Under head coach Jeremy Malamed, the Calaveras High School girls’ basketball team has been really good, but just hasn’t been able to go far in the playoffs.
Since Malamed took over the program in the 2014-15 season, Calaveras has gone 84-43 overall and 39-18 in the Mother Lode League. During that time, Calaveras has won one league title, but just two playoff games.
During Malamed’s five years, he has had players of all shapes, sizes and abilities. But heading into his sixth season, Malamed looks at his talented, albeit young roster, and feels that there is something unique about his current crop of players and he hopes Calaveras’ playoff problems might be fixed.
“I’d say that this is by far our most athletic team and we’ll still have to wait and see as to what that will translate to,” Malamed said. “We are going to play a style that suits that strength. We have a lot of basketball learning to do and we have a lot of good athletes who aren’t necessarily basketball players. So we need to develop some skills to help them succeed. But we do have the skill to be a strong team.”
Historically, Malamed has not had any qualms about having a roster filled with young players. And historically, it has worked out well for him. In his first year, Malamed had a team with six sophomores and one freshman. Two years later, that team went on to win a share of the league title.
Last year, Malamed called up freshman Madison Clark, who went on to win the Most Outstanding Player of the Mother Lode League award. Malamed again had decided to call up freshman talent in Brooke Nordahl and Bailie Clark, the younger sister of Madison.
“I follow the feeder programs really well and try to stay involved,” Malamed said. “Like Maddie Clark, I’ve known Bailie forever. And Brooke is a close friend of Bailie, so I’ve followed their careers with a close eye and worked with them at Toyon and Valley Springs. So I knew their skill sets coming in and, more importantly, I knew their mental toughness. They are both great competitors.”
Being a young player on a varsity team can be intimidating, and senior Gabriella Malamed knows that firsthand. As a sophomore call-up, she had to learn her role and adjust on the fly. Now, as a senior, Gabriella is trying to make life as comfortable as possible for the two new freshman players.
“I want to make them feel welcomed here,” she said. “We have a certain vibe that we’ve set up over the past couple of years and I want them to feel comfortable in that vibe.”
With the Clark sisters, along with Nordahl and returners Muriel Strange, Frankie Pekarek, Skyler Cooper, Gabriella Malamed, LoLo Wyllie and the addition of Kaylee Dickey, Piper Garcia, Vanessa Baysinger and Abby Porath, Malamed feels he has a team that can move quickly up and down the floor.
“We are trying to play as fast as possible,” Malamed said. “Our game is going to be a speed game this year. We don’t have the size to slow it down and bang with people and be physical, so we are just going to try to get up and down the court as much as possible and create a lot of possessions through fast-break offense and create turnovers on defense.”
The one thing the Calaveras team is not, is tall. That said, Strange and Baysinger are not lacking in height, and Strange is coming off a junior season in which she averaged nearly four rebounds a game. And on the JV level, Baysinger averaged nearly nine points per game and had seven boards and one block per game.
“They can definitely handle the post position for what we are asking them to do,” Malamed said about Strange and Baysinger. “I don’t think we are going to be a team that is going to isolate and dump the ball down into the post, but they are more than capable for what we are asking them to do. They are very athletic, so they can run the floor and can be physical enough to guard post players.”
As for the heartbeat of Calaveras’ offense, that belongs to Madison Clark. As a freshman, she averaged 14.6 points per game along with 3.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 6.9 steals. While Madison feels the pressure of having to prove her freshman year was no fluke, she also gets challenged every day by her younger sister.
“Yeah, there’s a little bit of pressure on me, especially because my sister is up now and I’m always competing with her,” Madison said. “She’s always my biggest competition and we are always going at it, which is something I like a lot. I like playing with her. Sometimes it’s frustrating, but I know that she’s going to make me better.”
In her final year of high school basketball, Gabriella Malamed has a list of goals that starts with beating Bret Harte twice and ends with playing in the state playoffs.
“The goal is definitely to win league,” she said. “We’d also like to beat our rivals both times we meet them. And then, we’d like to reach the state playoffs. I’ve never won that second playoff game to qualify for state, so that would be really fun.”
As for Calaveras’ head coach, this is his last year of coaching his daughter. While he knows when it’s time to be coach and when it’s time to be dad, Malamed doesn’t deny that when he takes a step back, he has truly enjoyed coaching his oldest child.
“I do try to remove the father hat when we are here on the court, but when I do look back and reflect away from the court, it’s cool to see that she’s stuck with it and is a team captain and a great leader,” he said. “It gives me a lot of pride to see how she’s developed as a teammate and a player.”
Calaveras begins its season at 7 p.m., Friday against Liberty Ranch in San Andreas.