NOV. 30th - DEC. 2nd AWAY
at Yreka Tournament

at Enterprise Tournament (Redding)

at Kelseyville Tournament

at Layfayette Tournament

Del Norte vs Hoopa, 7:30 p.m.

Del Norte at Fortuna, 6 p.m.

Del Norte vs Arcata, 6 p.m.

Del Norte at McKinleville, 6 p.m.

Del Norte vs Eureka, 6 p.m.

Del Norte vs St. Bernard’s, 6 p.m.

Del Norte vs Fortuna, 6 p.m.

Del Norte at Arcata, 6 p.m.

Del Norte vs McKinleyville, 6 p.m.

Del Norte at Eureka, 6 p.m.

FEBRUARY 12, 14, & 16 TBD
Dick Nikolai Tournament

All times are for varsity games, and are subject to change

The Del Norte girls basketball team is returning four starters and three role players from a team that matched the Warriors best league finish in school history last season. But Del Norte also has an influx of young talent on its roster this year, making for one of the deepest Warrior teams in recent memory.

Del Norte’s experience starts with a pair of seniors who have played a lot of minutes for the Warrior varsity over the last three years in Payten Healy and Claire Smith. Del Norte also has a third senior in Antonia Alcala, who has been one of the Warriors’ top reserve players since joining the varsity as a sophomore.

“The senior leadership is excellent,” said Del Norte’s first-year head coach Justin Clifton. “Payten Healy and Claire Smith are coming in as four-year starters, and there is a lot to be said about that. This team has some athletes, and we have them from the senior class to the freshmen class. And the seniors have really taken the freshmen in on the first day (they practiced together). That is exactly what we wanted and we got it.”

Clifton already knows most of the girls on the team after coaching the junior varsity and the Creescent Elk eighth grade teams over the past couple seasons, but it is the first time Clifton has coached the three seniors and junior Kayela Sanchez, who also joined the Del Norte varsity team in her freshman year.

“He is strict to a point, but he also has a lot of respect for things, like our experience for example,” Smith said of her new head coach. “We have played for four years and if I have something to say he listens to me. Of course he is going to tell me what he thinks also, and if I am wrong he is going to tell me that I am wrong, but he also understands that we have experience and he is trusting of that experience and that we know how to do certain things.”

The Warriors have players in every class who have been playing varsity basketball since their freshman years. Sanchez has been a starter for the last two seasons, and she was joined in the starting lineup by classmate Dennise Horton last year in her first season with the varsity.

Sophomores Aliyah Rafalowski and Olivia Stilwell are both entering their second season on the varsity after both girls played significant roles coming off the bench last year, and freshmen guards Jadence Clifton and Bella Stone have both been called up to compete with the varsity this season.

Just four year’s ago, Healy and Smith were in the same position as Stone and Jadence Clifton are now.

“Experience is definitely a big thing. I remember my freshmen year I went against some big girls that aren’t afraid to push you around a little bit,” Healy recalled. “They are just going to need to be tough and be able to handle that, and they will be fine.”

Although it is a big jump from middle school basketball up to varsity, the Warriors have plenty of experienced players to help the new girls adjust, even before games begin.

“We need to go hard on them in practice so they can be prepared for the girls that they will be playing in league, but we also need to tell them to relax,” Smith said. “Even though they are playing better competition you don’t want to get worked up. They are still good players — otherwise they wouldn’t be up here — so they need to relax and just do what they know how to do. That is very important too, and it’s hard to do when you are overwhelmed.”

The Warriors have also moved a couple sophomore players up to the varsity this season, with Selene Ledezma and Daniela Zepeda joining the squad.

“We can play everybody on this team. We don’t have any bench players, or girls that are going to ride the pine,” Justin Clifton said. “They can all play, and they are going to be more tired with less minutes this year than they were last year with more minutes. We go deep and we have all kinds of different angles that we can do. When you feel like you can start 10 or 11 girls, that is a good problem to have. That’s a coaches dream.”

Practices have been a little slow to get into full swing this winter for the girls basketball team with four returning players missing the first couple weeks of practice as the Del Norte volleyball team wrapped up the fall with a deep run in the North Coast Section Tournament, and a couple games in the California Interscholastic Federation state playoffs.

“There is a lot to put in and not a lot of time,” Justin Clifton said. “The good thing is that most of these girls already play very good defense. We are going to harp on defense this year and we are slowly going to put in different (offensive) sets, but we are going to be a very defensively sound team. We have 11, and we can play 11. We are going to be running and gunning, but we are going to play some great defense.”

Although forcing a late start to the basketball season, Justin Clifton said the volleyball team’s deep postseason run may end up being a positive for the basketball team in the long run.

“I think the girls are really excited, especially with volleyball going as deep as they did,” he said. “The girls got to see that there is a section bracket and there is a state bracket. They have a little taste of it and we could do the same thing with basketball. There is more to play for than just the league.”

Although the Warriors are hoping to be able to play deep into the postseason this winter, the first order of business is to make some noise in the Big 5.

“We have never won a league championship at this school, so I think you start out with a goal of winning a league championship,” Clifton said. “Obviously everybody wants to win a state championship or a national championship, but we have to start off slow.”