Anzar has reasons to be optimistic

Fatima Gomez and Monse Valenzuela played key roles throughout the season. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Skylar Seyffert had just started responding to a question from a reporter when one of her teammates came up to her to say a couple of poignant words. The two embraced in a hug as tears welled in their eyes. That picture captured the essence of the Anzar High girls basketball team’s season, one that concluded with a 38-24 loss to host Castilleja of Palo Alto last Thursday in the second round of the Central Coast Section Division V playoffs.

“I’ll remember how far we’ve come since we were freshmen, and how far we’ve come even from last year,” said Seyffert, one of nine seniors on the team. “We were all kind of beginners coming in, with many of us not having played before. But we all came in, committed ourselves and pushed each other. We got good instruction from our coach (Mark Cisneros), who was always there for us.”

The Hawks had their best season in recent memory, finishing 16-10 and earning the program’s first playoff win in five years. While it may have been a bittersweet end to the season, the players knew they had gone as far as they could. The team’s three standout seniors—Destiny Hansen, Fatima Gomez and Seyffert—left an indelible impression on the program.

In fact, all nine of the seniors did.

“It’s going to be hard to swallow not seeing the nine seniors back in the gym next year,” Cisneros said. “I think they left an impression on the underclassmen that if you work hard, they can go as far as they want to go. The girls got a taste of CCS last year, so they came into this year hungry. They played amazing together, backed each other up and were very supportive of each other. We’ve been yelling family (as our team motto) quite a bit, and that’s what this team was.”

Cisneros has helped instill in his team confidence and direction. Having just completed his third season as coach, the team has made dramatic improvement since it won only four games in his first season at the helm. Both Hansen and Seyffert said the team’s 38-29 win over Gonzales on Dec. 4 was the highlight of their season.

“That was the best game because we played a complete game, both on offense and defense,” Seyffert said.

“Definitely the Gonzales game was our best,” Hansen said. “All of these years we’ve had games where we played one good half. That game we played two good halves, and we beat a team that we hadn’t beaten in four years. We were a force to be reckoned with at that point of the season.”

Even though the Hawks will graduate a huge senior class, Cisneros said the cupboard isn’t bare next season. Standout juniors Rachel Cardini, Sammy Vanderford and Monse Valenzuela will return, and there should be a player or two from the junior varsity team who will make an impact. Cisneros said he was encouraged by the junior varsity team’s progress under coach Jaime Hall.

“She was able to work with the seven girls this year and help them develop, so it’s not like we’ll be starting brand new next season,” Cisneros said.

Hansen credits Cisneros for molding the players and bringing the girls together.

“He knows how to work with us and how to deal with us,” she said. “He’s really helped us understand the game better.”

Seyffert said she’ll miss Hansen’s intensity and love for the game.

“I’ll always remember her slapping the ground,” Seyffert said. “She always goes in on defense, gets real low and hits the ground. That’s when you knew we were ready to play.”

While there were plenty of tears afterward, the Anzar players knew they had accomplished something special. Hansen, who had never played a sport until arriving at Anzar, will miss the camaraderie and all of the hard practices the team went through to improve.

“I’m going to miss having to run those liners in practice,” she said. “It’s weird to say, but it’s those hard times when we pushed together that really brought us together as a team. That’s the reason why we’re crying tonight—because we were a family and team.”

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