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West Ranch girls basketball: Changing of the guard

Different approach has West Ranch's Ruiz relying more on teammates and the ’Cats pushing for a title

Posted: January 14, 2010 10:26 p.m.
Updated: January 15, 2010 4:30 a.m.

West Ranch seniors, from left to right, Kaylyn Tarver, Tori Wilson, Erin Ruiz and Brittni Walker are looking to lead the team to its first ever Foothill League championship. In the past, Ruiz has shouldered the scoring load for the Wildcats, but this season she is relying more on her teammates and the responded.

West Ranch senior Erin Ruiz knows how to score.

And Randy Smith, the Wildcats’ second-year head coach, has no problem putting the ball in her hands.  

Whenever her teammates needed a clutch play last year, it was Ruiz’s number that was called. The CIF-Southern Section Division II-AA playoffs made it obvious.

With seconds remaining and the score tied against Whittier on Feb. 19, 2009, Ruiz made an inbound pass, grabbed a handoff and nailed a 3-pointer from nearly half court as time expired.

The 52-49 win was the Wildcats’ first ever in the playoffs.

This year, West Ranch (9-7, 1-0) could break new ground with a first ever league title. But it won’t be in just Ruiz’s hands. There are three other seniors that have stepped up to carry the load.

Ruiz, Kaylyn Tarver, Brittni Walker and Tori Wilson, who have been playing together on varsity since freshman year, came to a mutual understanding in the offseason.

It’s now or never.

“I think we got serious after the season last year, when we started our spring conditioning,” Tarver says. “That’s when we really wanted to take league.”

Ruiz took it one step further.

“We all know what our goals are,” she says. “We know this year won’t be a success unless we win league. And that’s our goal.”

Smith says he’s noticed a change in the attitude around the program, which has not finished higher than third the Foothill League.

“Last year, I think we went into games hoping to win. Now, I think we’re going in expecting to,” Smith says.

Ruiz has been a big part of that, but not in the way one might expect. A pure scorer and one of the league’s best shooters, she has been taking fewer shots.

Smith says Ruiz has gotten better at deciding when to pass and when to shoot. And though she may be the best option, Ruiz had to learn when it benefits the team more to try and create for others.   

“(Ruiz) has made her teammates better, and I think that’s part of it,” Smith says. “It’s made things easier for her. She had a lot of pressure on her last year to do all the scoring.”

Smith says last year’s home-and-away series with Valencia proved the need for an adjustment.

The Wildcats won the first meeting 64-57 on Jan. 20, 2009. The Vikings moved to a box-and-1 defense in the rematch and shadowed Ruiz everywhere she went. She finished with four points and one field goal in a 43-37 loss two weeks later.

And so West Ranch made some changes.

So far, it’s working for Ruiz.

“I think that it just takes the pressure off. It allows me to do what I need to do and trust that they can handle everything too,” Ruiz says. “I think that helps us all have confidence in each other.”

And more importantly for the guard, it’s worked for the team.

The most dramatic example may have come on Dec. 10 against Rio Mesa.

This time, Ruiz took an inbound pass with West Ranch trailing 42-41.

“We had Erin bring down the ball and two people started guarding her,” Walker says. “And then there were three people (guarding Ruiz), and she started dribbling baseline.”

Walker was waiting inside the key, thinking Ruiz was going to win it with a reverse layup as she drove into the lane. Instead, Walker caught a pass with seconds remaining and nailed the game-winner.

“I think (Ruiz) understands she doesn’t have to do it all herself,” Walker says, “And that’s been working really well for us.”

Wilson says it definitely helps to know that the team still has an option it can always turn to.

“It helps us because it frees us up,” Wilson says. “People know Erin’s the shooter, so it gives us a lot of opportunity to score, and we can rely on her a little.”

Looking for fewer shots hasn’t been a difficult transition for Ruiz. She’s managed to keep pace with last year’s team-leading 14.6 points per game.

But with increased confidence in her teammates, Ruiz has been able to help everyone else pick up their averages.

Tarver upped her scoring by almost three points per game. Walker has added nearly a bucket to her average. Wilson says she’s learned a better understanding of how to pick her spots.

The numbers may not be eye-popping, but they have helped the Wildcats take care of business.

Teammates say Tarver is probably the most vocal of the team’s seniors, but she also leads by example.

Her defensive pressure on Valencia standout Lauren Spargo led to a 48-45 win over the Vikings during a preleague holiday tournament.

West Ranch took its league opener over Saugus on Tuesday with defensive pressure from the whole team. And the offense was balanced, too. Tarver scored 16 points, and Ruiz was the second-leading scorer with 11.   

“That was a big win for us, because saying and doing are two different things,” says Walker of the team’s league-title aspirations. “We wanted to show (winning league) wasn’t just something that we were talking about.”


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