WATSONVILLE — The game was over by the start of the fourth quarter, and the final score said as much.
Pajaro Valley had not only extended its winning streak to nine games — a program record now at 10 — but it had done so in dominant fashion, thumping Monterey, 70-47, in Pacific Coast Athletic League Santa Lucia division action on Tuesday night.
The Grizzlies should have been happy with their rout, but that was not the case.
“We played bad,” said Pajaro Valley senior point guard Jayleen Solorzano. “It was sloppy.”
Added senior wing Michelle Ibarra: “That was ugly.”
The Grizzlies last season would have been ecstatic about a 23-point win against a league foe.
But this isn’t last season.
There’s a new standard at Pajaro Valley this winter, and the Grizzlies’ long list of accomplishments is proof of it.
Pajaro Valley (17-4, 7-0) has already shattered the program’s previous records for overall wins (11) and league wins (5) in a single season — both of which were set during the 2014-15 campaign — and it also reset the program record for points scored in a single game in a 73-25 drubbing of Santa Catalina on Wednesday.
Regardless of what happens over the last two weeks of the regular season, this year’s team will also be the first in program history to finish with a winning record. And while those accomplishments are nice, none will produce the absolute joy that would come from capturing the program’s first-ever league championship.
Pajaro Valley is only a win away from making that a reality, and it does not want to let “sloppy” play get in the way of history.
“We have a certain expectation every game that we want to meet,” said Pajaro Valley second-year coach Lupe Quintero. “We thought we played a bad game even though it was a 30-point win. That might sound bad, but that’s how the girls felt.”
The sky-high expectations the Grizzlies carried into the 2018-19 season were ones rooted in reality after an offseason full of hoops and hangouts.
Having Solorzano, arguably the best player in program history, also boosted the team’s expectations.
“[Solorzano] solves a lot of problems,” Quintero said. “You can’t argue that.”
Because of incomplete stats from her sophomore and junior seasons, it’s not possible to officially say Solorzano has reached the 1,000-point mark for her high school career. Saying she’s officially the program’s all-time leading scorer is also not possible — though some quick mathematics based on the stats littered throughout the internet lays out a sound argument in her favor.
A few things you can say about Solorzano with certainty:
- She leads the state (yes, every girl playing high school hoops in California) in scoring with 29.5 points per game.
- She’s the catalyst of the best team in program history.
- And she’s the hardest working player on the team.
During the offseason, Solorzano made the school’s campus her second home, spending roughly six hours in the gym perfecting her shooting stroke, running through dribbling drills and playing one-on-one against members of the boys’ basketball team. On top of that, she played high-level AAU basketball with the West Valley Basketball Club.
Things haven’t changed much since the start of the season, as she routinely shows up a half hour early to practice, and stays an hour or two after to get up extra shots.
“It’s a little crazy,” Ibarra said of Solorzano’s work ethic. “I would be dead. That’s NBA level.”
Six hours might have been a little too much for her teammates to match, but seeing Solorzano’s dedication inspired them to believe that this season could be different. So when the team reconvened a month after last year’s 7-16 finish, the majority of them were all-in.
That meant showing up to open gyms to mesh on the court, and hanging out after to build trust that would carry over into the season. Sometimes that extra time together was spent at a local restaurant. Other times it was spent helping each other fix a hitch in their jump shot.
By the time the season had begun, the Grizzlies were all on the same page about their roles and responsibilities. Having a whole summer of hoops under their belts also meant being comfortable enough to pull the trigger when they needed to.
Seniors Judith Celestino, Diana Lopez and Ibarra and junior Alexandra Romero have not been shy to shoot, and their development has taken some weight off Solorzano’s shoulders. Teams can no longer zero in on the Grizzlies’ star, and forget about the players around her. Some teams have tried, and Solorzano has had fun watching her teammates, which she calls her “family,” pick apart defenses.
“People think its all me, but it’s not,” Solorzano said. “It’s been all of us together since the end of last season. We made this into a family… and it’s been fun to keep setting the bar higher and higher for the teams that come after us. For us, we want to see how hard we can make it for other teams to break our records.”
Editor's Note: This article will publish in the Feb. 1 edition of the Register-Pajaronian.