This was supposed to be the year.
Gaudy expectations were placed on Weston Ranch’s girls basketball team, the perennial bride’s maid of the Valley Oak League. The Cougars returned a third-year varsity starter in Elisabeth Alexander, signed to play for CSU Stanislaus. She was to be joined by a prized college prospect arriving from a nearby powerhouse program and another key returner who led the team in scoring last season.
“At the beginning of the year everybody had high hopes,” said Chris Bauer, who stepped down after his 11th season as Weston Ranch’s first and only varsity head coach for girls hoops. “It was a season that started out with so much potential.”
It ended once again with a disappointing finish in Patterson.
Weston Ranch came up short of the program’s first VOL title. And it again failed to reach the semifinal round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs. Patterson eliminated the Cougars for the second straight season, 66-51. Alexander was among the teary-eyed seniors that night.
The bitterness has since faded and Alexander is able to look back on her senior campaign and swell with pride over what she and her team accomplished.
Of the big three carrying the burden of high expectations at the start of the season, only she remained with the others ineligible to play.
Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise for both she and the rest of the Cougars. Playing time became available for role players required to step into larger shoes. It forced the soft-spoken Alexander to lead.
All things considered, it was a highly-successful season for Weston Ranch (21-7), which tied a program record for most wins in a season. Alexander became the first Weston Ranch girls basketball player to be voted Most Valuable Player in the VOL. She is also the Manteca Bulletin’s All-Area Girls Basketball MVP.
“We were excited to have such big assets on the team, but when we found out that they were not coming back (for the second half of the season) we didn’t let it affect us because we had been playing without them anyway,” Alexander said. “We continued to work harder because we wanted to prove we could still win without them. Everybody underestimated us so it was nice to come out and show them what we could do.”
It was especially her opportunity to shine.
A triple-double threat, the 5-foot-11 guard averaged 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.8 steals, 2.7 assists and 2.6 blocks.
Alexander began the season on fire. In the first round of the 37th Annual Tony Contreras Delta Queen Classic at Stagg, she scored what was then a career-high 29 points to go with 11 rebounds and 10 steals in her second-ever triple-double effort. She was three steals shy of a third in a league win over Manteca, which she burned for 28 points and 10 blocks.
She was just warming up.
Two days nights later she torched Sierra for 36 points and seven 3-pointers — both new single-game records at Weston Ranch. Alexander is also the school’s new career scoring leader.
“It was crazy, honestly,” she said. “Those were school records I wanted to set and after I hit my fifth (3-pointer) that’s when I was really going for it. It was an amazing feeling and fun.”
Just how important was Alexander to her team this past winter? Weston Ranch was 14-0 when she scored 20 or more points. And when she wasn’t scoring she was doing plenty of everything else.
“There were times in first halves when she wasn’t looking to score, she was looking to facilitate,” Bauer said. “At halftime I’d have to tell her to look for her own shot and be more aggressive.
“We didn’t have a predominant scorer, a dominant big or a true point guard. Patricia King did a great job filling in at the point for us, but Liz was our go-to for everything. A lot of (her production) was out of necessity, but it was also her not wanting to lose and the willingness to put the team on her back to get it going.”
Enough coaches in the VOL saw those qualities in her to give Alexander the nod for MVP. Alexander led Weston Ranch to an 11-3 league record and its fifth consecutive runner-up finish. The obvious choice for the league’s top honor would have been the best player on the best team — 5-foot-10 Kimball freshman Raziya Potter. Kimball captured a second straight VOL title, advanced to its first SJS final and ended up 30-2.
“I was shocked,” Alexander admitted. “I wasn’t expecting it at all. I felt like I could have played better in league and the freshman from Kimball is just an amazing player so I thought she was going to get it. I mean, I put in the hard work and everything but it wasn’t the outcome I expected.”
Alexander wanted nothing more than to win titles and didn’t get any. She didn’t expect any type of MVP recognition and got it.
“My main goals I set for myself was to make sure we were successful as a team and to help people on my team grow,” Alexander said. “We had a lot of newcomers and I wanted to help them have a good first varsity experience. I wanted them to get better and to grow in a positive way.
“Of course I wanted us to win league and go far in the playoffs but I have no regrets. Our team worked hard and a lot of people stepped up to the plate. As a team we accomplished a lot.”