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The Elder Cora Chan Led El Camino Real To A League Championship And Makes Them A City Title Contender PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry   
Thursday, 14 February 2013 05:17

M. TERRY/SFVS

The Conquistador's Floor General - El Camino Real guard Cora Chan, a senior, led her team to the West Valley League girls' basketball title this season.

It's a given that talent can show itself anywhere and at any time. It just depends on who's watching.

On this particular day, when she was a very young child, Cora Chan wasn't thinking about an athletic career. She was waiting for her mother to pick her up from daycare. But she spotted a small basketball and, to kill some time, started throwing it toward and into a small hoop.

When her mother arrived, "One of the staff members told my mom, 'Oh she's pretty good, she picked it up and could shoot,"' Chan said. "Soon my mom put me into the park leagues and stuff."

That was back in 1995, when Chan was five. She is now a senior at El Camino Real High. And those early basketball skills have grown right along with her.

Chan is the oldest player on the Conquistador's team this season, and the only returning starter -- not always a great indicator of a winning season. But the 5-7 point guard has pulled, driven and occasionally willed her younger teammates to an 18-6 overall record, and the 2012-13 West Valley League championship.

That earned the Conquistadors the fourth seed in the 2013 City Section girls' Division I playoffs. They will host No.13 Van Nuys in the first round on Friday, Feb. 15.

Chan, who turns 18 on Sunday, Feb. 17, admits she "didn't see the [league] title coming" at first. The Conquistadors are not simply young – only five seniors and not all of them play regularly – they are not big. Chan is the third tallest listed player, after 5-9 forward Shaina Van Stryk, and 5-10 center Hazley Connelly. "We were young and everyone thought we would be rebuilding," Chan said. "But we had confidence in each other and came together as a team. We all stepped up and we had each other's backs. We know how to push each other and make sure we can show everyone how good we are.

"There's like five seniors. But one is a transfer and she can't play. There's two others who don't really play much. And one who's come [up from junior varsity] to play. And then there's me."

Yes, her, the one that everything ECR does revolves around. While she does have athleticism, what has made Chan so valuable is her steadiness and consistency. No matter the situation she stays calm and focused, and keeps the other Conquistadors functioning as a group.

"She is a very heady player," noted Chatsworth Coach Michelle Chevalier. "She has a high basketball IQ, makes good decisions and can create her own shot. She is the heart of their team."

ECR Coach Cara Blumfeld concurs and, knowing how heavily the team would depend on her point guard, sat down with Chan before the season and stressed not to become overburdened by expectations or her performance. "My talk was to alleviate pressure on her," Blumfeld said. "I did not want her to put pressure on herself. We as a coaching staff tried hard to get the other players to mesh with her. There might be a game here or there she was pressing. If other kids struggled and we lost, she felt she let everybody down. She is a competitor and gets frustrated. But she is also very even keel."

Bouncing between point and shooting guard, Chan's career numbers at El Camino Real have been remarkably consistent. She's averaged between 2.5 and 2.7 assists and two steals per game while shooting around 36 percent. But her scoring average has gone up every season; 7.4 points a game as a freshman, 14.9 points a game as a sophomore, 16.8 points a game as a junior, and 17.3 points a game currently.

When asked about Chan's leadership style, Blumfeld allowed herself a soft chuckle. "She's definitely not a 'screamer.' Her style is to go about her business on the court. The other players take that cue from her on the court. If we need a bucket she provides it, and they feed off that."

Chan admits she hasn't completely figured out "the leadership thing" yet.

"It's not really my thing, but I've learned from previous years how to do it. I took this as a challenge to help me for college…I'm trying to work on the leadershipon- the-court part. I can do it with the basketball; but just 'communication-wise,' I'm working on it. I think that's something that will help me."

Girls began playing for City basketball championships in 1972. Since that time, Los Angeles Crenshaw is the only school to claim both City Division I basketball titles in the same season, winning (then 4A) championships in 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1997. The girls' 1998 4A and 2006 City championships are vacated.

El Camino Real is in the position for that rare double. The boys' team is seeded second in Division I, and a favorite to reach the final. The girls are not a favorite; but getting the fourth seed gives them an excellent shot of at least reaching the semifinals.

"I'm hoping we can go all the way," Chan said. "But it's going to take a lot of hard work and a team effort. It's not just going to be about me because I have confidence in my teammates to help me get there. So it will be a team effort.

"I'm gonna do what I can do. And I know they'll have my back and step up when I need them to. It's going to be a big challenge for us but I think we can do it."

Chan signed a letter of intent to attend Westmont College back in October. She could have waited for other offers; there were some back then and, with a deep playoff run, there could have been more. But she was appreciative of Westmont's interest.

"They recruited me and I saw how much they wanted me," Chan said. "They were following me the whole entire summer, it didn't matter where I was. They seemed really interested. When I talked to them they were really nice. That got me.

"Then I went on campus and realized it was a smaller school, and some place I would probably do better in than a big environment. Having big classes, I felt, you don't get as much attention to learn, but being in a smaller class might help. At El Camino you can have 40 people in a class. At Westmont, it's probably 10. A different learning environment but I think it will help me for the future."

Located in Santa Barbara, Westmont is a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) school. The Warriors are a Division I team that plays in the Golden State Athletic Conference. They won their first conference title last season, and reached the Elite Eight of the NAIA Tournament.

Coach Kirsten Moore expects Chan to fit comfortably into their program.

"From the first time I saw Cora play, I knew that she was the type of point guard that could lead us to championships. She is a versatile and skilled point guard that commands the floor with a high basketball IQ and excellent work ethic. She has the ability to score as well as make those around her better with her passing and playmaking skills," Moore said via email.

"We believe Cora will come in and help us build on our success that we have had. She is also an outstanding student, which is a must for the high level of academics that she will be challenged with here at Westmont.

We are proud of the success she has had in high school and also believe that her best days are ahead of her as she competes in college."

But that's not until this fall. Now the goal is advancing through the 16-team tournament, and reaching the girls' Division I final on March 2. Chan was a member of ECR's Division II championship team in 2010, and lately has been wearing her championship ring to inspire her teammates.

"I'm telling the team that it takes hard work, that we have to be confident in us, keep playing, and do what we do every game," she said

It wouldn't hurt to follow Chan's lead.

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