Gavilan Basketball: Women’s team getting recruits

San Benito High senior Alyssa Newman (21) is one of the top local girls basketball recruits who plan on playing for Gavilan College next season. 

GILROY—It’s taken three years, but Erik Nelson’s vision is finally coming to life.
The third year coach of the Gavilan College women’s basketball team has been leading a renaissance since he stepped on the court. He took a team that won just one game in the entire 2012-13 season and has helped it double its success each year after. The Rams won three games in 2013-14 and seven last season.
And they continue to get stronger.
On Friday, Gavilan announced three local standouts had verbally chosen to play for the Rams next season: Christopher High alum Cydney Caradonna, Sobrato’s Hazel Hill and Alyssa Newman of San Benito.
“The exciting thing is that people are starting to see Gav as a viable, solid option for women’s basketball,” Nelson said. “We’re kind of getting closer to where I hoped we would be when I took the job three years ago.”
Nelson and his coaching staff have been hitting the recruiting trail and hitting it hard. He said every Tuesday and Thursday during the season, all four coaches on the staff visited Bay Areas high schools to scout and spread the word about Gavilan. And it seems these young women took notice.
“We’re kind of hoping this will be the class that will take us from doubling that win total to getting to double digits and continuing to improve,” Nelson said. “It’s exciting to know that all the high schools in the area know us and know the work we’re putting in.”
Word of Gavilan’s efforts even stretched across the ocean and reached former Christopher standout Caradonna while she was studying at Hawaii Pacific University.
Caradonna is making her return to the Garlic Capital after redshirting with HPU last season. She was the Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division’s Most Valuable Player for the 2014 season and will further strengthen an already stellar group of point guards.
While HPU is great, Caradonna said, it wasn’t the right fit for her in regards to basketball. But deciding to come to Gavilan, on the other hand, was an easy choice.
Caradonna flourished under assistant coach Heather Stewart, the former head coach at Christopher, and developed a solid relationship with Nelson while in high school. One of the other assistant coaches, Melissa Llanes, has known Caradonna since birth.
“To me, it’s like a family affair going there,” Caradonna said. “I feel like I can be apart of something big at Gav. I feel like we’re going to surprise the conference.”
And Gavilan certainly has the potential to do just that.
While the Rams lose their main point guard in Felicia Lee-Cardenas, they get the other three back. Gavilan will see only three players leave as the rest of its team were freshmen.
Brianna Barron, from Gilroy High, as well as Katrina Diaz and Brittany Valdez, all played big minutes at point guard for Gavilan last season and got better with each game, Nelson said.
“They’re battled tested and ready to get after it. So if you add Cydney (Caradonna) to that group, that is a really, really strong group,” the Rams coach said.
Nelson said Hill will be a great addition to the team at the post position. The Bulldog earned Senior of the Year honors in the Santa Teresa Division and was Junior of the Year in the West Valley Division last season when she led the team in scoring.
While many schools were barking up Hills’ tree, she decided Gavilan was her best choice.
“I really wanted something where I felt comfortable with the coaching staff and the team,” she said. “I wanted to feel at home and feel comfortable with the decision.”
With Hill at the post, the 6-2 soon-to-be sophomore Greer Watson will move to a trail-four position, where she’ll be able to do what she does best—shoot 3-pointers.
What the Rams do need, however, are wings. Kelsey Caudill and Natalie Armstrong, the other two departing sophomores, leave big holes at wing and Nelson said he’s working hard to add depth there.
“Right now our biggest emphasis is getting wings—and wings that can score. Wings that want to be pressuring in up-tempo systems,” he said. “We want to press a little bit more, we want to be in transition on offense a little bit more…Right now, we got to get those wings to put the ball in the basket.”
The addition of the Balers’ Newman will help the Rams execute the press the way they want to. Newman was stellar for San Benito last season and earned MBL All Defensive Team honors because of it. While Newman doesn’t consider herself much of a scorer that doesn’t mean she’s not capable of racking up some points. The Baler did score a season-high eight points against North Salinas this year.
Nelson said he has no expectations on the number of wins or where this class of Rams will finish. The only thing he’s expecting is that his team will continue to get better.
“I think we’re getting to the point now in our program where we don’t want to just settle for being competitive, we want—especially in conference—have a really good showing,” he said. “We want to be in a position where we can be one of the top teams in our conference. That’s always kind of been my goal.”

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