Monica Hang is normally quick to respond to questions regarding the Los Angeles Valley College women’s basketball team, extolling the virtues while controlling inquiries about perceived flaws and expectations.
But this time, the answers about the 2014-15 Lady Monarchs squad are not coming quickly. With each question Hang furrows her brow, thinks the question through, and answers in measured, soft tones.
There’s a good reason for the hesitations. She has only two returning players, Melody Gauthier and Hannah Ascencio. Neither was a starter from last year’s stellar 26-7 team that won a second straight Western State Conference South Division title, and came within a game of playing for the California Community College Athletic Association state championship.
But now there are nine freshmen on the 11-player roster that have to be shaped into a competitive team. That may not be unusual in community college basketball, as roster turnover is often high. But until you can actually see how the players blend their talents and camaraderie on the court in actual games, well, what can you say about how good or bad they are?
There’s simply not a lot Hang, entering her fifth season, knows about this year’s team — yet.
“This group has been working hard since the summer. And I’ve seen a big change since the first day of school (Sept. 3) to today,” Hang said.
“We’ve taught them what is to be expected from each athlete, what it means to be a student athlete at Valley College, what kind of person they need to be when they represent Valley College. They understand team and hard work now; they understand what it takes to be a champ. Now it’s working together to move forward. And every day there’s a teaching process, and a learning process. Everyday we come in and try to get better.”
Gauthier, a 5-foot 8-inch guard who averaged 4.0 points, 1.7 rebounds and 11.8 minutes coming off the bench knows how the new players can quickly get in synch with Hang and her staff.
“Always do what Coach wants, because Coach is always right,” she said “She’s the best. I learned that last year. If you don’t listen to what she says, then we’ll be punished for it so we might as well do what she wants. And if we do what she wants, we win. It works.”
Something works. Hang has been the South Division Coach of the Year for three straight years. And each year, the Lady Monarchs’ record has gotten incrementally better, and the playoff runs a little deeper.
Right now the edges LAVC might have on the competition are hard to see. One that may be worth watching depends on whether Sydney Hua can win the starting point guard job. Hua was a teammate of Gauthier’s at Rosemead High — both graduated from there in 2013 — and the duo played on four Mission Valley League championship teams.
Hua attended UC San Diego last year but did not play basketball. The 5-foot-3-inch guard thought she might have an opportunity to walk onto the women’s team there, but never got a tryout. She missed playing, and decided to attend Valley College and revive her game.
“Actually Coach [Hang] drew me here. I knew Mel was going to be here,” Hua said. “Coach is a point guard, and I play the point guard position. She’s helping me gain a better vision of the court. There are little detail things she tells us to do; you don’t expect it work because you don’t see it, but when you do it, it works.”
Hua said she knows where Gauthier’s favorite spots are to score on the court, but she has awhile to figure the favorite spots of the other players. “It’s [the instinct] still there, but there are new girls I’m playing with. There’s a little wall I have to overcome. The others I have to learn.”
“Learn” is the watchword of this season’s team. And how fast they learn Hang’s system and each other’s strengths will go a long way in defining their season.
Gauthier doesn’t think it will take long. “I think the first couple of games we could get there. By the time we get to conference…I think we could go undefeated again, as long as we push ourselves. We could be good if we give that 100 percent.”
Since her arrival from Glendale Junior College in 2010, there’s only been two things Hang hasn’t done at LAVC: win a state championship, or coach a team literally from scratch.
She can now cross the latter off the bucket list. What she and the Lady Monarchs are able to produce from such beginnings will determine if a movie should be made.