State invite is repeat accomplishment for Providence girls' basketball team

Last season, the Providence High girls’ basketball team went into the CIF State Basketball Championships with wide-eyed wonder.

The Pioneers program had never participated in state competition and the team ventured blindly into uncharted territory.

But Providence made it seem like it had been there before, defeating Rock Academy, 68-35, and then Orangewood Academy, 44-34, before advancing to the regional semifinals. In the game, Providence saw its season come to an end with a 64-28 loss to Mission Prep.

For the second straight season, the Pioneers are back in the state tournament. Seventh-seeded Providence (19-10) will take on No. 10 Tri-City Christian (23-6) from Vista in the San Diego Section at 7 p.m. Wednesday in a Division V opener on the Pioneers’ home court.

“You look at the four seniors that we have on the team and just how far the program has come in the last your years,” Providence Coach Andrew Bencze said. “That’s because of all of their hard work. It’s really nice for them to be able to play in a state tournament for the second straight year.

“So here we are; for the second year we’re CIF semifinalists and we’re playing in the state playoffs a second time — that’s pretty big.”

With the experience his team enjoyed last season, Bencze said that will only benefit the Pioneers in this year’s tournament.

“Last year making it for the first time, it was just pure excitement,” he said. “They had no idea what they were in for. But after we had some success, they are now kind of expecting it and they know what it’s like. We know we have a tough road ahead of us.”

The Pioneers received an invitation to the CIF State Basketball Championships after losing in the CIF Southern Section Division V-AA semifinals to Village Christian, 46-45. The Eagles advanced to the championship game of the CIF San Diego Section Division V playoffs, losing to Horizon 61-13.

Providence, which has won four straight Liberty League championships, likes to pester teams with its swarming defense, which routinely leads to a rash of turnovers by its opponents. On offense, the Pioneers spread things around, with seniors Janel Adraneda, Estelle Glorioso and Bea Benedicto, along with sophomore Katia Dabbaghian, doing most of the damage.

Tri-City Christian won a championship in San Diego’s Pacific League, finishing with a 12-0 record. The Eagles have a potent offensive weapon in senior Alyssa Ramos, who is averaging more than 25 points a game.

Even though Tri-City Christian is from the San Diego Section, Bencze knows the team quite well.

“Every year we go and play in the Tri-City Christian Tournament during our Christmas break,” Bencze said. “We know the team very well and I like the matchup for us. They are going to be well-coached and they will be ready to play.

“And if we win, we get the chance to play one of the best teams in the Southern Section.

The winner faces second-seeded No. 2 Sierra Canyon or No. 15 Kings Christian in Saturday's second round.

With a formidable defensive presence, Bencze said the Pioneers are going to have to keep up the defensive pressure if they hope to do well in the tournament.

“The adjustment is not really how we’re going to play, but how the other team is going to have to adjust to our defense,” he said. “If you have trouble handling the ball against us, you definitely could have some problems.”

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