New Toppenish High girls basketball coach Brad Baker knows his team isn’t going to win many games with its size. But what the Wildcats lack in height, they make up for with tenacity.
Toppenish started off 3-1 in CWAC play, relying on defense and consistent shooting. And while the ‘Cats dropped both of their league games last weekend, Baker believes his system is going to be effective with the players he has.
“We’re not very tall, so we have to play an aggressive, in-your-face style,” said Baker, whose two posts, junior Nakota Whalawitsa and senior Ariana Aguilera, check in at 5-foot-9.
“Defense is a mindset and we have to fully commit to it,” he added. “We just have to make sure we stay organized and play hard all the way to the final buzzer. That’s my philosophy.”
Last weekend provided two of the Wildcats’ biggest tests in the early season against Grandview and Prosser. Top-Hi was in both games, but ended up getting beaten down the stretch — 54-46 vs. Grandview and 63-57 vs. Prosser.
The ‘Cats also fell to Selah, but defeated third-place East Valley. They now sit at 3-3 in league play and 4-3 overall.
“Our energy has been good in every game, and I’ve been really happy with the girls’ attitude and hard work,” Baker said. “I think we have enough talent to compete with every team in this league.”
The starting five consists of one senior, Kassandra Tellez, along with a junior, two sophomores and a freshman.
Sophomore Cloe Peters has been the leading scorer thus far, while younger sister Bree Peters has been a consistent scoring threat at the point. Sophomore Neveah Zuniga has been starting at small forward, Tellez is the power forward and Whalawitsa is the starting post.
Also playing a key role for the Wildcats is senior Fayedawn Fiander, the first player off the bench.
“Faye has the highest basketball IQ on our team and she has been instrumental in helping us win some big games early in the season,” Baker said. “Even though she comes off the bench, she’s been third on the team in minutes.”
The coach also gave a nod to Tellez, another program veteran.
“I wish I had 10 players like Kassie,” he said. “She’s very efficient and she can guard every team’s best player. She’s also a great leader for our younger girls.”
Another senior, Aguilera, is the backup post. Other valuable reserves have been junior Andrea Sandoval and freshman Natalia Sanchez. Baker said he has been pleased with his team’s depth over the first month of the season.
“Everyone has a role, and we use all of them,” he said. “They all make things happen when they come into the game.”
Baker said another reason the ‘Cats have been so competitive in the early going is that many of the younger girls have played under him in club basketball.
“That’s made for a smooth transition because they all know what I expect,” he said.
Next up for the Wildcats is a road game at Wapato on Jan. 3, followed by a home contest against first-place Ellensburg on Jan. 4.