FAIRFIELD — There have been more individually talented teams in school history, but the 2012-13 Vanden High girls basketball squad is by far the deepest that coach Allison Johnson has had.
That depth has already taken center stage in the Vikings’ run to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship game last Friday.
Despite the 61-56 loss to Christian Brothers Friday, the team’s depth will also be a big factor as seventh-seeded Vanden enters the state tournament starting with the 7 p.m. Northern California regional opener against No. 10 Encinal of Alameda tonight at Jim Boyd Gym.
“Our depth has been fun and you look down the bench and (husband/assistant coach) Jake (Johnson) looks to see who to sub in and there’s a sea of options,” Johnson said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, God, who can I get to buy time?’ It isn’t that at all.”
And that fact has made this Vikings team one of the most dangerous in recent memory because the bench is so loaded with talent.
“That is a fun, fun scenario and these girls work extremely hard for each other,” Johnson said.
It’s also something the players picked up on early.
“Our team is seriously the definition of strength in numbers,” said captain and senior guard Adrianna Jones. “Usually when you have your starting five and you start subbing, you kind of have that little dropoff, someone kind of isn’t as good as the person they subbed in for, but with our team it’s like our bench almost kicks it up a notch.”
That depth has proven itself repeatedly during Vanden’s playoff run as bench players have regularly put up double figures in scoring.
Freshman guard Kiana Moore scored a team-high 14 points in the Vikings’ Sac-Joaquin Section playoff opener and senior post player Kiara Beacham added 13 off the bench that night.
In the SJS semifinals against Modesto Christian, it was Alex Bader putting up 12 – all from the 3-point line.
It’s a fact that inspires great confidence from the first string as well as the coaches.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Jones said. “I’ve never doubted our team, though, so the way I view my team is the same as in the beginning of the year.”
Forward and reigning Solano County Athletic Conference MVP Mariah Williams agreed, especially after playing with the second unit at the beginning of the season.
“At the beginning of the season I wasn’t really starting because of my knee,” Williams said. “I had the chance to play with the second string, as far as energy-wise, I feel like they bring a lot of energy to the team defensively.”
Williams also noted the energy the bench brings.
“You would think the second string wouldn’t be just a good, but everybody is equivalent, the second-string brings shooters, the first-string brings shooters,” she said. “I just feel like the second-string has more energy.”
All of that makes for some difficult choices at the top.
“Sometimes it is difficult, and you’re not going to make 12 healthy players happy no matter what you do. However, these girls are are all about the team, the unit above themselves,” Johnson said. “And so I’m sure everyone wants more minutes, but for us sometimes it is hard to rotate 12 people in or even nine people. It has nothing to do with their talent level, they would start for almost any other team.”
This is nothing new to the group either.
“In probably 90 percent of our games, every player might touch the floor in the first half,” Jake Johnson said. “Literally every single player will rotate, and that’s not in a blowout situation, but just because that’s how many options we have.”
That depth has paid off in the postseason, allowing the Vikings to rest first-string players and have them ready for a big second-half push.
“It really pays dividends in the second half when our top – we don’t even consider them starters – the unit that starts the game is completely fresh,” Jake Johnson said.
It also helps in other areas of the game.
“Foul trouble is rarely an issue because we have somebody that can just step in and do the same job,” Jake Johnson continued.
With so much depth, it’s impossible to predict who will get hot on a given night.
“We don’t know who’s going to go off,” Allison Johnson said. “We’re very open to the fact that someone might catch fire and you ride that out.”
“It’s fun to watch, you never know who’s going to shine that night,” said junior center and captain Aleseana Whitney. “It’s also good for us. We have a starting five, but that doesn’t mean anything with our team. The defense never knows who to focus on. If they shut down one person, the next person could come in and shine.”
It’s not just the offense, but the second-string and beyond also brings defensive intensity.
“The first string is just as good, but as far as the energy, of the second string, it just shuts down a game,” Williams said. “It’s just good not having to worry about whether they’re gonna let (opponents) score when we come out. It’s never questioned.”
For the Vikings to play beyond Wednesday, they’ll have to banish the memory of Friday’s section championship loss.
“The only thing we’re thinking of in our bracket is our opponent (today),” Allison Johnson said. “There is Encinal at home (today) and there is nothing past that.”
For the players, it’s about doing what they know they can do.
“We have to just prepare for our next game and make sure we get back on our ‘A’ game coming back from the loss we just had,” Whitney said.
“Coach Jake and Coach Allison have told us all year that not making layups and not making free throws is going to come back and bite us in the butt, and it did on Friday,” Jones said. “I think it was a good game to lose because we still have second life, we still go on, so I think that kind of kicked us up a notch. Now we really can’t lose a game. We’ve just got top play hard. Play harder than them, do what we do, play our game.”
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.