El Camino's Daniel Torres dives for a loose ball against San Pasqual.
ESCONDIDO Imanni Sobers was named a captain of the boys basketball team at El Camino High before his senior season, and it’s plain to see — based on his attitude and his play on the court — just how seriously he’s taking the role.
“It was a really long offseason,” Sobers said Thursday after his Wildcats opened the season with a 63-46 nonleague victory over San Pasqual. “I kept working hard over the summer, and the motivation was to get to CIF and past the semifinals.”
El Camino is coming off consecutive trips to the San Diego Section Division I semis, and while advancing that far might be considered an accomplishment for some teams, for a Wildcats squad that has won three section championships and played in eight title games since 2000, there was a palpable sense of disappointment.
Seeded No. 1 last year, El Camino fell short of its goal when it lost to Vista — the fifth seed — in the semis. A year before that, the Wildcats’ season ended with a three-point semifinal loss to league rival La Costa Canyon. El Camino’s last section title came during Sobers’ eighth-grade year, and he’d like nothing more than to help the Wildcats hang a banner before he graduates.
“I think this is a team that can do it,” Sobers said. “As long as we listen to our coach and execute, we can make it.”
Thursday, the point guard scored five points and dished out seven assists as the Wildcats got balanced scoring throughout their lineup. Guard Taqir Johnson led them with 12 points, while forward Quen Meadows and guard Daniel Torres each scored 10. Forward Steven Marquardt added nine, and guard Dakota Orr contributed eight.
El Camino led by as many as 18 points, and despite allowing San Pasqual to cut its deficit to single digits midway through the fourth quarter, surged ahead again late.
“(Offensive balance) is going to be the key for us,” Wildcats coach Ray Johnson said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can play and contribute in different ways. It’s going to be different guys each night.”
Sobers and Orr are El Camino’s only two players returning who had significant roles on last year’s 23-8 squad. They’ll be called upon to help the less experienced players develop.
“We’ve got a lot of new kids, so we have to get these guys to learn how to play with each other,” Johnson said.
Meanwhile, San Pasqual, winner of just one league game over the last three years, will look to two experienced big men — junior Dominick Mattoni and senior Brennan Eveland — to help them dig out of the Avocado East League cellar. Thursday, both players missed significant minutes with ankle injuries, but Mattoni managed to lead the team with 16 points. Junior guard Jajuan Thomas scored 11, and forward Jacob Schark added 10.
“We have a lot more scoring than we’ve had in the past,” Eagles coach Greg Russell said. “Defensively, we have some work to do. We lost our three best defenders from last year, and we were fifth among Division I teams in defense, which we hung our hat on.”"