With Five Returning Starters, All Seniors, There’s No Mistaking The Goals Of The State Runners-Up •
Story by CLAY KALLAM | Photos by DENNIS LEE
Campolindo girls basketball coach Art Thoms III reflects candidly on the 2016-17 season of his Moraga program.
“Last year, our goal was to make the state championship,” he said — and the Cougars did just that.
“Looking back, I wish I’d said ‘win the state championship.’”
This season, that 62-45 loss to Rosary-Fullerton in the CIF Division III title game at Golden 1 Center serves as motivation for a Campolindo team that returns almost all of its firepower from last year, and is hungry for a return trip to Sacramento.
“We know what it feels like,” says forward Haley Van Dyke, who will play for Washington next year, “and we want to feel that way again. We were so close, and now we want it more.”
Van Dyke, who averaged 23.9 points and 15.4 rebounds a game last year, struggled in the state championship game, as did her teammates. Yet after two summers playing at the highest level of club basketball, she feels more prepared than ever.
She’s added a more perimeter flavor to her game, which will make her even more difficult to guard, and she’s become very happy to mix it up inside. “I like being physical,” she says. “When I first started, I hated it — I faded away.”
Defenses can’t focus on Van Dyke because of the presence of Ashley Thoms (the coach’s daughter), who will play at Weber State next year. Thoms averaged 15 points a game last season, and she too enjoys the physicality of the game. “I like drawing contact and getting a foul,” she said, and coupled with her 3-point shooting (34 percent last year on 224 attempts), she is a tough cover.
She is also the reason that Thoms III is involved in girls basketball, as his father, Art Thoms Jr., was a star defensive tackle for the Oakland Raiders, and Thoms III played football in college.
“In second grade, Ashley started CYO basketball,” says Thoms III, and since his father had coached his sister Kristen at Berean Christian, it quickly became a family affair. “We coached together for three years — he had such a wealth of knowledge.”
“We had a lot of fun,” says the older Thoms. “At one point, Art said ‘I’d like to be a head coach,’ and I said ‘Go for it.’ Art’s pretty innovative and he took it to another level.”
But those early years weren’t that easy on Ashley, as Thoms III admits he was tough on his daughter. “During her pre-high school years, I was hard on her. ‘High expectations’ is the right phrase.”
Now, however, there’s no need to push her. “She does things the right way,” he says. “She’s probably the easiest player I have to coach.”
Speaking of easy, point guard Aubrey Wagner makes life easier for both Van Dyke and Thoms by focusing on getting each of them the ball. She averaged 5.2 assists per game last year with an exceptional 1.9 assist/turnover ratio, while still managing to score 9.2 points a game.
“She doesn’t get as much credit as she deserves,” says Thoms III. “She’s part of our big three.”
Then again, Thoms III doesn’t want to ignore other returners like senior Grace McGuire, a fine athlete who’s developed into a consistent 3-point shooter. “She’s a fantastic player,” says Thoms III. “She never has any issues — she can not score and be happy.”
But happiness was not always part of the story for Campolindo — it took a while for the team to gel, but now the bonds are strong.
“It’s been one of the best experiences ever,” says Ashley Thoms, “from going with a team with no chemistry to being inseparable.”
“Our team chemistry is great,” says Van Dyke. “We all care for each other.”
But since all five anticipated starters – Van Dyke, Thoms, Wagner, McGuire and Kailey Meyer — are seniors, it’s now or never for Campo.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that a state championship will come this season, or even that Campolindo can get back to Golden 1 in the new order at CIF. If Campo is judged to be one of the top eight teams in Northern California, the Cougars will wind up in the Open, and have to get past nationally ranked Archbishop Mitty and St. Mary’s-Stockton to even return to a state title game. And if not the Open, then it’s hard to see Campolindo dropping much farther than the Division I bracket (it’s all done by competitive equity now, not by enrollment), and Division III, where the Cougars were last year, is pretty much out of the question.
“You can’t count on (getting back),” says Thoms III, “because everything has to go right, and that doesn’t always happen.”
Still, “We all know exactly what we need to do,” says Ashley Thoms, a feeling echoed by Van Dyke.
“We’re just going to play,” the Washington-bound senior says. “Last year, we took it game by game, and we’re definitely going to do that again.”