Heritage hoops downs rival Liberty - Amanda Muse

Photo by Ken Boone

Heritage center Amanda Muse is one of the Patriots top players this season. The team is undefeated this year.

With five straight Bay Valley Athletic League (BVAL) titles and four straight perfect seasons through league play, the road to the BVAL girls basketball championship clearly runs through Heritage. Whether the Patriots can add another league title and perfect season remains to be seen. But they have shown in the early season that beating them will take great effort.

Heritage defeated Deer Valley 74-17 on Tuesday, May 4, to move to 3-0.

In those three games, the Patriots have outscored their opponents 220-47.

“Our girls set team goals every year at our first practice that get posted in our team room,” Patriots coach Rob Ocon said. “The goals list consists of about 20 areas of focus. Some of those goals are ‘hold each other accountable,’ ‘team ball, not me ball,’ ‘strong academics first,’ ‘maintain team communication,’ ‘be COVID safe’ and ‘win league.’”

This year’s team is a mix of experienced players and newcomers. Among the returning players are seniors Julie Ramirez, Ella Roberts and Milan Tuttle, juniors Gabby Martini and Alaina Ahrens, and Amanda Muse, whom Ocon called a “super sophomore.”

Some of the new varsity players that Ocon expects big things from are juniors Zeni Purge, Alyissa Ramirez and Julia Wright, along with sophomores Allissia Petroni and Caitlyn Smith.

The mix of experienced players and new blood has created a competitiveness in practices that Ocon has enjoyed.

“With players doing multiple sports and travel ball, it’s nice when we have our entire team together at a practice,” Ocon said. “But this group of older and newer is so fun and intriguing to watch in practice. Our practices are absolute battles.”

Of course, while Heritage’s early success has created a feeling similar to past seasons, there have also been reminders that this season is quite abnormal.

For starters, the season began on Tuesday, April 27. Normally a high school season is done by mid- to late March. Obviously COVID-19 is the reason for the difference this year. With no fall and winter seasons, schools are trying to get in as many sports as possible in a short period of time.

The more serious issue is that COVID brings a cloud that could cause a season to be altered or completely canceled at any time. Worse still, it doesn’t even have to be due to a positive test. As a case in point: the Patriots have had games against St. Mary’s High School in Stockton and St. Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda canceled already. That was not due to a positive test in those programs but restrictions in their counties.

The possibility of county restrictions lingers here, too. But the Patriots are taking steps to ensure that — as long as that doesn’t happen — nothing they do will lead to a cancellation of games.

“The girls are doing their part in regard to testing and following all guidelines,” Ocon said. “They realize that all this can be taken away if we don’t do our part. So our staff and players embrace whatever it takes to keep the kids playing. We wish all the BVAL teams the best of luck and a safe, COVID-free season.”