Rebuilding a State championship team was tough … Scholarship opportunities are created … Top area players are wearing Lady Eagles’ colors … Thomas, Brown surfaced at historic Cal Baptist.
Mt. San Jacinto College’s Chris Mozga, coach of the 2018 State junior college women’s basketball champions, was asked a simple question earlier this season: How do you go about replacing a State championship roster?
He said, “It is not easy.”
MSJC was replaced as State champs last weekend when Diablo Valley (32-1) knocked off Moorpark (32-2) in the finals at Ventura College.
It’s no coincidence that the State’s powerhouse teams, which includes Mozga’s squad, are always in contention.
Moorpark beat MSJ twice this season, but Mozga was in the process of rebuilding a state championship team.
There were some returning players off last year’s 32-2 squad. Alyssa Walton (Victor Valley High), Kaelee Kelley (Lancaster) and Raena Lasley (Lakeside) got plenty of time as freshmen last season.
Let’s see, Lasley and Kelly came out of high school teams that reached State.
How’s that for working hard? This year’s freshman class seems impressive.
Mozga logged into the Family Plan.
His assistant coach, wife Fontay, jet sets around the county, plus a few of the neighboring ones, looking for players.
“Definitely the key to our recruiting,” Mozga says, adding, “You hope that we have a little bit of reputation by now of being a good option for local players.”
Those local players — Britney Thomas from San Jacinto High, Delacy Brown from Riverside Poly, Kaila Gower from Menifee, among others — helped march MSJC through last year’s playoffs with regional wins over Pasadena, El Camino and College of Sequoias.
They would then go on to beat Sierra and Merced for the State title.
Nearly two handfuls of players wound up at four-year colleges off that roster.
It’s the kind of reputation Mozga’s gunning for.
Fontay, he said, “is out there year-round, letting the top players in the area know about the opportunities.”
It’s a simple message: “Winning games and getting players on to the next level with scholarships.”
That 32-win season translated into nine scholarships to 4-year schools.
“Everything else rolls from there,” he says. “You can’t win if you don’t practice hard and continue to improve.”
Winning helps bring out the four-year options.
“You can’t accept a scholarship if you are not doing your job academically.”
Throw in Patrick Springer, who happens to be MSJC’s men’s coach, athletic director and a campus dean.
Said Mozga: “He has done an excellent job of setting up our student-athlete Scholars Program.”
There’s an advantage, he says, “when it comes to staying on top of their academics.”
Mandatory study hall, plus tutor access, only adds to the mix.
More stat stuff: MSJC women have sent 50 players to four-year schools on scholarship over the past 13 years.
“I think kids that come from successful programs have expectations of winning,” said Mozga, “and it makes it an easier transition. We are, obviously, on the lookout for any player we can get in the area that is talent.
“When they come from a successful program, it is definitely a bonus.”
Fontana Summit High produced De’Adra Ross, a 6-2 forward who averaged 22.7 points for the Lady SkyHawks.
Riverside King High had two at MSJC, counting 5-6 guard Serena Hickey and 5-11 forward Haylei Jansenns.
Brittany Neely, a 5-6 sophomore guard who averaged 9.5 points in her frosh season at MSJC, 23-7 back in 2013-2014, has returned. She was fresh off a brilliant prep career at high-powered Rialto High.
Her Rialto coach was Michael Anderson, who eventually logged time at another area powerhouse, San Bernardino Arroyo Valley.
In 2011-2012, Neely played on Anderson’s 25-3 Lady Knights’ squad that was knocked off by Santa Ana Mater Dei.
Neely returned to MSJC to contribute to a 24-7 squad that reached third round play this season.
“We try and make sure that everyone we bring in has a chance to play,” Mozga said, “so we don’t bring in a huge number of players and then try to get it down to 12.”
Help MSJ, he says, and they “help themselves by being a part of our program.”
There are anywhere between 15 and 18 players at MSJ, some red-shirting to get an extra shot at scholarship options.
It’s more about college than basketball.
Footnote on Thomas and Brown: The pair were part of California Baptist University's first-ever season in NCAA Division 1, leading the Lady Lancers to an 18-11 record.