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With a deep team chemistry, Antelope is soaring in an attempt to build on 2015’s success Story by JIM McCUE | Photos by JAMES... Family Value

With a deep team chemistry, Antelope is soaring in an attempt to build on 2015’s success

Story by JIM McCUE | Photos by JAMES K. LEASH

Like a family, the Antelope girls basketball team has grown together, overcoming growing pains to strengthen their bond and develop into a cohesive unit.

The Titans’ family has matured in the school’s eight years, including six years of girls varsity basketball, and the 2015-16 squad may be all grown up and ready to go out on its own — to a Sac-Joaquin Section title and beyond.

“We have learned as a team what to do and what not to do,” said junior guard Nadia Johnson of Antelope’s progression, which reached its furthest point—the SJS semifinals and a NorCal berth—last season. “It was our first time getting that far, and we have a different mindset now. Our goal is state, and I have full confidence in the team that we can compete for that.”

Playing for a state title is a long way from earning the program’s first playoff bid in 2011 and winning the first league championship in 2014. But head coach Sean Chambers — the Titans’ leader since the school’s opening — appreciates each step taken since first taking the court as a JV team in 2009. Chambers, who was a star player at Highlands-North Highlands in the 1980s before later coaching the Scots’ girls basketball program at his alma mater, understands that a progression is necessary to reach the heights that the 2016 Titans aspire to.

“You cannot skip steps,” Chambers said. “You have to go through the process. We take it game-by-game, but we know it’s out there.”

Angelica BaylonIt, for Chambers, is long-term success where his team competes with the best teams in the section and the region on a regular basis. He wants to “be like Oak Ridge” with a long run of success in a program where “tradition doesn’t graduate.”

Fortunately for Chambers, graduation was barely a concern at all following the 2014-15 season. Only one player departed from a year ago, leaving a large group of talented players with experience to build upon. Leading the way for the Titans this season is a pair of outstanding sisters and a senior leader with unmatched heart and leadership. Nadia (a junior) and Nia Johnson (a sophomore) have played together for nearly 10 years in organized basketball and currently comprise one of the section’s best young backcourts. Senior guard Angelica Baylon is the big sister to all of the Titans and is “the heart and soul of the team,” according to Chambers.

The trio is supported by freshman Arianna Spann, who has quickly grown into a formidable post presence, and senior co-captain Briyanna Bolar, whose contributions extend far beyond the stat sheet.

“We can play 11-12 deep, and everyone on the team understands and accepts their roles and can step up when needed,” Chambers said.

Through January, the Titans have stepped up as a team to compile a 21-0 overall record with a perfect 8-0 mark in Capital Valley League play. Antelope hasNadia Johnson won numerous tournaments, including the Gold Division at the West Coast Jamboree, and has the opportunity to enter the section playoffs with a No. 1 seed and a perfect 27-0 record. The Titans recently defeated St. Francis-Sacramento in a key nonleague showdown by 14 points, showing they may have fully arrived.

“This team came in very focused this year and understood that every game matters,” Chambers said. “Our first goal is to win Section, and anything after that is extra.”

Focused on the present, but with an understanding of what could come in the future, the Titans’ family continues to grow and dream together.

“We all have the same goals and want the same things,” Baylon said. “We are all hoping to do more to make history for the school.”

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