With the girls basketball season officially at an end, the Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 announced its white star awards for the 2017-18 season. Del Norte, which finished 5-3 in Big 5 play this year for third place, ended up with two white star winners in junior forward Dennise Horton and freshman guard Jadence Clifton.
Senior Payten Healy and junior Kaleya Sanchez were both honorable mention all-league selections for the Warriors.
“I wish I had five white stars to give, realistically, but you only get two when you come in third,” said Del Norte head coach Justin Clifton. “It is what it is.”
Clifton said Horton was one of the best few players in the league this season and if a couple things had gone a bit differently during league play she could have been the league’s MVP.
“She averaged a double-double for the year, which is impressive,” Clifton said. “And even when she is not scoring she affects the game with the defense that she brings and she still demands attention whether she is scoring or not — you have to guard her. She just brings that presence. There are a lot of things she need to work on still, but we are very fortunate to have her on our team.”
Jadence Clifton made it onto the White Star team in her first season of high school basketball as the second leading scorer in the Big 5 league games this year, and the top-scoring guard.
“With Jadence, of course I’m speaking as a coach and a father, but I am very proud of her,” Clifton said. “Any time a freshman joins a varsity team, and then starts on top of that, there is a lot of pressure. Then with dad being the coach and all of that there was all kinds of pressure on her this year, but I think she held her own just fine. She has a lot of upside to her too, and nobody loves basketball more than Jadence.”
Payten Healy, one of two four year starters on the team this season, was named honorable mention for the Warriors this year.
“She is just a leader,” Justin Clifton said. “She is exactly what you want your kids to be like. She is a leader.”
Junior Kaleya Sanchez was named honorable mention for the Warriors after playing tough defense, generally against the other team’s best scorer, all season long.
“She is already a stud, but with a little bit more work she could really dominate this league and our section,” Clifton said. “I’m very proud of her. She is by far our best defensive player on the team. I put her on your best player and shut them down. Game after game I can count on that with her. Overall she is a very good player and she still has a lot of untapped potential.”
The Warriors finished the season with a 16-10 overall record, after advancing to the North Coast Section Division IV quarterfinals for the season season in a row. Clifton pointed out that Del Norte ended up with 10 losses to nine different teams this year.
“Every single one of those teams made state,” Clifton said. “There is not a lot of teams that can say that. We definitely have one of the hardest schedules that I have ever seen. And I did that on purpose to make these kids better. Where they are really going to benefit from it is in the following years.”
Clifton said he sees a lot of potential in all of the players eligible to return next season, including two juniors, two sophomores and two freshman that saw extended playing time this season.
“I am excited for next year,” Clifton said. “I hate to see Payten and Claire leave, I wish I could have coached them for the last four years. But I am excited for the upcoming years for Del Norte. I think Del Norte is kind of on the map now for girls basketball. I am excited and the girls are excited.”
Clifton said he plans to form an AAU team for any interested players to continue to work on their game during the offseason. He also said he is planning on taking everyone to a team camp sometime during the summer.
“The goal is to keep these girls playing,” Clifton said. “We are excited for next year, but the real work happens in the offseason. You build champions in the offseason.”
Reach Michael Zogg at firstname.lastname@example.org .