By Phil Dailey
The La Jolla Country Day girls basketball team started the season with lofty expectations. Saturday the Torreys (27-4 overall) can come one step closer to fulfilling those goals as they travel to Colony High School in Ontario to play Windward (Los Angeles) for the CIF Division IV Regional Championship. The winner advances to the state title game at ARCO Arena in Sacramento on March 26.
So far during the team’s post-season run, there hasn’t been too much resistance by opposing teams. That is expected to change Saturday against the Wildcats (27-4).
“It’s gonna be tougher, because they have (Imani Stafford) back,” junior Malina Hood said. “So that’s gonna change our game plan and strategy.”
Stafford, who is 6-foot-7, did not play in the two previous games between the schools earlier this season — both of which were won by Country Day by a combined score of 116-92.
But don’t expect the Torreys to come into the game unprepared. During practice this week, they enlisted Frank Bamford, a 6-foot-5 junior on the boys team to play the role of Stafford.
Playing against guys in practice has been a mainstay for the girls team not only this year, but in years past.
“Playing in practice against these big guys definitely makes it a lot easier when it comes to the games,” junior Maya Hood said. “We love playing against them, obviously they are really good. It definitely pushes us to want to be better. When it comes to games, it’s a lot easier and it’s slower."
The two Hood sisters will play a big part in trying to slow down Windward’s impressive post player, a challenge that may not be as daunting as the one they face in practice each day.
“It’s hard,” Malina Hood said about practicing with the guys. “They are really fast and they definitely make us work a lot harder.”
The idea for long-time Torreys head coach Terri Bamford (also Frank’s mother) isn’t new. It’s something she has implemented as far back as she can remember. Instead of using players’ fathers, she now has a crop of Country Day students who come to practice. Also included is assistant coach Barry Randle, a former standout for Lincoln High.
“I think it’s good, when you’re battling against your teammates every day, that’s hard,” Terri Bamford said. “When you bring guys in, there are challenges — it’s good, it’s really good for them.”
And really good for the Torreys. Despite the team’s four losses, only one — against Division I state title contender Mater Dei — has come with the team at full strength.
“When we get in the games we are relentless, we have done all this work and we want to go for it,” said sophomore Kelsey Plum, the team’s leading scorer. “You can say that we win by a (large) margin, but I think that our team doesn't let up easily. We don’t look at the scoreboard, we just keep executing and at the end of the game, if it comes through, it comes through.”
Also a big motivator for the team was losing last season in the regional semifinals, a feeling they don’t want to have this season.
“We were devastated last year,” Plum said. “In the summer, everyone on our team put in extra hours, extra work. That is definitely the goal, we are not settling for anything less.”
In Bamford’s 12 seasons as the head coach, she has led the Torreys to five state championship games, two of which they won. With the qualities and determination this year’s team possesses, it just may be No. 6.
“This team is really special, one of the best teams I have coached,” Bamford said. “I think we have overall talent at every position. I feel like this team’s basketball IQ is very high and defensively I feel like this is one of the best teams that I have coached. I think they truly play as a team.”