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Strange beginnings for Merced-area high school hoops

Golden Valley's Matt Thissen and Merced's John Bliss were a fixture on the sidelines during girls basketball games for more than a decade.

Not anymore.

Thissen has retired and Bliss moved over to Buhach Colony to take over the boys basketball program.

Their departures triggered a game of musical chairs for coaches during the offseason.

At Golden Valley, Chris Tufts becomes only the second girls basketball coach since the school opened in 1994.

Taking over for Bliss at Merced is Brad Reed, who led the Merced girls to 88 wins from 1990-94, including two section final appearances.

So far, it's been mixed reviews for the new coaches.

Coming into the school year nobody would have thought Merced would be 3-7 at this point.

That was until Deja Mann was lost for the season with another torn ACL and center Dalemesha Hill broke her leg.

"It's been really, really tough on me and the girls," Reed said.

"It's nothing you can plan for. I got the job late in the summer and when we started AAU, I was working with just five or six girls.

"We were just getting going when Deja got hurt. Then Dalemesha goes down. A lot of our girls just aren't prepared to play at this level.

"It's been a culture shock for them."

The losses of Mann and Hill have put the scoring burden solely on the shoulders of Shelly Blackwell.

Merced has been run off the floor in games against Stockton St. Mary's, El Dorado and Bella Vista.

"Our schedule was made out for a team with Deja Mann on it," Reed said.

"We're nowhere near that team."

Meanwhile, things haven't come around as quick as Tufts thought at Golden Valley.

His girls have compiled a 5-5 record.

"Matt (Thissen) did a fantastic job," Tufts said. "He won a section title and a few league titles.

"It's huge shoes to fill, but I put a lot of pressure on myself. I have high expectations and I'm not one that accepts failure."

Tufts has coached in the GV program for four years.

The biggest change Tufts has made is applying more pressure on defense.

"We're going to try to play more baseline to baseline," he said.

"We want to pressure the ball. Of course, you want to adjust to the talent you have.

"I feel we have good guards, so we'll do some guard oriented stuff this year."

Tufts feels with players like Porsha Grayson and Becky Morris, GV could contend with Turlock for the Central California Conference title.

"All roads go though Turlock High," Tufts said. "I feel we've got a shot.

"We're not moving as quick as I think we should be with the basketball.

"We're watching a lot and reacting. I feel we can do a lot better job."

The Buhach Colony boys are one of the biggest surprises early on this year.

Bliss' boys sprinted out of the gates with a 7-2 record before a recent three-game losing streak.

Bliss has brought over an up-tempo style that has made for some high-scoring games.

Fans, who have only seen BC reach the playoffs once since the school opened in 2001, have enjoyed seeing players like Hodari Peterson, Jarrell Davis and Denzel Brown fly up and down the court.

"I think the athletes are here," Bliss said. "We have good athletes.

"Obviously with any style you play, it works best with great athletes.

"Part of my job as a coach is to develop those athletes."

So far, so good.

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