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Valencia's Surprise Star

Posted: January 29, 2008 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 31, 2008 2:01 a.m.

Valencia High junior forward Starla Wright, a transfer from Chatsworth High, has become the Vikings' leading scorer in Foothill League play. She's third in the league at 15.7 points per game through six contests.

 
What was once a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead was now two.

It's Valencia 52, Saugus 50.
Vikings' ball.
One minute remaining.
The Foothill League's at-the-time first-place Centurions girls basketball team trailed by as many as 16 earlier in the Friday night contest, but now owned every ounce of momentum.
Valencia needed a bucket.
Or else.
"Saugus had scored on four or five straight possessions," says Valencia head coach Jerry Mike. "If we don't score there and they get the ball back with their momentum, they'd win."
Enter Starla Wright.
A calmer of nervous coaches and a buster of momentum.
The ball was sent inside to the junior forward in the post and Mike swears, all of the tension instantly flushed out of his body.
A flick of her fingertips in the direction of the rim later and an upset of the league's former first-place team was a reality.
Valencia held on for a 56-50 win.
"I kept telling myself that I had to clutch up," Wright says. "If they're trusting me in that situation, I can't not score for us."
She ignored the fact that two hours earlier she felt so weak from illness that she asked Mike if she would be better off sitting out.
The 5-foot-10 junior says she could barely lift her legs.
She was still suffering from cold symptoms as of Monday night.
Yet, with the game all but on the line, adrenaline flowing, she had just enough energy left to provide the standings-shifting clincher.
Story of Valencia's Friday night.
Story of the Vikings' breakout season.
"Forty-five seconds left, I'm just thinking, 'Let's not mess around," Mike says. 'Let's just get it to Star.' Game on the line, you go to your go-to player and you let her win the game for you."
It's a statement Mike admits he feels funny even making.
Valencia was supposed to be a one-girl, maybe a two-girl team.
Wright wasn't one of them.
Chelsey Hastigan, an All-CIF guard who leads the scoring, was expected to carry a large burden along with another talented guard, Lindsey Hill, who's had a breakout sophomore campaign this year.
But Wright has been the catalyst.
The transfer from Chatsworth has provided easy, reliable inside offense for a team now owning an outside and inside dimension.
"Every time she's able to get the ball near the rim, I start mentally counting the points," Mike says. "She's become a great finisher."
Especially in important games.
Wright loomed large in Valencia's two biggest contests of the year as the Vikings have been the only team in league to beat both Saugus and Hart.
The Vikings play tonight at Hart against the now-first place Indians. Their loss to Valencia earlier this season was their only league loss in the team's past 25 tries, and on that night, Wright was the best player on the court.
Hart's Megan Ford, the Foothill League reigning Most Valuable Player and its current leading scorer, poured in 17 points in the contest.
Wright did her five points better, hitting 11 field goals.
The Vikings forward also helped key a defensive effort which limited Ford to only two points in the fourth quarter and overtime.
"I was definitely very surprised," Mike says.
It made sense, though, after Valencia's next game.
Three days later, in a win against West Ranch, Wright upped her career-high yet again, pouring 29 points against the Wildcats.
"When the coach told me I had 29 points after the game, I was shocked," Wright says. "I'm not used to this. It's new."
Her career-best before coming to Valencia High was 12.
A non-starter for Chatsworth as a sophomore, she reached double-digit scoring just once. Mike says that when she moved to Valencia with her family - her mom's decision - he'd never heard of her.
Then he held a practice.
"Day one she was my starter," he says. "She has that spring, she can catch, she can score - you could tell that about her right away. But did I know she was going to be the kind of go-to scorer that she's become? She basically only had two offensive moves."
The Vikings have learned not to be as surprised anymore.
After using her as their No. 3 scoring option, content with receiving eight points per game in pre-league, her role has taken off.
In six Foothill League games, the 17-year-old is averaging 15.7 points per contests, better than all but two Santa Clarita players.
Neither have out-scored Wright head-to-head.
"I'm just happy my teammates trust me, especially with the guards we have," she says. "If they're trusting me to score, one way or the other, I'm going to find a way to not let them down."


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