Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Before Coronado girl’s basketball coach Bill Crego makes any moves or changes this season, there’s one key person he’s always planning to consult.
It’s not an assistant or a mentor. It’s his best player, senior guard Sofie Cruz.
“Being a basketball coach for 20 years now, it’s safe to say I haven’t had many kids like that,” Crego said. “I trust her like I haven’t trusted too many other kids.”
Cruz finishes off a decorated career for the Cougars this year. She’s started all four years, scoring the most points on the team the past two seasons after being the second-leading scorer during her freshman campaign.
She was one of seven players to make the Sun’s Super Seven preseason team, joining Jada Brown, Tamera Williams and Breanna Workman from Centennial, Canyon Springs’ Cherise Beynon, Valley’s Tyricia Payne and Bishop Gorman’s April Rivers.
“It’s my last year, so I want to give it my all,” Cruz said. “I’m looking to lead my team. Hopefully it’s going to be a great season because last year in the playoffs we were very successful. We’re looking to do the same.”
Cruz put on a performance in last year’s Sunrise regional semifinals that would have registered as legendary if it weren’t for a last-second three-pointer by Foothill to defeat Coronado 63-62. Instead, the showing was just equal parts and exceptional and memorable.
Down 14 in the second half, Cruz took over and willed the Cougars back into the game. She made five three-pointers and couldn’t miss from anywhere on the floor, finishing with a season-high 32 points.
“It was just incredible,” Crego raved. “That showed me right there how bad she wanted the game. That’s her right there. It was tough to lose because she was a force.”
Cruz averaged a career-high 17 points per game last season. If she were on a different team, according to Crego, she would have averaged more like 25 points per game.
Opponents continually threw double-teams at Cruz and dared someone else to beat them. Coronado lacked a consistent second scoring threat, something they added this year in Valley transfer Ashley Johnson.
With a handful of other returners, Cruz is surrounded by the best Coronado team in years and poised to explode.
“I’ve gotten more composure and, as you get older and experience more things, you get better skill-wise,” Cruz said. “But I think mentally is where I’ve made my biggest improvements.”
Not that she needed much help in that department. Cruz’s academic schedule is heavy on honors classes and she was in the running for the school’s valedictorian.
She’s on track to graduate with a 4.75 grade-point average, an achievement she’s more proud of than any basketball accolades.
“To play at some colleges, you need to have certain grades or a certain GPA,” Cruz said. “I always promised myself I wouldn’t restrict myself.”
Cruz’s dream is to play at the University of California San Diego, where she’d major in community health services with plans to attend medical school after college.
She’s already secured one glistening reference.
“I’ve never seen anyone as driven as she is,” Crego said. “She’s clearly head and shoulders above everyone in that department.”
Meet the rest of the Sun’s Super Seven preseason team:
Cherise Beynon, junior, Canyon Springs
About Cherise: Like Cruz, Beynon stars as much in the classroom as she does on the basketball court. She ranks No. 1 in her magnet program at Canyon Springs. Her smarts carry over to her game, as she leads the Pioneers on the floor. Benyon’s the only player on either the boy’s or girl’s Super Seven teams that’s not a senior. She’s entering her junior year after being named the Most Valuable Player in her region last season. Her goal this year is to average 20 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game. That seems doable, considering the handful of double-doubles she posted last year.
Cherise on the upcoming season: “We lost some vital players from our team. I have to step it up more to fill their shoes. I need everyone to feed off of me for more confidence, so I need more confidence in myself.”
Jada Brown, senior, Centennial
About Jada: After making the Sun Super Seven team last year as a junior, Brown said her personal goal was to win the Gatorade Nevada Player of the Year award. Mission accomplished. After leading Centennial to yet another Sunrise Regional championship by averaging 13 points and eight rebounds, Brown took home the honor. Her second-straight breakout season also netted her a scholarship to her top college choice, the University of Kansas.
“Jada has been coached well and plays with her high school team during the summer, so she has had consistency there,” Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson said after signing Brown.
