Senior guard Emmia Rivera, seen here guarding a Branham player during their game on Dec. 28, provides 3-point shooting, the ability to get to the basket off dribble penetration and tough defense. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Despite a rather rough time in the John Araujo Memorial Holiday Tournament to close out 2022, the Hollister High girls basketball team should be considered the co-favorite along with North Salinas to win the Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division championship.

The two teams shared the league title last year and this season looks to be more of the same, especially after the Haybalers opened league play with a resounding 56-15 win over Salinas on Jan. 3. It was a dominant performance coming off the John Araujo tournament at Del Mar High, where they lost their first two games to Branham and Leland on back-to-back days. 

Hollister did manage to close the tournament out on a winning note, beating a struggling Westmont side as expected, 47-42, on Dec. 30. The 57-46 loss to Branham came 11 days after one of the team’s biggest wins since Mitch Burley took over as the head coach 12 years ago. 

On Dec. 17, Hollister beat St. Francis of Mountain View, 61-45. The Lancers, of course, aren’t just a bottom feeder from the powerful West Catholic Athletic League—they’re usually one of the top four squads.

“I don’t think we’ve ever beaten a [WCAL] in my 12 years here,” Burley said moments after the Branham game. “We just played really well against St. Francis so that was kind of a surprise but a good surprise.”

Hollister looks to have another strong season behind the play of Bailey Cotter and Jocelyn Alexander. Cotter scored a team-high 15 points against Branham on an assortment of drives and pull-up jumpers. 

The junior has always possessed superior footwork which allows her to create separation against bigger defenders under duress. Alexander is an athletic marvel, having recently signed a letter of intent to compete for Cal State Fullerton’s track and field team. 

But her basketball skills have been on full display this season. A strong ball-handler, terrific passer and solid defender, Alexander is a true difference-maker and makes an impact in a variety of ways. 

“Jocelyn is so strong and does everything,” Burley said. “She can be a point guard or guard a 6-4 girl. She has a lot of skill and has been a starter since her freshman year, so she’s been doing this a long time.”

The Balers have other key players including Emmia Rivera, Juliann Donati, Lindsay Platero, Madelyn Davis, Claire Gho and Emery Sparling. Rivera is a dual threat in that she can knock down shots from beyond the arc and take it to the basket off dribble penetration. 

Donati and Platero have been in the program and provide stability and experience whenever they’re on the floor. Davis is just a freshman but plays much older and had nine points against Branham, seven of which came in the second half. 

Davis displayed a nice touch around the rim and was strong with the basketball in the lane. Gho and Sparling are sophomores and along with Davis should be solid mainstays in the program for years to come. Burley said it was a big plus to have Sparling back in the mix for the Branham game. 

“Emery came in and played some defense and was out there for a while, and I’m glad she got the opportunity,” Burley said. “That was good for her to get her back in playing.”

Hollister has a solid group, but it will have to be at its best to compete for the Gabilan Division title. Entering the week, Alisal is 10-2, North Salinas 9-2, Salinas 7-3 and Carmel 6-4. Watsonville, at 6-7, is the only team with a losing record entering division action. 

“I would hope we’d contend for a league championship,” Burley said. “There are some pretty good teams and some new teams in our league, so it’s really a strange season as far as league opponent history and all of that.”

Whatever happens, Burley said he’s enjoyed coaching this year’s team. 

“I like my girls; they’re a good group to be around,” he said. “We have a lot of fun and there’s not any drama—it doesn’t seem like at least—that I know of. So, I just enjoy it. The girls are working hard. We’re not a D1 team as far as college [recruits], but we’re having fun playing high school basketball and that’s what I like about it the most.”

Senior combo guard Jocelyn Alexander will prove key once again in the team’s success. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Bailey Cotter excels in attacking the basket off a variety of moves. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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