The Malibu High Sharks girls basketball team didn’t have enough members to hit the court during the COVID-19-delayed 2021 spring season. Instead, Sharks coach Andy Meyer got together with a handful of players twice a week to train on the high school’s outdoor basketball court and run on the track.
Yadany Alavez, one of the players who participated in the outdoor practices, was disappointed she wasn’t able to play basketball her junior year.
“I love playing basketball,” said the 12th grader. “Not being able to do that last year was really unfortunate. It also kind of affected my mental health.”
Casey Qvsiowitz, a freshman, who also participated in the training sessions, said the girls were anxious to compete.
“We were ready to go because we hadn’t played for a while because of COVID,” she said.
Their hoop dreams came true this winter. The Sharks had 13 members this season before losing one to injury. They ended the 2021-2022 campaign with a 6-11 record on Feb. 3.
Meyer described the season as positive.
“It was nice to get back into the swing of things,” he said.
Malibu was a senior-dominated team two seasons ago, so those girls graduated in 2020. The pandemic and the dwindling enrollment numbers at Malibu High spearheaded by the Woolsey fire in 2018 led to only handful of girls interested in playing basketball last spring—not enough to compete in the five-on-five sport that also relies heavily in substitute players during competitions.
Meyer sent letters to girls that play other Malibu High sports inviting them to join the basketball team in order to have enough team members.
That led to Allegra Barzan, Claudia Bell, Elyse Morales, Iman Abdul-Karim, Irina Columbeanu, Lauren Lapajne, Nina Bergland, and Whitney Shanahan joining Alavez, Qvsiowitz, Hannah Kaloper, Ceceilia Casas, and Azalea Felipe on the team.
Malibu had a team but was short on experience. None of the new players had played organized hoops before.
The Sharks, Meyer said, spent a lot of time early in the season learning basic basketball skills—like shooting and dribbling between the legs—and terminology. The coach said the team made strides, though.
“They got so much better,” Meyer said. “It was incredible. Improvement-wise we were extremely successful.”
Meyer, Malibu’s coach for several years, said this season’s Sharks raised their level of play like no other Malibu team before.
“These girls were willing to learn,” he said. “The fact they played so well is a testament to their hard work.”
Alavez, a guard on the team, said the main thing the newcomers had to work on was their confidence. The season-opening, 45-20 win over North Valley Institute on Nov. 18 helped with that, she said.
“It was rewarding to be a part of that,” Alavez said. “It was us forming as a team. I loved that feeling.”
The Sharks then garnered two wins at a tournament in Los Olivos—a 44-14 win over Midland and a 61-20 triumph over Dunn.
Kaloper, who scored a season-high 38 points in the second Los Olivos’ victory, was in a funk before the game, but that changed once play started.
“As soon as I got the ball in my hands and started dribbling down the court, a weight was lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “I was super comfortable, super in the flow.”
Malibu was beaten by Simi Valley and St. Genevieve before defeating Triumph Carter for their fourth victory. They lost Lakeview Charter before beginning their Citrus Coast League schedule in January.
Meyer noted that the competition was tougher in the Citrus Coast League than their previous contests, so the Sharks struggled. However, he said Malibu’s enhanced play began the second half of its league schedule in late January. Instead of being blown out by league opponents, the outcomes of the Sharks’ contests were close calls.
For example, Nordoff downed Malibu 50-27 on Jan. 12, but on Jan. 26, they only beat the Sharks by one point. Hueneme beat Malibu by 17 points on Jan. 19. However, the Sharks fell to Hueneme 39-33 to close the season. Malibu’s two Citrus Coast League wins were over Carpinteria. They won by two points on Jan. 14 and then claimed a 49-25 victory on Feb. 1.
The improvement, said the sophomore guard Kaloper, was striking.
“Looking at the difference between the first game and the second game was really eye-opening,” she said. “We had some games that were substantially better.”
Kaloper, who had a penchant for staying after practice to work on her game, said a lot of first-time players like Shanahan, who put down her surfboard and picked up a basketball, began to do the same.
“The new girls stayed to learn and work,” Kaloper said. “A lot of them fell in love with basketball.”
Meyer said the new hoopers were key to the Sharks scoring six wins this season. Shanahan started some games, and others were key part of the team’s rotation.
Malibu’s league schedule started on Jan. 7 with a loss to Santa Paula. They lost five straight league contests between their two league wins.
Alavez said even though Malibu didn’t win every game, the season was successful.
“I got to meet a lot of new people,” she noted. “It was incredible to see brand-new players improve so fast, so quickly, and being able to compete.”
Ovsiowitz, a guard, said Malibu grew.
“We worked together and learned how to win games,” she said.