The opening day of the 46th annual Crescent City Jaycees Eighth Grade Girls Basketball Tournament was rough for the local schools but each team bounced back with an improved performance on Saturday to wrap up the 2018 season on a high note.

In all Del Norte County had seven teams from five different schools around the county competing in various divisions of the tournament — all seven teams lost in the first round on Friday. Saturday was much more kind to the local squads as Redwood Red and Crescent Elk B won both of their games to win their respective division’s consolation championship. Four of the other five Del Norte teams competing also picked up a win at the Jaycees before the tournament was over.

A total of 40 teams from all over Northern California, along with Azalea as the lone representative from Oregon, played in the tournament. In addition to three games apiece for each team, there was also a hoops shoot competition.

At the end of the two-day season finale all of the teams and fans came together in Thunen Gymnasium to recognize each team and the tournament’s top performers.

“The best part about it is the friendships that are made between girls that otherwise probably wouldn’t have met,” said Redwood Red coach Nick Perez. “At the awards ceremony (Redwood) was sitting over there with Zane and the Toddy Thomas girls, and other girls from other schools were there too. They created some pretty good friendships with them. That is even better than wins and losses — friendships that were built that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.”

As the players all sat on the Thunen Gym floor it was difficult to distinguish which team was which. Although most girls undoubtedly were still sporting their school colors, nearly everyone wore a brand new maroon hooded sweatshirt emblazoned with gold glittery letters commemorating the 2018 edition of the Jaycees Tournament.

Uncharted Shores Academy coach Melissa Jacot said she got a sweatshirt for each member of the team this season, and surprised the players with them at their last game on Saturday.

“They were so excited about that,” Jacot said.

The scene at the awards ceremony was especially striking for the Gasquet Mountain School team. The 2018 girls basketball team was the first athletic team in over a decade in Gasquet, and coach Amanda Karanoplulos said only one player on the squad had any previous experience with middle school basketball.

Karanoplulos said she has been telling her team about the Jaycees all season long, but it was different to actually see it.

“When we actually had the awards ceremony at Del Norte High School it was cool to see the mass display of all the basketball teams, and all the parents and coaches in the stands,” Karanoplulos said. “I think they finally realized how big it was, and what we have been talking about to them all season. This is the final conclusion of what we have worked so hard for at all of our practices and all of our games.”

The Redwood Red team was the top team in Del Norte County this year. The Raiders put together a 12-3 overall record prior to the Jaycees Tournament and earned a spot in the tournament’s toughest division —AAA.

Redwood Red got off to a slow start on Friday, however, falling 29-26 to Sequoia in the first round.

“Friday I just felt like nerves got the best of us,” Perez said. “We had packed stands behind us, and not that many people have ever really watched us play like that. It happens. Every team is due for a bad game, and unfortunately it just happened on Friday.”

Although disappointed in the opening round loss, the Raiders were able to bounce back to finish the tournament with two wins on Saturday to capture the AAA consolation championship.

Redwood opened the day with a 40-30 win over Redwood, then topped St. Bernard’s 27-19 in their last game of the season.

“In the second half my girls came out and were just on fire and things started rolling,” Perez said. “In the third game we had a good game plan, playing a box and won against St. Bernard’s, who has an incredible player. My girls just dug deep and had a good Saturday. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to our season to finish off after Friday night.”

Perez said the Jaycees Tournament was especially emotional for him and the team he has coached since they were in fourth and fifth grade. In that time, Perez said the Raiders have improved tremendously.

“They have worked really hard to get to where they are, and I thought they had a great Jaycees Tournament,” Perez said. “They have come a long way in being patient and playing together as a team. We also have a lot of different girls that could score on this team. We never really had one girl that got all of our points. Everyone was important in getting us to where we need to be.”

Although most of Redwood’s team will be moving on to high school next year, three of the Raiders are still in seventh grade and will have another shot at the Jaycees Tournament next year.

“I’m going to miss all these girls,” Perez said. “It is going to be different next year, but we have a good group coming back as well with three seventh graders playing up this year. I think we have really established some good basketball out at Redwood right now, and I am hoping to continue that success. It all started with these girls in the eighth grade class.”

