By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Sports Editor
In South America, they call soccer “the beautiful game.” Closer to home, the game the girls of South Pasadena High are bringing to the hardwood is itself something to behold.
A tightly-knit unit with potency up and down the roster makes the Tigers an efficient and entertaining team to watch. There isn’t much height to speak of, but South Pas more than compensates with crisp ball movement, smart play action and high-percentage shooting.
The team from Serra discovered those qualities the hard way on Saturday, as they were the subject of a 78-55 dismantling by the Tigers, despite having at least four players at or near six feet.
Essentially, any opponents who pre-judge the Tigers based on height do so at their own peril.
The Tigers are 17-1 overall, and sat atop the Rio Hondo standings at a perfect 3-0 as they headed into Monday night’s league matchup at Monrovia.
One impressive angle of the Tigers’ success is that they’re doing it with a largely underclass lineup.
With only three seniors on the roster, head coach Cody Masden is relying on the younger players to do the heavy lifting.
Like young athletes across the country, the South Pas girls have the daily task of staying tuned for the next game, with full knowledge that it could be cancelled at short notice.
Such was the case with last Friday’s scheduled contest at La Cañada, scrubbed at the last minute due to COVID concerns.
“We had to deal with it last year as well, so we’ve become accustomed to being flexible and working with whatever comes our way,” Masden said.
“It’s been a blessing in disguise somewhat, because the random breaks and time off gives our bodies a little extra rest and revery time. The girls work hard, most of them year-round, so it’s good for them to have a break mentally and physically.”
South Pas has been led in the scoring department by senior forward Allysan Tse, who poured in a game-high 28 points – including five three-pointers – against Serra on Saturday. She’s complemented by her high-scoring sister, Dylan, who scored 12 of her 21 from beyond the arc.
Much of the Tigers’ present and future rests in the hands of their solid underclass players, among them 5-foot-3 shooting guard Jamie Rain Kim. The wily sophomore seems adept at playing practically any position on the court, and demonstrated as much on Saturday, with nine points, five rebounds and three steals.
“When we saw her coming in her first year, and we saw the skills she was bringing into high school, we were delighted to have a varsity freshman coming into the program,” Masden boasted.
Being prepped as a starting point guard is 5-foot sophomore Yuzu Harada, a longtime Wanjettes star who Masden will rely on for years to come.
“She’s an amazing guard, lightning quick, and works as hard as anyone I’ve seen on the court, which is exactly what you want when you don’t have the size.”
Harada said the disjointed nature of scheduling brought on by the pandemic has been a challenge, but the bonding with her teammates has truly been a saving grace.
“I feel like basketball has helped me during COVID, because it’s allowed me an opportunity for interaction and socializing that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” she explained.
If Harada’s name – or voice – seem familiar, it might be for good reason. In addition to her schoolwork and basketball activities, she portrays the character Sonya in the Netflix animated series “Bright: Samurai Soul.”
On the offensive end, the Tigers benefit from the strong post play of junior Lotis Shoun, who battled Serra’s double 6-foot threat of Nicole Okoli and Nasia Thompson all night Saturday, yet still managed to grab six rebounds and score five points.
Shoun said the most enriching aspect of playing at South Pas has been the bonding between her teammates and coaches, and how that’s been indispensible for surviving the disruptive challenges of the ongoing pandemic.
“It has really been a challenge – staying in shape and learning to breathe through a mask,” Shoun said, after playing the entire game Saturday without removing her face covering. “Just being able to come out and play at all is a blessing, and I know we all appreciate it.”
Sister guards Isabella and Olivia Alfonso are a prime example of the riches of depth on the South Pas roster. A senior, Isabella played most of Saturday’s match, with the bulk of her time being spent as a pesky defender who kept Serra’s offense unbalanced and out of sync.
With this season being Olivia’s last, what should have been two of the prime years of her life have had the shadow of COVID over them, but she has been able to keep it all in perspective.
“I think what our coaches have been trying to do is to first and foremost be good role models,” she said. “In a way, I think that has helped the seniors become role models also, even with all the challenges we’ve had.”
Isabella and Olivia’s mother, Lani, is grateful simply to be able to come out to a gymnasium and watch the local kids play.
“We’re absolutely blessed,” she beamed about her girls and the other Tiger players. “They’re all doing well, involved with student government and somehow managing to keep up their grades. Having a community to support them is absolutely priceless.
This is a wonderful time to be able to share with them.”
Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS / Rafu Shimpo