter, junior Janice Garcia, made her varsity basketball debut as a sophomore.

Valley Center finished second in the league standings with a 7-3 record in Valley League play. Mount Carmel had the third-place league record of 6-4. Escondido was 5-5 for third place.

Fallbrook followed a 56-3 win Jan. 31 at Ramona with a 59-20 victory Feb. 2 at Valley Center. The Warriors had a 16-4 lead after the first period and scored all 14 points in the second quarter. The score was 44-10 entering the fourth period.

Grace Nordeen had 21 points, 15 rebounds, eight steals, four assists, and a blocked shot. Claire Nordeen contributed 14 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, four steals, and a block. Garcia scored 13 points. Thomas dished out five assists and stole the ball twice.

The Feb. 7 home match against Mount Carmel had a 71-34 final score in the Warriors’ favor. Fallbrook had leads of 19-7 after one quarter, 37-17 at halftime, and 54-26 after three periods.

Grace Nordeen had 28 points; Claire Nordeen scored 25 points, and Garcia provided 15 points. Grace Nordeen pulled down 14 rebounds; Claire Nordeen took 11 balls off the boards; Pizzo grabbed nine missed shots, and Garcia had seven rebounds.

Claire Nordeen and Thomas each had four assists with Grace Nordeen having two assists. Thomas and Grace Nordeen each recorded six steals while Pizzo had four steals. Garcia had four blocked shots; Claire Nordeen blocked a shot twice, and Pizzo had a block.

Senior Night festivities prior to Fallbrook’s Feb. 9 home game against Escondido honored Claire Nordeen, Jasmine Hernandez, and Sienna Strange. Nordeen had 20 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, four assists, and a blocked shot in the Warriors’ 52-17 triumph.

Hernandez had two rebounds and Strange had one rebound. Pizzo provided 12 points, four rebounds, and two assists. Grace Noreen had seven points, eight rebounds, two assists, a steal, and a blocked shot.

Thomas contributed five points, six steals, three rebounds, and three assists. Garcia scored five points, pulled down 11 rebounds, blocked two shots, and had an assist. The Warriors held a 12-2 lead after the first quarter, the halftime score was 19-11, and Fallbrook had a 21-0 scoring advantage in the third period.

In both 2020-21 and 2021-22, Fallbrook was 10-0 in Valley League play. The Warriors were moved to the Avocado League for 2022-23 and were 4-6 in that league. The North County Conference returned Fallbrook to the Valley League in 2023-24 and the league championship banners in the Warriors’ gymnasium will reflect first place in this year’s standings.

“It was a great experience for us,” Harrison said. “It was great for the team. It was great for our morale.”

This year’s CIF playoff selection and seeding meeting gave Fallbrook the fifth seed in the Division I playoffs. Imperial had the 12th seed, so the Tigers traveled to Fallbrook for the first-round playoff game Feb. 13.

On Feb. 25, 2022, Fallbrook and Imperial played for the CIF San Diego Section Division II championship. “We knew their style of play,” Harrison said. “They play a lot like we do.”

Imperial took a 16-12 record into the 2024 playoff game. The Tigers shared the Imperial Valley League championship.

“We knew we had to make our adjustments,” Harrison said. “We were pretty confident.”

Fallbrook won the 2021-22 CIF title with a 29-23 victory over Imperial. “The championship game was a very low-scoring game,” Harrison said. “Our pace was very different this year. We were able to run the ball a lot.”

Harrison noted that the Warriors also had more trap steals in this year’s playoff against Imperial than they had two years ago. The 57-37 Fallbrook win included five steals by Grace Nordeen, four by Claire Nordeen, and one by Pizzo. Fallbrook had leads of 21-9 at the end of the first period and 41-13 when the halftime buzzer sounded.

Claire Nordeen had 20 points; Grace Nordeen scored 17; Garcia placed 10 shots into the nets; Pizzo scored four, and Thomas and sophomore Olivia Castillo each scored three points. Each of the Nordeen sisters had 17 rebounds with Garcia pulling down six, Thomas grabbing three, Pizzo obtaining two, and Castillo taking one ball off the board. Grace Nordeen had five assists, Thomas assisted on two baskets, and Garcia and Pizzo had an assist apiece.

La Costa Canyon was in the Avocado League for 2022-23 and defeated the Warriors twice. This year the Mavericks shared the Coastal League championship, were seeded fourth in the Division I playoffs, and were 16-13 before the 60-54 quarterfinals loss to Fallbrook finalized the Mavericks’ season record at 16-14.

“We played them twice last year and they got the best of us,” Harrison said. “We kind of know their personnel, so it was about us executing more efficiently.”

The Feb. 16 quarterfinal in Carlsbad was a two-point game at the end of the first quarter with Fallbrook holding the 19-17 advantage. Fallbrook outscored La Costa Canyon by a 13-4 margin in the second period. The Mavericks scored 17 points in the third quarter while Fallbrook had nine. Fallbrook’s 19-16 advantage in the fourth quarter finalized the score.

Harrison noted that Fallbrook’s defensive play was responsible for the victory. “We kept doing what we were doing,” he said.

The Warriors’ 37 total rebounds included 30 defensive ones. Claire Nordeen had 13 rebounds; Grace Nordeen provided 11; Garcia had seven; Pizzo pulled down four, and Thomas grabbed two. Grace Nordeen obtained five steals with Claire Nordeen and Pizzo each having one steal.

Garcia had the Warriors’ only blocked shot. Grace Nordeen scored 24 points;, Claire Nordeen sunk 21 points worth of baskets; Garcia had 12 points, and Pizzo provided the other three points. Grace Nordeen dished out five assists and Claire Nordeen had three assists.

Cathedral Catholic shared the Western League championship. The Dons took a 19-11 overall record into their Feb. 21 home semifinal against Fallbrook.

“They had some players that were extremely good,” Harrison said. “Our game plan against them was to force their other players to beat us.”

The Dons led by a 15-8 margin after the first period. The halftime score was 37-17 in Cathedral’s favor. “We gave up a big lead to start the game,” Harrison said. “We just fought back.”

Fallbrook narrowed the deficit to 50-34 by the end of the third quarter. The final score was 60-50.

“We started so slow. It took us a while to believe we could do it, but when we did it was a totally different story,” Harrison said.

‘We were outmatched,” Harrison said. “That game taught us a lot about where our toughness lies.”

Fallbrook had 37 rebounds to 26 for the Dons. Grace Nordeen had 18 of those rebounds; Claire Nordeen grabbed nine; Pizzo obtained five; Thomas had three, and Garcia pulled down two. Claire Nordeen scored 20 points; Grace Nordeen had 18; Garcia contributed seven, and Pizzo had five.

Grace Nordeen led the Warriors with four assists while Claire Nordeen and Thomas had two apiece. Grace Nordeen had four of Fallbrook’s six steals with Claire Nordeen and Thomas each recording one. Garcia blocked a shot.

Author Bio

Joe Naiman, Writer

Joe Naiman has been writing for the Village News since 2001


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