El Capitan girls atop the CCC thanks to senior who almost walked away from the game.

Alex Serena, El Capitan
Alex Serena, El Capitan

El Capitan High senior Alex Serena tried to walk away from basketball. After tearing her anterior cruciate ligament for a second time, Serena didn’t know if she could work her way back again.

What Serena discovered was her love for the game was too strong.

“I was ready to step away,” Serena said. “But once I had that second surgery and I could walk again, I had to come back.”

The Gauchos are happy to have her back. The veteran guard played a key role, hitting two big 3-pointers to start the fourth quarter to help lead El Capitan (13-7 overall, 4-0 Central California Conference) to a 59-56 win over Atwater in a CCC showdown between the top two teams in the league on Thursday night at the Stable Center.

Serena scored a season-high 11 points.

“To take what our boys coach Adrian Hurtado always says, you win with your seniors,” said El Capitan coach Tyler Rogers-Trammell. “Alex Serena stepped up. After two ACL surgeries, she almost gave up basketball. Tonight I thought she was the best player on the court.”

The Gauchos outscored the Falcons (13-6, 2-1 CCC) 24 to 3 from beyond the 3-point line.

“We couldn’t shoot,” said Atwater coach JR Davis. “We only made one three-pointer when we usually make eight or nine.”

El Capitan had to overcome a career high 27 points from Atwater sophomore Amoni Claiborne, who scored 14 points in the third quarter to help give Atwater a 47-43 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The Gauchos responded with a 13-0 run to star the fourth quarter, which was sparked by Serena’s two 3-pointers and a shot from long range by sophomore Harmonie Farr.

Amaya Ervin added 18 points for El Capitan as she played through foul trouble. Farr finished with 10 points.

“Other girls stepped up just like it’s been all year,” Rogers-Trammell said. “People think that it’s just Amaya, but that’s disrespectful to the other girls.”

All the work Serena put in to get back on the court is worth it.

During Serena’s sophomore season, she tore her left ACL in her knee during a game against Turlock. After working her way through months of rehabilitation after surgery, Serena was ready to return for her junior season.

However, during a drill at practice before the start of the season, she tore her right ACL.

“I felt the same pop,” Serena said. “I knew I tore it.”

The gravitational pull to the sport was too strong for Serena to quit. For one, she comes from a basketball family. The Serenas are basically the first family when it comes to basketball at El Capitan.

Her older brother Angel was the CCC Most Valuable Player last year, leading the Gauchos to their first CCC championship. He’s now a freshman at UC Merced. Her younger brother Joe is a sophomore on the varsity team this year and her father Joe is an assistant coach for both the boys and girls teams.

“It was going to be hard to stop playing basketball,” Alex said. “Most people know we’re a basketball family. My parents and friends were there for me. They told me the decision was up to me.”

Playing basketball comes with a price for Serena. She has to spend over an hour after games icing down both knees.

She says the two injuries having her feeling much older when getting around school.

“I feel so old,” Serena said. “Especially going up stairs at school. I hate stairs. I live in a two-story house, so I have to go up stairs at home. I know I’m probably going to have other surgeries on my knees later, but I wouldn’t change it because the feeling I have now is great.”