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CHS Girls Basketball's Last Stand
March, 2013 - Issue #101
It was a bit of an upset.

Coming on the heels of one of the worst reported violations committed by a program in the Santa Clarita valley in the last 10 years, Canyon girls basketball turned to an unknown coach from Indiana named Chuck Johns in 2009.

After the violation, which cost then-ultra-successful head coach Stan Delus his job for his part in the falsification of athletes' residences, Todd Jackson took over the Canyon program as interim coach and led the team to a 7-3 finish down the stretch of the 2008-09 season.

After the season, Jackson was the favorite to lead the Cowboys program, but Canyon went in a different direction and hired Johns.
Four years later, Canyon girls basketball is one of the Santa Clarita Valley's premier sports programs. Johns is a major factor. But so is the talent, leadership and will to win.

"I think the thing we stress in our program is, it has to be 'team first,'" Johns says on Canyon basketball's philosophy. "We want to pride ourselves on our defense. I think we want to be sound enough to execute in the end-game situation and allow the freedom to let kids create and make plays."
Coming into Johns' first season, Canyon had won one league title - 1973. In his first three seasons, Canyon has won three. In that time, the Cowboys have also gone 8-4 in the CIF postseason. They've made quarterfinal appearances in the playoffs twice and a semifinal appearance in 2011. That same season, they made the state championship tournament and won a first-round game.

"I think we've had really athletic girls and girls who aren't as athletic but do whatever it takes on the floor for the team to be successful," says four-year varsity star Alia McCoy on why Canyon has been so successful. "We just work really, really hard. All the girls have had a really, really good work ethic."

Johns says its girls like McCoy who set the example for that work ethic.

He's had a series of players, year to year, who have demanded the most of their teammates and have led, either vocally or by example.

When he took over the program in 2009, Johns had a gritty guard in Brooke LeMar, who is now playing at Southern Illinois.
LeMar was a strong-minded, no-nonsense player whose desire to win rubbed off on her teammates.

She handed the baton off to fellow guard Adriana Dent, whose commitment to defense set the tone for the Cowboys.
Both players were Foothill League Players of the Year as seniors.

Last year, Tiffini Stone took over as the leader and she did it more by example. She was clutch and unselfish and played with a desire like the leaders before her.
Now that leadership has been passed to McCoy - who will leave Canyon with some of its most prominent career records, including scoring and rebounding - and fellow four-year star Jaya Schultz.

"Leadership is so big with us," Schultz says of the program. "The younger girls see one of the upperclassmen doing something they're going to follow. You have to set an example for the young ones for their practice habits."

And that example starts with defense. McCoy says Johns rarely talks about points.
Canyon is a team that plays defense with a tenacity that hasn't been seen in this valley in the last five years. The girls swarm to the ball, they block shots, they steal at will and they dive to the floor.

"Canyon is a team that plays defense with a TENACITY that hasn't been seen in this valley in the last five years."

Because of that, and talent, Canyon has been not only been superb in league play, but also in the postseason. Yet there's something missing.

Canyon has never won a CIF girls basketball title.

Delus took the Cowboys to a CIF championship game in 2006, but they lost to Hart.

The last three years, Canyon has lost in the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion - a quarterfinal loss to Edison in 2010, a semifinal loss to Buena in 2011 where the officiating was suspect and a two-point loss in the second round of the state tournament to Rialto, then last year's buzzer beater loss to Keppel in the quarterfinals.

This is it for Canyon. This is McCoy's and Shultz's last stand. And they have a solid surrounding cast led by junior sharpshooter Kali Vittallo. The lower levels have struggled in 2012-13. So there is a sense of urgency now.

"There is and I think it sort of consumed me this season," Johns says. "I need to refocus and make sure the kids enjoy the ride. We want the kids to feel empowered and excited about the next step in their lives. Sense of urgency, we have to deal with that."
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