The first few times VeAnne Navarro beat her defender off the dribble, she drove to the basket and banked in a layup before anyone could react.
The next time Navarro attacked, the defense was ready for Johansen High's 5-foot-5 point guard. A forward slid into the middle, throwing her long arms in the air and forcing Navarro into a decision.
Rather than shooting a rainbow over the defender, Navarro flicked a pass to Jocy Davison — who took a dribble toward the hoop before scoring.
"You have to be alert when VeAnne has the ball, because you never know if it's coming to you," Davison said. "If you look away, you might end up taking a pass off your head."
It happened a few times early this season, while Navarro and her teammates were still getting used to one another.
"There's an adjustment period with a new point guard, particularly one who handles the ball like VeAnne," coach Jeff Koester said. "The day VeAnne began working with us, we became a better team."
Of course, even Koester admits it didn't take much to improve Johansen: The Vikings were 4-46 the last two years, but they've already doubled that victory total this season.
It's not only due to Navarro, a star at rival Enochs last season, but she has played a major role with 19 points, six assists and three steals a game. Her experience is just as valuable, allowing Koester to give the guard plenty of freedom.
"I've had a basketball in my hands for as long as I remember," Navarro said. "My dad loves basketball, and he made sure I had every opportunity. He didn't push me to play, but he pushes me to work hard."
Navarro led Enochs to the Modesto Metro Conference title in only its second year as a varsity program, but she transferred during the off-season.
"Johansen's close to home, so this is easier for my family than going across town everyday," said Navarro, whose father is an assistant coach. "I also like the idea of coming to a program that's coming up. It's fun to be in it at the start."
Johansen took a hit in December when Alexandra Cariker (14 points, 15 rebounds a game) was removed for disciplinary reasons. She is eligible to return in early February, just before the playoffs — should the Vikings get there.
"That's been the goal since the first day, to get to the playoffs," Navarro said. "It's why we work so hard in practice."
Cariker's departure thrust sophomore Jocy Davison into a major role. Koester wanted to ease his inexperienced forward into the game, but she's made the transition with six points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots per game.
"She runs track, so she has the speed to get up and down, and she's a jumper," Koester said. "I expected her to learn from Alexandra, but Jocy has done a great job in her spot."9
With Navarro and Davison out front, Johansen plays at a faster pace. That means more points — 44 a game this season, after averaging only 34 a year ago — and more wins.
When Johansen beat Davis in December, Koester said, it ended a six-year losing streak against the Spartans. Navarro had 29 points and seven assists, and Davison had eight points and seven rebounds.
"We've had fun surprising teams," Navarro said. "They come in thinking we're a bad team because of the last few years, but they see something else once we start playing."