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Huntington Beach winning with triple-threat approach
HUNTINGTON BEACH – It is commonly referred to as a hoops fundamental, but at Huntington Beach it is considered a nickname.
The “triple-threat” position is an elementary stance youngsters are taught when they first step onto a court, the posture giving a player an option to shoot, pass or drive to the basket.
In this case, it’s a fitting moniker for Frankie Wade-Sanchez, Kaylyn Nakaji and Samantha Gray, the talented trio that has eighth-ranked Huntington Beach poised to make a run with the second half of league play and the playoffs on the horizon.
“It’s fantastic having three scorers like them,” Huntington Beach coach Russell McClurg said. “It’s neat because seeing them out there, they know that if Frankie’s hot, give her the ball. If Kaylyn just made a 3, we’re going right back to her. They know how to get that kid that’s hot the ball at the time.
“Opposing teams that scout us can’t concentrate on one because the other two will step up in prime time.”
As of this week, Brea Olinda, Laguna Beach and Woodbridge are the county’s only teams boasting a pair of players in the top 20 for scoring. Huntington Beach is the lone school with three players on the list, with Wade-Sanchez (14.3), Nakaji (12.4) and Gray (11.5) each averaging in double figures for points.
It’s easy to see why the trio’s on-court chemistry has blossomed in their final year together - Gray is a senior while the other two are juniors - for the Oilers (17-5). Nakaji recalls being in the sixth grade when she met Gray in the gym they now call home. They were playing for the HB Waves, a local club team. Wade-Sanchez joined them a year later on the travel ball circuit.
After five years and many trips to Disneyland together, the trio has become a “sisterhood,” as McClurg described it.
“I remember meeting them at the Sunday night practices we’d have,” Nakaji recalled. “That’s where we got a feel for what the high school game was going to be like, and the kind of teammates we were going to be playing with.”
With Gray entering high school a year before her comrades, she had the first crack at varsity ball. A torn ACL robbed her of an opportunity to start as a ninth grader, but as fate would have it, it meant Gray would start her first high school game alongside her two friends.
“It was more intimidating than anything else,” said Wade-Sanchez, who displayed her talent with a 23-point performance in her varsity debut. “You’re playing against these older girls. But starting on varsity younger helps you later on. Being a junior now, we know what to expect when we’re on the court and the overall intensity.”
With the trio starting in the 2013-14 campaign, Huntington Beach went 26-3, won the Sunset League title and advanced to the CIF-SS Division 1A semifinals.
Two years later, the Oilers are showing a similar promise behind a big three that brings a combined nine years of varsity starting experience to the court. They’ve all had individual highlights this season. Each has scored 20-plus points on three occasions, and on Dec. 26, they each scored 17 points in a 72-29 drubbing of Northwood.
Ranked No. 4 in the CIF-SS Division 1A poll, the Oilers have six Sunset League games remaining before they begin what they hope will be another long postseason run.
As a senior, Gray knows it’s only a matter of weeks before the win-or-go home scenarios come into play.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet feeling going into every game,” she said.”You’re always thinking, ‘This is the last time I’m going to be playing at this gym.’ I’m just really happy with how this season has been going and how Coach Russ has been guiding us.”
“Hopefully it keeps going,” Nakaji continued. “We’re all optimistic.”
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