Notebook: Can Atwater girls end 31-year CCC basketball title drought this season?

Atwater head coach Leonard Davis speaks to his players during a game against Turlock at Atwater High School in Atwater, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018.
Atwater head coach Leonard Davis speaks to his players during a game against Turlock at Atwater High School in Atwater, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018.

For the Atwater High seniors like Kelsey Valencia, they know this is their last shot. One final chance to put their year on the banner.

The Falcons girls basketball team is trying to win their first Central California Conference championship since 1988. Atwater (11-4) is the favorite as conference play begins on Thursday night.

“The twins (Kelsey and Lexi Valencia) have been on it since they got here,” said Atwater coach JR Davis. “Every year they’ve been trying to change that 1988.”

Kelsey is halfway through her fourth year playing at the varsity level. She recently eclipsed 1,000 career points. Lexi is a third-year varsity point guard.

“It’s probably the most important things to us as a whole,” Kelsey said. “We don’t practice as much as we used to in the old gym. That’s where the banner is, but every time we walk in there we stare at it. We look at it and let it get under our skin.”

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Atwater junior Kelsey Valencia (1) attempts a layup during a game against Merced at Merced High School in Merced, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. The Bears beat the Falcons 68-51. Andrew Kuhn

The Falcons will have to battle it out in the CCC with Merced (4-5), El Capitan (8-7) and Patterson (5-5). The Gauchos received a big boost with the addition of Amaya Ervin, who transferred from Merced.

Kelsey Valencia is averaging almost 17 points and eight rebounds per game. Lexi is averaging 15 points to go along with 4.6 rebounds, 4.4 steals and 4.3 assists per game.

Marisa Martinez and Amani Claiborne have also provide a scoring punch for Atwater.

“I like that we have the same team as last year, but it’s like they’ve evolved,” Davis said. “They’ve gotten even better.”

The Falcons go about 10 deep and pressure everywhere. Atwater will even press off missed shots.

With almost everybody back from last year’s team that finished 15-12, Davis has added some tougher teams to the schedule this year.

The Falcons have made long road trips to play teams in the Sacramento area like Nevada Union and Del Campo. They just returned from the West Coast Jamboree in the Bay Area, where they took their lumps.

“Our bracket was pretty good,” Davis said. “We played Enterprise, St. Francis and Amador Valley. They were like playoff games. We lost every game, but we learned a lot. We came out of there with an awareness of what we need to do.”

“It’s the same type of competition we hope to see later in the season, but we’re getting the experience now,” Kelsey added. “It’s also going to help us out with seeding for the playoffs. It’s helping to put us in a good situation.”

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El Capitan junior Marcus McCutchen (4) take the court during a game against Golden Valley at El Capitan High School in Merced, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. The Gauchos beat the Cougars 66-56. Andrew Kuhn

Early CCC boys showdown

The two top boys teams will clash on Friday when Golden Valley opens up CCC play at El Capitan.

The Gauchos will try to make their first step toward a second straight CCC championship. El Capitan has won 10 of its last 11 games. Marcus McCutchen has led the way, averaging 18.3 points per game. Dillon Greenwood has also been strong this season, averaging 14.9 points.

The Cougars (11-5) had a 10-game winning streak earlier this season. Golden Valley is led by senior Etrell Bowers.. Senior Brendan Nole has been a sharp-shooter this season, giving the Cougars a weapon from beyond the 3-point line.

Livingston junior Annie Winton (33) attempts a layup during a game against Mariposa at Livingston High School in Livingston, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017. The Grizzlies beat the Wolves 57-45. Andrew Kuhn

Livingston’s Winton on scoring tear

Livingston senior Annie Winton has been on fire in her last four games, averaging 37 points.

In her last four games, the Wolves star has racked up 37 points against Ripon, 36 points against Hughson, a career-high 43 points against Gregori and 32 points against Mariposa.

Livingston is 3-1 in those four games.

Winton has made 18 3-pointers in the four games. The fourth-year varsity player is averaging 24.7 points on the season.