Mt. Carmel freshman guard Casey McWilliam has helped lead the Sundevils to a 10-6 record.
Neither of them may be old enough to legally get behind the wheel of a car, but Ali Engelhardt and Casey McWilliam make up the engine that drives the girls basketball team at Mt. Carmel High.
Engelhardt, a sophomore forward, and McWilliam, a freshman guard, have helped lead the Sundevils to a surprising 10-6 record through the nonleague portion of their schedule, turning what some may have considered a rebuilding season into one in which they could open some eyes in the Palomar League.
“If we do the right things, we can challenge teams,” Mt. Carmel coach Tim Jollett said. “A lot of it is that we’re very young, but youth doesn’t mean that you’re going to be any better next year, either. You’ve got to work on your skills and get better.”
The Sundevils, winners of at least 20 games each of the last three seasons, were CIF San Diego Section Division II runners-up in 2010-11 and advanced to the semifinals last season. The core of those teams graduated, though, and with just two seniors on the roster this year, Jollett has been preaching patience more than postseason preparedness.
While the future looks bright with Engelhardt and McWilliam leading the way, that tandem also is eager to win games on this year’s schedule. In a 58-43 victory Friday over Ramona, Engelhardt scored 19 points and pulled down nine rebounds, while McWilliam added 15 points and senior guard Chanel Enriquez chipped in with 10.
The Sundevils let Ramona (10-8) hang around through the midway point of the second quarter but closed that period with a 12-2 run that put them ahead comfortably by halftime.
“I feel like we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” Engelhardt said. “Our record is already pretty good. We’ve been competing with some of the better teams, and we’re only going to get better.
Friday, Engelhardt used her 6-foot frame to provide an inside presence, and Ramona’s tactic of repeatedly fouling her proved costly to the Bulldogs when she went 8-for-10 from the free-throw line. McWilliam got plenty of open looks from the perimeter and made four of her six 3-point attempts.
When the Sundevils open their league season Tuesday against Poway, they’ll do so with Engelhardt averaging a double-double and combining with McWilliam to score nearly 40 points per game.
The two carry the burden of being team leaders at a young age, but both seem to be growing into their roles. They know that what they do this season will help build the foundation of a team that could win league titles when they become upperclassmen.
“Sometimes I feel like it’s a lot of pressure, but I know I have to step up and always do my best,” McWilliam said.
Added Engelhardt, who averaged 10.5 points per game as a freshman: “It was definitely a lot different last year — we had four seniors, so I felt like I was competing for my spot in the lineup. This year, I had to really change roles and become a leader. It took some getting used to.”