In sports, as well as in life, confidence is a key to success. Often, the two are cyclical with success leading to confidence, and that accrued confidence leading to further success.
Such is the case with the Nevada Union girls basketball team.
“It’s pretty high,” NU head coach John McDaniel said of his team’s confidence level as it prepares to host prep powerhouse and Sierra Foothill League rival Del Oro today.
“I don’t remember a team that felt they could come out on any given night and just dominate some good teams like we do,” he said. “Last year, we had a great team, but I don’t know if we ever reached that level where our confidence is this year.
“It’s the way they are playing, the way they are practicing, the way we have been able to score points. Any time you can score a lot of points, it takes the pressure off, and then we are playing really good defense to back it up. I think they realize with those two things, why not be confident?”
Through the first three SFL games this season, the Lady Miners (14-4, 3-0 SFL) have put the pedal to the metal, zipping past Woodcreek, Rocklin and Granite Bay by large margins.
In those three wins, Nevada Union has won by an average of 30 points, and no game was closer than 21 points.
That likely won’t be the case when the Lady Miners host Del Oro tonight.
The Lady Golden Eagles (14-5, 3-0 SFL) entered the 2013-14 season without the SFL crown for the first time since the 2005-06 season when the SFL was introduced.
Nevada Union, which joined the SFL in the 2006-07 season, usurped the crown from Del Oro last year, ending the Lady Golden Eagles eight-year run at the top.
Del Oro no longer has the dynamic duo of Brianna Ruiz, now at the University of Washington, and Stephanie Geyer, now playing for Army.
But Del Oro doesn’t take long to reload, boasting three front-court players who all average more than 10 points per game. Del Oro senior Mia Maglinte averages 11.5 points per game, junior Lauren Heyn tallies a team-high 12.6 points per game, and junior Hannah Jordan puts in 11.2 points per game.
“They have really good girls at the three. The four and five are really strong,” McDaniel said. “They put lots of points on the board those three. I think that we will be able to equal them with Sammy (DeHart), Mel (O’Brien) and our tenacious defender Emma (Peterson). But they definitely present matchup problems when you have that much talent in the front court.”
Despite her slight frame, the 5-foot, 11-inch O’Brien has proven to be as tough as they come down low.
“I definitely think Melanie loves the opportunity to go against posts that are bigger and stronger, and she likes to show that she can use smarts and defensive skill to overcome. I think she’s excited for this opportunity.”
O’Brien leads NU in rebounds with 8.2 per game and also poses a scoring threat with 8.1 points per game.
The Lady Miners aren’t without a potent offense themselves with three players averaging more than 12 points per game. Senior Sydney Porter leads NU with 18.1 points per game, senior Emma Peterson puts in 14.3 points per game, and junior Sammy DeHart averages 12.3 per game.
“We’re very confident about this game,” Peterson said. “We feel like we are ready, more ready than last year when we played them.”
The Lady Miners and the Lady Golden Eagles have split their league games the last two seasons (2-2), each winning one on the other’s court.
Nevada Union’s key to winning today will simply be to play its game, said McDaniel.
“We want to play our game,” he said. “We want to go at it the way we always go at it, which is push, press, push, press, and if we have to execute in the half court, we will do that.”
Entering the contest, the Lady Miners’ offense is hanging 64.4 points per game while allowing just 49.2. The Lady Golden Eagles put up an average of 60.6 points per game and yield just 46.8 points per game.
“I’d say because we are so evenly matched that for every game you never know what the outcome will be,” Peterson said. “We’re both well coached, and I feel we have the same goals. We are both very competitive, and they have confidence, too. We just have to come out and show them we’re the better team.”
Whichever team wins today will be in the SFL driver’s seat as the teams head into the second half of league play.
“If we win, it would definitely put the pressure on Del Oro to be perfect in the second half,” McDaniel said. “And our girls like playing at Del Oro. They have won there a couple times. The JV group that came up this year have won there a couple times. So I think the pressure would be on them, especially if we win (tonight).”
Nevada Union will have the Lady Miners’ fan base to back them in the friendly confines of Albert Ali Gymnasium tonight, an advantage Peterson and McDaniel are aware of.
“We love Ali,” McDaniel said. “We know a lot of people come to watch us at Ali. There will be a lot of energy, and we always play well at home.”
Peterson said her team harnesses any energy coming from the crowd — good or bad — but is looking forward to the positive vibes coming from the stands.
“We love it,” she said. “We feed off it.”
The game tips at 7 p.m. tonight at Nevada Union.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.