As 2023 begins, the North Coast Section basketball teams embark on the core month of the schedule, with Healdsburg facing off in upcoming games against Redwood League opponents Santa Rosa, St. Vincent de Paul, Rancho Cotate, Piner, Windsor and Elsie Allen.
“I am really excited about this team,” said Steve Zichichi, a former surgeon who is in his seventh year coaching the girls basketball team at Healdsburg High School (HHS).
The Healdsburg girls are currently in second place in the league, their 1-0 league record behind Santa Rosa’s 2-0. But Coach Steve Zichichi thinks the next month will show what Healdsburg fans already know, that the Greyhound girls are the team to beat this year.
“We have our best chance to win league since 2008 and hopefully receive a high NCS seeding,” Zichichi said.
Last Friday, in the final game of 2022, the Greyhound girls easily dispatched Novato at Smith Robinson Gym, 60-19. Even that lopsided score didn’t convey Healdsburg’s dominance: They were up 44-12 midway through the second quarter, winning on ball control and rebounding at every turn.
It was clear that the Healdsburg team is well-coached and coordinated with talented players at every position, though the seven-person roster does not leave a lot of room for the unexpected in fielding a five-person team.
“I constantly worry about foul trouble and injuries as we carry such a small number of players, but they can all play. I feel very comfortable with any of them in the game at any time,” said Zichichi.
The starters include seniors Itzel Ortiz and Maddie Wagner, junior Hailey Webb and sophomores Ashley Behrens and Allie Espinoza. Sophomores Ruby Leffew and Hannah Sellards do not start but have played in and contributed to every game, providing “quality minutes each night off the bench,” said the coach.
Leading scorers include Webb, with a team-leading 16 points per game (ppg) and an All-Tourney player in last month’s annual REIBT held in Healdsburg. Close behind is sophomore Espinoza with 14 ppg, who Zichichi characterized as “an offensive threat inside, to go along with her outstanding defense and rebounding.”
The other starting sophomore, Ashley Behrens, has nine rebounds and four steals per game, clearly a defensive force. The seniors Itzel Ortiz (12 ppg) and Maddie Wagner (7 ppg) provide the leadership and experience to help stabilize the young squad.
So far, there has been only one league match for the team, which saw the Greyhounds defeat Rancho Cotate 80-41 on Dec. 20. But the Healdsburg team is currently sitting pretty with a 12-3 overall record, and the players, the coach and the fans all believe the best is yet to come.
Their latest game is being played even as this paper goes to press, on Wednesday night, with Healdsburg meeting Windsor (6-8) on the Jaguars home court. Then the Greyhounds meet Elsie Allen (8-3) at home on Friday, Jan. 6, and St Vincent (8-4) at home the following Friday, Jan. 13.
In between, there’s an away match against Santa Rosa (9-5) on Jan. 11, and despite Santa Rosa’s current league lead it’s a game Zichichi thinks the girls can win. “Santa Rosa is also undefeated (in the league), but they have not played any of the other top three teams in league,” said Zichichi, meaning Healdsburg, St. Vincent or Rancho Cotate.
Last year, the lady Greyhounds finished the season 17-9 overall, 7-3 in the league.
“If we get by Windsor and Santa Rosa, we should be 17-3 (overall) and 6-0 (league) going into the second go-round in league. If we defeat Rancho again, we will be in great shape,” enthused the coach.
Home games are played at Smith Robinson Gym on the HHS campus, with a 7:30pm tip-off time.