The Crescent Elk A team was competing in the AA Division this year.

“This was their last middle school basketball experience,” said Crescent Elk coach Timeka Jackson. “I told them that I want them to go out there and have fun and use the skills that they have learned over the last three years — a majority of these girls have been playing together since sixth grade. They had fun, they laughed together, and they had great collaboration and teamwork. As we talked about it after the tournament, they all agreed that this was the best season that they have had.”

Jackson said she thought the Cougars were a little bit intimidated on Friday as they drew defending Jaycees champion Freshwater in the first round. Crescent Elk ended up falling to Freshwater, who went on to take second place on Saturday, but the Cougars bounced back in the second round.

Crescent Elk turned in a fantastic defensive performance to start the day on Saturday, picking up a 39-22 win over Mt. Vista before falling to Shasta Lake in the consolation championship.

“They played their hearts out and they had fun,” Jackson said. “They worked together as a team and we had a seventh grader on our team that really shined throughout the whole tournament.”

Although the Cougars finished 1-2 at the Jaycees, Jackson was proud of how far the team has come since the start of the year.

“We have gotten better on defense, and we started to utilize our stronger players on offense,” Jackson said. “They did a good job working together and seeing where people’s strengths were.”

The Redwood White team and Crescent Elk B both competed in the C Division this year. Both teams lost their first game but bounced back for a win to start the day on Saturday to advance to face each other in the consolation championship. The Cougars managed to pull out a win in the game to take fifth place.

Although the Crescent City Jaycees Tournament is reserved for eighth grade teams, Smith River, Uncharted Shores and Gasquet Mountain School all had lots of younger players to help fill out their rosters this season.

Smith River had four eighth graders and five seventh graders on the team this year as they competed in the B Division. Although the Wildcats finished the tournament going 0-3, all three games were competitive.

“All of the games were really close,” said Smith River coach Andrew Fitch. “Our first game was a heartbreaker because we played really well against Miranda, who ended up taking second place. I think it was a really good experience for my seventh graders who will be returning next year.”

Smith River was the only local team in the B Division, which gave the Wildcats a chance to play some unfamiliar competition.

“We played a lot of teams from out of the area — teams we had never even seen before this year — so that was a positive thing,” Fitch said.

Smith River eighth grader Judit Alvarez also provided a highlight of the Wildcats by winning the hoops shoot in the B Division.

Uncharted Shores Academy had a fairly successful season this year, with a 5-3 overall record heading into the Jaycees Tournament. But first year head coach Melissa Jacot said the team was nervous heading into the eighth grade tournament with only sixth and seventh graders on its roster.

“They really enjoyed themselves, but it was hard without any eighth graders in an eighth grade tournament,” Jacot said. “The Jaycees was pretty cool for them. They got to see all the other teams and how everything works. I think they were super scared to get out there because they thought they were going to get crushed, but they were enjoying themselves and making friends with the other players. It was really cool.”

Uncharted Shores lost its first two games of the tournament against Redwood Prep and Crescent Elk B, but bounced back for a win over Gasquet to wrap up the season.

Overall, Jacot said it has been a successful first season as head coach.

“I have enjoyed watching the girls learn,” she said. “My goal is just to get them to work as a team and have fun. We have a couple girls who had never even touched a basketball before the season, so we are excited for next year.”

Gasquet Mountain School also had a fairly young team this year with six eighth graders on the 10-girl roster. It is the first season the Mountain Lions have had a basketball team in over a decade, though, so this season was the first on the hardwood for most of the players.

“For all the players except for one it was a brand new adventure for them,” said Gasquet coach Amanda Karanoplulos. “We came out with high energy and positive attitudes.”

Gasquet lost to eventual C Division champion Trinidad Union in the first round, but bounced back to play an exciting game against Redwood White before falling 27-25.

“That was our most competitive game of the tournament for us, and it was against our rival — Redwood White,” Karanoplulos said. “The whole game we were either up by two or down by one, and we ended up losing it in the last five seconds of the game after Redwood hit a three-pointer.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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