Gilbert girls embrace Ubuntu — and family mentality has
carried Tigers to 5A quarterfinals
March 10, 2021 by By Brittany Bowyer , scorebooklive.com
The young but hungry No. 8 Gilbert Tigers rolled to a 41-20 Class 5A girls
victory over the No. 9 Sunnyside Blue Devils on Tuesday as the Arizona
high school basketball playoffs got underway.
In a defensive battle, Gilbert got the win behind a strong group of
underclassmen and an overall team performance.
“When you hold a team to 20 points, I don’t care who you play, that’s
impressive,” Gilbert coach Colton Walker said.
Sunnyside was without one of its starters and leading scorers in Andrea De
La Fuente, who was injured in last Friday’s game against Flowing Wells.
The team put up a good effort in the beginning and trailed 10-6 after one
Gilbert jumped out to a 14-6 lead about halfway through the second
quarter. Junior Annaliese Felix finally ended a nearly nine-minute scoring
drought for Sunnyside, which pulled to within 17-14 at halftime.
But the struggles continued for the Blue Devils in the second half when
senior Vitoria Perez went down under the hoop with a lower body injury
less than 30 seconds into the third quarter. She was helped off the court
and could not put weight on her right side, and she was unable to return
to the game.
“Losing Andrea De La Fuente, one of our captains, last week to Flowing
Wells and losing Vitoria Perez, who didn’t score any points, both of those
girls score 30 together, so that definitely hurt us,” Sunnyside coach
Justin Delgado said.
The Tigers expanded their lead to 27-17 at the end of three quarters. They
closed it out from there to punch their ticket to the quarterfinals, where
they’ll face No. 1 Casteel on Friday.
“We did things well — there’s a couple things we didn’t do great, but at
the end of the day, all you’re trying to do in the playoffs is win,”
Walker said. “It doesn’t matter how it gets done, what happened before,
all you’re worried about is the end and the scoreboard.”
For Gilbert, reaching this point in the season has brought its own
challenges. Walker was the third coach in three years for the Tigers when
he took over the program before the season, making it difficult for the
girls to get established and familiar with a certain coaching style and
system. He also was depending largely on underclassmen to get the job done
on the court.
That’s not even mentioning the disruptions caused by COVID-19. But even
with all the obstacles in their way, the Tigers overcame the odds to have
a successful season and make a run at the championship.
For the time being, though, they’re focused on the next task at hand.
“We’ve got a group of competitive kids and we’re not going to be satisfied
here,” Walker said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do and a big game coming
“At the end of the day, we made it to the Elite Eight, but our business
isn’t done. We have to take what we did tonight and go from there.”
Each girl on the team knows she has a job to do. They know where their
strengths lie and where their weaknesses are, and they look to their
teammates for both assistance and motivation when needed.
For example, while the stat books might not show it, Walker said sophomore
Rylee Baird is always out there getting things done to help the Tigers
“We definitely all feed off each other,” Baird said. “Some games when I’m
not feeling good about anything, they pick me up. It’s just a team effort,
Other players, such as junior Nicole Evenson, have stepped into leadership
roles as team captains. A three-year varsity player, she has the most
experience with high-pressure situations.
“Stepping into the role this year as the captain junior, and the only
returning starter from last year, has been a big change, but we’ve adapted
really well,” Evenson said. “It’s just taking that leadership role and
understanding if I’m not doing it, like Rylee said, you gotta pick it up
Meisha Caserio has been a huge sparkplug in the starting five as only a
freshman, leading the team in points per game.
“It’s kind of just a group effort, but getting into the paint, driving …
that’s my game,” Caserio said.
The Tigers know that no matter what happens the rest of the month, they’re
going to be loaded next season with a strong and experienced group.
They’ve recently implemented something called Ubuntu, which Evenson said
isn’t just a word, but a lifestyle.
“Throughout this entire year, since Coach brought it up, it’s about doing
something for the greater good. Doing something not for yourself, but for
the better of the team,” Evenson said. “We have Ubuntu meetings even —
what do you need from me to be better for you?”
The Tigers know their family mentality that derives from their Ubuntu way
of life will help them continue to grow closer as a team while their
skills continue to blossom on the court.
ALL REGION RECOGNITION
Highland gets the final run, beats Gilbert
January 28, 2021 by Les Willsey, AZPreps365
Highland rode the fourth-quarter
marksmanship of Norah Washington along with strong defense to post a 44-32
triumph over Gilbert High in a match-up of longtime Gilbert district
Highland continued a perfect start to its season improving to 4-0.
Gilbert, with a different head coach for the third year in a row and
mostly underclassmen on its 12-member roster, is now 2-2.
Highland overcame a pair of huge lulls and managed to win going away down
the stretch. The Hawks were held scoreless in the second period, but still
owned a 16-15 lead (only outscored 4-0 in second quarter) at halftime.
They used a 10-0 run the first half of the third quarter to lead by eight
only to end up trailing 31-30 heading to the final quarter after Gilbert
responded with a 13-4 burst.
"That's kind of been us," Highland coach Chad Taylor said. "We play well
when momentum comes our way. For the most part we've used momentum of
games to our advantage. We controlled the flow at the end."
Taylor was glad to have Washington offensively, particularly in the final
quarter as they outscored Gilbert 14-1. Washington, a senior guard,
tallied 10 of her game-high 18 points in the fourth quarter. She sank
three of four field goals in the period - all from 12 to 15 feet. She
helped close it out making 4 of 4 free throws.
"Norah's waited the last couple years for her time," Taylor said. "She's
had seniors in front of her. When she's going like she was tonight you
want to see her let it go."
Highland also got contribution off the bench from senior post Nicole
Biscoe. Biscoe connected for 10 points and fellow senior Tieyah Rosier
added six in a starting role, including the lead-for-good bucket inside to
begin the final quarter.
Gilbert managed to stay with senior-dominated Highland until the last four
minutes. Relying on mostly perimeter shooting, the Tigers were met with a
couple different zone looks and the last mix worked best. Gilbert was 0
for 12 from the field in the fourth. Gilbert was led offensively by a pair
of freshmen guards. Morgan Evenson scored 16 points, making 5 of 6 threes.
Meisha Caserio added 12 points.
"It was a crazy game," Gilbert's just-turned-21-year-old head coach Colton
Walker said. "We have no seniors, but we have some talented young players
getting used to things. Coach Taylor is a great coach. He and I started
coaching at the same junior high. They were tough on us with their