LA CAÑADA —With both the La Cañada High and Hoover girls’ basketball teams missing quite a few players from Tuesday afternoon’s Flintridge Prep Summer League game, each squad used the absences as an opportunity to experiment.
While the Spartans were down a few guards, including their starting point guard, La Cañada rallied behind its size and strength to hold off a feisty and unintimidated Tornadoes team, 41-26.
“We started so late in the process this summer that some girls made commitments elsewhere and we were short-handed,” said new Spartans Coach Jett del Mundo II, who was hired on June 4. “The team you see here is a mix of some freshmen, junior varsity and seniors and it was an opportunity for everyone to work as a team and learn.”
One such assortment featured was del Mundo’s “tower” lineup used at two different junctures of the game that included the trio of 6-foot-1 junior center Amber Graves, 5-11 senior forward Haley Miller and 5-10 junior varsity call-up Emma Stroben.
The trio came on with about five and a half minutes left in the first half of the 20-minute halves, running-clock contest.
A Spartans’ lead that was trimmed to 15-9 after a free throw from Nanor Sevajian (team-high eight points and four rebounds) with 6:23 remaining in the first half ballooned to 23-10 thanks in part to the towers.
Graves scored two of her six points on an offensive put back with 5:13 remaining to put the Spartans ahead by eight.
While the Tornadoes again countered with a free throw from Sevajian, the Spartans went back to their size.
An offensive rebound from Stroben (six points and seven rebounds) led to a layup, while another rebound off the offensive glass on the Spartans’ next possession translated into a Tornadoes foul on Alexi Nazarian, who sank two free throws to put the home team up double-digits, 21-10.
Miller got into the act at the close of the first half when she connected on a point-blank shot to give the Spartans a 23-10 advantage going into the break.
“I really didn’t think this was something we would employ this upcoming season, but who knows, maybe,” del Mundo II said. “I didn’t expect Emma to get as much time on varsity and especially working with Haley, but it’s worked out.”
Despite falling behind, 36-19, with 6:27 remaining in the second half after a corner three-pointer from Stephanie Musso (six points), the Tornadoes made one last run.
Hoover battled against a taller and more physical squad and connected on a runner in the lane from Sevajian and a floater from four-year varsity player Luna Panosian to climb within 36-23 with 4:17 left.
Unimpressed with his freshmen and junior varsity players on the floor, del Mundo II rotated in starters Marie Weston and Nazarian and the Spartans proceeded to score five quick points in going up, 41-23, with 1:17 left and icing the game.
“For us, the summer isn’t about winning at all,” said Weston, who tallied three points, four rebounds and three assists. “It’s about getting better as a team and playing together. It doesn’t matter who we play, we have to focus on getting better.”
Lilt Aghanes buried two threes and added six points for Hoover, which also received six points from Melissa Manouki.
As for Hoover Coach Stan Watson, the size discrepancy proved a valuable learning tool.
“Hey, we’re almost always the smallest team on court,” Tornadoes Coach Stan Watson said. “When you’re in the Pacific League and you’re facing Burroughs, Burbank, Crescenta Valley and the bunch, they’re just bigger, so you’re going to learn to play at a disadvantage.”
Watson’s squad showed improved ball-handling in the second half, recovering from a 12-turnover effort and only registering four turnovers over the final 20 minutes.
Part of that reason was Panosian, who took over in the distribution in the second half after missing playing time in the first half for disciplinary seasons.
“Hey, the summer is always a learning experience,” Watson said.
Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.