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CV girls hoops – nowhere to go but up
• Donnelly eyes re-establish winning culture at Central Valley
Aaliyah Nichols - Makayla Dennison
Aaliyah Nichols (2) and Makayla Dennison will fill key roles as Central Valley’s girls basketball team strives for improvement this season. - photo by Dale Butler

Central Valley High School’s girls basketball program is headed in the right direction according to third-year head coach Ryan Donnelly.

“There’s definitely been some improvement,” he said. “The culture is changing. We’re getting players that want to play. They’re serious. They have that drive to want to win.”

The 2022-23 Hawks will strive to reach their potential under the guidance of Donnelly and assistant coach Shealyn Craven.

Donnelly and Craven starred in basketball at Central Valley and Patterson, respectively.

“These girls seem to be a lot more committed to wanting to keep improving and wanting to win,” Donnelly said. “We want to bring the best out of each player. We’ll try our best to compete.”

The Hawks return three players from last year’s team, including Alondra Carrillo (Sr.), Makayla Dennison (Sr.) and Delia Vidal (Sr.).

Central Valley has 12 newcomers in Alexie Alvarez (Sr.), Monserrat Cardenas (Sr.), Janessa Godinez (Sr.), Analy Gomez (Sr.), Aaliyah Nichols (Sr.), Ashley Perez (Sr.), Alexa Alberto (Jr.), Jennifer Mejia Gonzales (Jr.), Jannet Valencia (Jr.), Marion Dennison (So.), Julyanna Valencia (So.) and Aaliyah Jauregui (Fr.).

The Hawks lost six players to graduation in Alyssa Rojo, Tatyanna Valencia, Carmen Carranza, Rinah Dulay, Neida Delgado and Jasman Kaur.

Rojo was selected to the Central California Conference Second Team. She averaged 14.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game.

“This group always wants to practice,” Donnelly said. “We have some athletic players. We have some shooters. Our team chemistry is pretty strong. That’s going to help a lot.”

Nichols and Makayla Dennison have been named team captains.

“Makayla is the leader of the team,” Donnelly said. “I’ve coached her since freshman year. She understands our program. All of the other girls look up to her. Aaliyah is a good leader as well. She’s vocal on the court. She’s one of our best shooters.”

A year removed from compiling an 0-8 record during the 2020-21 COVID-shortened season, the Hawks went 5-23 and took last in the CCC standings with a 1-11 mark last winter.

Central Valley’s conference schedule will feature home-and-away games versus Patterson, Atwater, Buhach Colony, Merced, Golden Valley and El Capitan.

The top three teams in the CCC qualify for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

“It will definitely be a challenge for us,” Donnelly said. “We’re going against teams with more experience. The talent level is a lot higher. The speed and physicality are different. It’s a tough league to be in. I’d like to see every girl improve.”

The Hawks made their last playoff appearance in 2016-17. Central Valley amassed an 11-13 record and placed second in the Western Athletic Conference (7-3).

The Hawks had a combined record of 5-60 the three seasons before Donnelly was promoted to head coach.

“I enjoy being around the team,” Donnelly said. “It’s going to take some time to build the program. It doesn’t matter what we did in the past. What matters is what’s going to happen. We got to play our hardest to compete. I’d like to see us continue to build, get some wins and contend in this league.”