Sports

Al Valencia takes the helm

(Above) First-year BHS girls basketball coach Al Valencia shares a laugh with assistant Debbie Lindgren during practice Monday. (Below) Valencia offers instruction during a fast-break drill. (Right) Lindgren jokes with a group of players. - Wesley Remmer/staff photos
(Above) First-year BHS girls basketball coach Al Valencia shares a laugh with assistant Debbie Lindgren during practice Monday. (Below) Valencia offers instruction during a fast-break drill. (Right) Lindgren jokes with a group of players.
— image credit: Wesley Remmer/staff photos

The face of Bremerton girls basketball has changed for the first time in a decade.

Al Valencia, who last year was an assistant to Olympic High School girls basketball coach Laurie Shaw, assumes a young team that finished 4-16 a year ago under the departed Daniel McInnis.

“I’ve heard (University of Washington men’s basketball coach) Lorenzo Romar say this a couple times: ‘We keep on working to get there, but when we’re there, we realize we’re not there yet. We still have to get there again,’” Valencia said. “There’s always more to work on in this game and adjustments to make.”

It is with that mantra Valencia embarks on his first head coaching job at the high school level. The 61-year-old father of two, whose coaching resumé includes stints at Central Kitsap High School, Crosspoint Academy (formerly King’s West) and the select as well as Pee Wee levels, has neither finalized a starting lineup nor determined which positions his players will play.

Through a week of practice, his focus has been on experimenting with different rotations, assessing the team’s strengths and weaknesses and developing “bread and butter” plays — out-of-bounds pieces, press breakers and a base offense, among others.

“There are some basic things that we really need to go over and over and over,” Valencia said. “We try to teach it perfect, they have to do it perfect in practice.”

The 6-foot-2-inch Jalen Carpenter, a sophomore who last season averaged 13.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, both team-highs, figures to shoulder much of the load on offense.

Valencia has put Carpenter at different places on the court during practice, allowing her to handle the ball as well as work from the post. She’s displayed a quick learning curve.

“She’s got some very good tools right now, but she still has a ways to go,” Valencia said.

Preaching a team-first attitude, Valencia insists he is most concerned with establishing chemistry and ensuring his players are on the same page.

And with a week of practice in the books, he is confident the players are buying into the philosophy, showing modesty, a willingness to listen and a desire to improve.

“Five people are out there, and basketball is probably one of the most demanding games as far as chemistry goes. It is key,” Valencia said. “They want to improve and they are taking the coaching well.”

Senior Angelique White, who will get most of the ball-handling duties at point guard, is eager to begin a new season and improve upon previous years. She said one of the team goal’s is to beat Port Angeles, a team that swept Bremerton during 2008-09.

The challenges of adapting to a new coach, she said, have been evident. But the team is making strides.

“It’s kind of hard because we’ve had the same coach every year. We’re trying to figure him out and he’s trying to figure us out. But it’s going well,” White said. “I think we’re going to do really good. We have really good talent, we just gotta believe in ourselves and do it.”

Free throws

Debbie Lindgren, a former athletic director at Quilcene High School, is Valencia’s assistant and the junior varsity coach. She, too, begins her first season with the BHS girls basketball program ... Only 18 players turned out this season for girls basketball, meaning some players will jump between varsity and junior varsity ... The team tips off the season at home against Central Kitsap Dec. 1.

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