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Girls Basketball: There was no secret to success for Pahrump Valley, just hard work

Those looking for beauty and grace on the basketball court are advised to look elsewhere. This is about the Pahrump Valley High School girls basketball team and their 30-4 season, and beauty and grace have no place here.

The Trojans were not about highlight-reel moves. They were not about dishing and swishing, no-look passes and raining 3s.

“I don’t think we’re really that talented, but they play with a lot of heart and guts and they just give everything they have,” a very proud coach Bob Hopkins said after the 57-51 loss to Fernley in the Class 3A State Tournament semifinals ended the Trojans’ season on Thursday night in Reno. “They leave it all on the floor.”

That they did. Night after night after night. And they did that against many teams that, to put it kindly, they need not have given their best effort to defeat.

There is no way to pretend that the Trojans’ astounding 23.9 points allowed per game is solely because of their great defense. The Sunset League is full of teams that looked like they were stocked by students being punished for failing phys ed.

But what does need saying is that the Trojans played that brutal defense no matter who the opponent was, no matter what record the opponent brought into a game and no matter how the game was going. And that’s impressive.

Sure, the margins got smaller during the fourth quarter of a lot of games, but that’s because the Trojans were up by so many points Hopkins could clear his bench. In fact, he expressed a desire to not lead by too many points because the almost inevitable running clock during league games reduced the chances to get subs into games.

To be honest, the Trojans did not have that many opportunities to play quality opponents, and very few chances to play close games. But the season did have its moments.

There was a game against Utah’s Dixie (10-12) at the Lady Bulldog Invitational in Mesquite, a game in which they shot better than usual from the line, making 8 of 13 in a 31-30 win. There was the Gator Winter Classic, where, after dropping their first game, the Trojans won four consecutive contests, including a 45-29 win over Sierra Vista (14-15), to win their bracket.

Then came a string of Sunset League blowouts before what likely was the most exciting game of the season, when Cimarron-Memorial became one of the few Class 4A teams from Las Vegas to make the drive to Pahrump on Jan. 24. Kate Daffer scored 23 points and Nicky Velazquez contributed 10 points and 14 rebounds in a 59-56 overtime win that became the 11th of 18 consecutive victories.

Then came the region tournament, which brought memories of the disappointment of the past two seasons.

The Trojans, league champions three consecutive years, lost a stunner in the first round in 2018 and lost in the semifinals last season and were determined to take the next step this time around.

They avoided a repeat of 2018 with a convincing win over Sunrise Mountain, a team that Hopkins had feared might cause matchup problems. But the Miners had trouble matching up with Daffer, who poured in 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead Pahrump Valley to a 57-31 win. And it wasn’t that close.

They avoided a repeat of 2019 with a solid 50-33 region semifinal win over Virgin Valley. This time it was a balanced effort, with Wombaker scoring 13 points, Velazquez 11 and Daffer 10 as the Trojans locked up their first spot in the state tournament since 2008.

Wombaker finished as the team’s leading scorer at 11.4 points per game. The sophomore scored in double figures 23 times in 34 games and scored 9 points in three others. She reached 20 points three times, including a season-high 26 on Dec. 27 against Silverado. Wombaker also recorded almost 4 steals per game.

Daffer led the team with 7.2 rebounds per game while scoring at a 10.8 points-per-game clip. Her season high was the 24 against Sunrise Mountain, while she topped 10 rebounds in a game seven times.

Souza led the Trojans in assists at 3.6 per game while scoring 6.5 points, grabbing 4.4 rebounds and making 3.8 steals. Velazquez seemed to get stronger and stronger as the season went on, and she finished with averages of 6.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Five of her six double-figure scoring games came Feb. 6 or later, and she had games of 13 and 14 rebounds in late January.

While the entire team plays good defense, Hopkins frequently singled out Makayla Gent on that end of the floor, noting her effectiveness even against players taller than her 5-foot-4.

All of those players have something in common: None of them will graduate this spring. Every one of them will be back, as the Trojans lose just two seniors, Maddie Hansen and Jazmyne Turner.

“We should be good,” Hopkins acknowledged. “Hopefully, they get in the gym and work hard.”

Work hard? Hopkins is talking about a team he has called the hardest-working group he has ever coached, and he’s coached a lot.

“Work harder on their shooting, I guess,” he said with a slight grin. “Defensively, they do fine.”

Yes, they do. And, after making the postseason two years ago, winning a postseason game last year and reaching the state tournament this year, there is one obvious goal for next season, when the expectations will be sky-high.

“Every year we get a little better, so we’ve got one more step next year,” Hopkins said.

And what will he remember about the 2019-20 Trojans? It’s not the undefeated league record, it’s not any one win, it’s not any one performance. It’s much simpler than any of that.

“How much I love these kids,” he said.

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