“Another plus for Jada is how hard she competes and her competitive drive. She is a young lady who will come in as a four, we will want to swing to a three, but for her to immediately come in and play power forward and play in the middle of the floor.”
Before Brown worries about her collegiate future, however, she wants to make sure perennial power Centennial doesn’t bow out of the playoffs before the state championship for the second straight year.
Jada on the upcoming season: “We’re ready to come back and redeem ourselves for what should have been done last year. There was a lack of leadership on my behalf. I take responsibility as captain for that. There’s a lot of better team chemistry this year. We are really doing more stuff together as a team outside of basketball, and that helps on the court too.”
Tyricia Payne, senior, Valley
About Tyricia: Payne could be considered Las Vegas high school basketball equivalent’s of LeBron James. She can play, and excel, at all five positions on the floor. The 5-foot-9 Payne started her high school career at Rancho, playing in the post. Upon transferring to Valley last year, coach Roger Hansen moved her to the wing where she could rotate at small forward and shooting guard. She’s practiced to play some point guard for the Vikings this year once she becomes eligible.
“She’s made a pretty amazing transition,” Hansen said. “She shot close to 50 percent from three-point range last year and she had to learn all new things. She just keeps getting better and better.
Tyricia on the upcoming season: “This year, people are going to have to watch out. We’re going to give it our all. We’re going to go really far. I have so much faith in my team this year.”
April Rivers, senior, Bishop Gorman
About April: The first thing everyone notices about Rivers is her size. At 5-foot-4, she doesn’t look like one of the premier basketball players in the state. But that’s exactly what she is.
“She’s a pitbull,” Bishop Gorman coach Sheryl Krmpotich said. “Don’t be mistaken by her size. When you put her in the pen, she’s going to gnaw somebody’s face off.”
Rivers has contributed since she was a freshman, when the Gaels won their most recent state championship. She’s built on her solid point-guard fundamentals. She’s now as likely to sink a three-pointer as she is to drive in and convert an easy layup in the lane. “Her penetration has gotten much better, her stop-and-pop we call it,” Krmpotich said. “She can shoot, which makes her more dimensional.”
April on the upcoming season: “We have the drive to succeed and push ourselves this year. I believe we can get a lot accomplished. I believe I’ll stay calm and help everyone stay in control. I shoot, I drive, I dish. I just make sure everyone is hyped.”
Tamera Williams, senior, Centennial
About Tamera: Out of the three Centennial players to make the Sun Super Seven team, Williams may come in as the most explosive. She specializes at getting to the basket and finishing. “I’m very quick,” Williams describes the strength of her game. “If you don’t stop me, I’m blowing right past you.”
Also a track star, Williams has a closet full of medals to back up her claims. She averaged 11 points, five rebounds and three assists for the Bulldogs last season. She’s content to play whatever role Centennial coach Karen Weitz asks of her, which is an important attribute on a team as loaded as Centennial.
Williams will spend the next four years playing at New Mexico State. She committed to the Aggies in the offseason, picking them over UNLV and Delaware State.
Tamera on the upcoming season: “We just have to go with our philosophy and go with what the coach says. We’re very motivated. It’s great to play with Jada and Bre. Jada especially pushes me to my best ability. They are great players and I love playing with them.”
Breanna Workman, senior, Centennial
About Breanna: Versatility and intensity count as two of the utmost qualities basketball coaches look for in their players. Workman does both, and much more. “Dribble, shoot, pass,” Workman said. “I try to be a triple threat. I try to be one dynamic person.”
Her well-rounded game grabbed the attention of recruiters everywhere, but Workman decided to sign her letter of intent as soon as possible and inked with Arizona. She’ll lead the Bulldogs in rebounding on most nights and could take the scoring load whenever necessary as well. Like the rest of her teammates, Workman is haunted by last year’s loss in the state semifinals.
Breanna on the upcoming season: “Everyone knows in the back of their head what happened last year. Everybody is motivated. We’re ready to get back out there and show our fight, our motivation to get back to the top.”