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Longhorns try to weather ‘challenging period’

12/29/2012, 2:37pm PST
By Bill Dickens, Special to the U-T

The Rancho Buena Vista High girls basketball team has some bold plans for this season.

RBV’s Jacqueline Kane drives past Canyon’s Michelle Ballestero on Thursday.

The Rancho Buena Vista High girls basketball team has some bold plans for this season after finishing 22-8 and reaching the CIF San Diego Section Division I semifinals a year ago.

Things started out fine as the Longhorns stormed to a 9-3 record. Then they lost three straight entering Saturday’s final game in the SoCal Holiday Prep Classic. The team has been plagued by injuries coupled with absences due to family obligations.

At one point in the tournament, RBV was missing five players — two of them starters. One player has a foot in a boot. Another broke her finger. A third member of team suffered a stinger when she took an elbow in the back of her neck. A fourth was out of town with her family.

“We’re going through a challenging period,” Rancho Buena Vista coach Pete Lafrance said. “Given all the adversity we’ve had, I can’t complain about our record right now. I guess you could look at the adversity we’ve had as good for us because our bench players are gaining playing time against quality teams.”

Playing with a shorthanded lineup has put pressure on senior wing player Jenny Dee, who leads the team by averaging 15.8 points per game.

“We’re all hungry from last year,” said Dee, the younger sister of former RBV star and current USD guard Johnny Dee. “We want to take it further than we did a year ago.”

The team has dedicated the season to the memory of Lafrance’s mother, Patricia, who died before the start of the season. Her initials, PAL, are worn on the back of the team uniforms.

“She used to come to all of our games,” senior point guard Jacqueline Kane said. “We miss her.”

Dee, who has signed with UC Irvine, doesn’t mind being compared to her brother.

“We’re not the same kind of player,” she said. “But one thing’s for sure — we’re each other’s biggest fan. Johnny shoots the 3, and I like to drive. I’m not afraid to pull up and take a 3-shot, but I feel more comfortable in the paint.”

Dee has 13 3-point baskets. Julia Pihl leads the team, hitting 31-of-81 for 38.3 percent from 3-point range.

Pihl and Kane are the best ball-handlers on the team.

“We like to run the floor,” Pihl said of the Longhorns, who won the Avocado West League championship last season. “We want to take it two steps further and win CIF.”

Said Dee: “That’s our goal, and everybody is on the same page.”

Dee is clearly the cornerstone of the Rancho Buena Vista team.

“Jenny is a very good inside player,” Lafrance said. “She has all the moves. She rebounds well, can give us the 3, and is very good at relinquishing the ball.”

Kane knows her role on the Longhorns.

“I’m the point guard. I’m responsible for distributing the ball and finding open people,” she said. “I pass first and shoot when I’m open. We have a lot of new girls on the team, and they’re really coming around.”

Lafrance would have preferred to have avoided the bumps in the road, but he remains optimistic.

“Given all the problems we’ve had, these girls don’t give up,” he said. “There’s no sense of panic. We have a good reputation, and people want to play us.”

In league play, RBV will face solid competition, including from La Costa Canyon, Vista, El Camino and Carlsbad.

“No question we’re in a tough league, and we won’t ever have an easy night,” Lafrance said. “But I think we have a great group of girls who are not afraid to face a challenge.”

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