A Young, Talented Roster Has Bishop O’Dowd Girls Basketball Poised To Maintain Its Reign On The North Coast Section •
“Here be dragons.”
The ancient mapmakers didn’t really know what was lurking outside the boundaries of the known world, but they figured it wasn’t going to be too pleasant to find out. So they drew fanciful beasts that were poised to devour those who ventured into uncharted seas.
Girls basketball teams in the West Alameda County Conference, however, know all too well what awaits them when Bishop O’Dowd shows up on the other side of the scorer’s table. Yet that doesn’t keep them from being devoured by these flesh-and-blood Dragons.
After all, it’s been 100 straight wins for O’Dowd over league opponents. It’s a string that extends through all 10 years of Malik McCord’s time at the Oakland school.
But really, schools like Alameda, Piedmont and Berkeley shouldn’t feel that bad, since Bishop O’Dowd has won six North Coast Section championships and three state titles in that span. McCord’s overall record is 229-54.
This year, with nine returners from the Division II NCS championship team (and one of the eight teams chosen for the NorCal Open Division), the Dragons might have one of their best teams in McCord’s tenure.
One question, though, is youth. There are only two seniors on the roster, and as every coach will tell you, the best thing about young players is that the next season they’re a year older. On top of that, the one missing piece from last year’s team is Zakiya Mahoney. She not only led the team in rebounds but also inspired her teammates with her Beast Mode style of play.
“She brought a huge presence,” said Lexi Love, one of the two returning seniors, “so we will all have to step up.”
But Love, like her coach, is confident the Dragons will build on last year’s success.
“Kids have come back and improved,” said McCord. “They’re hungry.”
One thing they’re hungry for is a state title, something this group hasn’t experienced.
“Miss (Shannon) Donahue (a Bishop O’Dowd administrator) tells us ‘every graduating class leaves a legacy’,” Jada Holland said. “And I came in as a freshman with a group of girls who had just won a championship. I don’t want to leave without a state ring.”
Love couldn’t agree more. “As a senior, being able to get a ring would be awesome.”
Fueling that drive will be a horde of talented juniors, so talented that highly recruited Daylee Dunn will be battling for playing time on a deep roster. McCord knows how good his team can be, so he’s loading up his schedule with quality opponents. Last season Bishop O’Dowd lost 11 games, but the Dragons were ready to spit fire when the postseason came.
“I hate losing,” McCord said. “But I knew if I eased up on the early schedule, it would come back to bite us. And if we struggle early, I can see what we need to fix.”
And though both Love and Holland are top-shelf players — Love will play for Brown next year and Holland has offers from Pacific and Northern Colorado — they have some things they need to fix as well.
“I’ve worked on being more aggressive,” said Love, who has relied on her smooth 3-point stroke in the past. As a left-hander, she has an intrinsic advantage over defenders, whose muscle memory is filled with right-handed opponents. So she’s definitely looking to attack off the dribble more.
Holland is the slasher, and she wants to be more of a perimeter threat. “I’m trying to polish my game,” she said. “I want to be more consistent from 3-point distance through the season.”
Both Love and Holland know they must be the leaders, though they approach that role in different ways.
“I’m the coach on the floor,” Holland said, “and I try to keep the other players on point.”
As the more vocal of the two seniors, Holland hopes to take on the role of Myah Pace (now at the University of San Diego). Pace was her mentor when she was a younger player. “Myah would say ‘Like Malik was saying’ to help get the coaches’ point across, because it’s hard to hear the same voice over and over again.”
Love is more focused on helping her teammates stay positive. “I talk a lot on the court,” she said, “because I know I sometimes get in my own head and don’t play as well as I could. So when I see other girls start to get down, I try to help them out of it.”
Holland is the better defender, according to McCord. Love is more of “a true point guard,” but the versatility of the two seniors — in a lot of aspects — is a big plus for Bishop O’Dowd.
“We are different,” said Love, “and those differences are good for the team.”
And speaking of good, just how good can this Dragon team be? That long winning streak in the WAC seems safe enough, and another NCS Division II title is certainly possible. But what about the state championship the seniors want so badly?
The answer to that depends in many ways on what NorCal division Bishop O’Dowd winds up in. Last year, they were one of eight Open teams and drew national-No. 1 Archbishop Mitty-San Jose in the first round — and that ended the season. Mitty isn’t quite as good this time around. However, teams like Pinewood-Los Altos Hills, Salesian-Richmond and St. Mary’s-Stockton appear to be Open favorites.
The chances of winning a title in Division I are probably better, but that’s no cakewalk either. Teams like Cardinal Newman-Santa Rosa, St. Joseph Notre Dame-Alameda, McClatchy-Sacramento, Miramonte-Orinda and Carondelet-Concord are each in that mix.
“Looking at the scope of things, it’s hard for us not to be put in the Open,” said McCord. “But I feel this team will be much better this year.”
If so, more than just the teams in the WAC will have to worry about Bishop O’Dowd — and instead of “Here be dragons” out on the fringes of the girls basketball map in the state, these Dragons will be right at the center of the action.