Napa Valley College had to cancel its 2019-20 women’s basketball season after only eight games due to a shortage of players, as well as last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But there is a brand new season approaching, and the Storm, which has been hard at work during a six-week summer class that concluded on July 29, has a whole new look.
There are 11 players currently on the roster, with the possibility of even more committing to the program, head coach Paul DeBolt said.
“We’re still recruiting,” he said. “We still have four or five kids who are trying to make up their minds where they’re going to go.
“We want to establish a culture here, a culture of togetherness, family. We haven’t had a great tradition of women’s basketball at Napa Valley College. We definitely want to change that, not only on the court, but off the court. Our team slogan is, ‘We play together.’ And we’re going to play together.”
DeBolt and assistant coach Zack Cook introduced four incoming freshmen players during the program’s recent “Signing Day I” in the NVC gym as the newcomers signed ceremonial letters in front of staff, family and friends.
“I’m glad family members are here today. We want to establish our Storm family,” said DeBolt.
Maizy Armstrong-Brown, Amaree Bennett, Alliyah Fernandez and Jaylen Susbilla-Madriaga are among the newest players to commit to Napa Valley. They add to the team’s depth and bring experience and all-around talent.
“These four young women have solid, wonderful futures to look forward to,” said DeBolt. “They’re all pointed in the right direction. They all have career goals. And I’m excited to be able to be a little part of that.
“This is truly a new beginning for us. This is kind of an official beginning time for them.”
Armstrong-Brown is a 2021 Napa High School graduate and averaged 7.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 2.4 assists per game as a senior. She is a 5-foot-6 combo guard.
Bennett is a 2021 American Canyon High graduate and averaged 8.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. The 5-6 guard and team captain helped the Wolves to the Vine Valley Athletic League title as a senior.
Fernandez, a guard, is a 2021 Westmoor High-Daly City graduate. Originally from Saipan, Fernandez was playing on the Northern Mariana Islands National Team at the age of 15.
Susbilla-Madriaga is a 5-1 combo guard and a 2021 Bethel High-Vallejo graduate.
With the players seated at a table and facing the group that was in the bleachers, DeBolt opened the program by saying, “This is a celebration. These four young women have decided to come and play basketball for us here at Napa. We’re very grateful for them. And our job is just starting. It’s going to be a pleasure to work with them. The main thing we’re trying to do with them is to develop their basketball skills.
“I want to just celebrate all that they’ve accomplished — all the little things, all the big things, all the practices, all the study hours, all the family events that are so important, as we craft our family here.
“I just want us to be able to play games so people can see how we’re going to play. It’s a fun style. It’s an aggressive style. And I know once people see us play, we’ll have more kids who want to play for us.”
Everyone was given a four-page brochure featuring short bios on each of the four players and NVC’s 2021-22 schedule. The Storm will play in the Ventura College Jamboree Sept. 18-19. This is followed by a scrimmage at home on Oct. 7 against Diablo Valley College-Pleasant Hill and a scrimmage at Shasta College-Redding Oct. 29.
Napa Valley officially opens the season at the Mission College Tournament in Santa Clara Nov. 5-7, and will travel to the Ventura College Tournament Nov. 18-20.
The Storm will host the Napa Valley College Storm Surge Dec. 3-5, and play in the City College of San Francisco Tournament Dec. 16-18.
The Storm Surge is an eight-team tournament, with NVC being joined by Los Medanos-Pittsburg, College of the Siskiyous-Weed, Las Positas-Livermore, San Jose City College, Golden West-Huntington Beach, Contra Costa-San Pablo and Sacramento City.
The Bay Valley Conference season begins on Dec. 22 with Napa Valley playing at Solano Community College in Fairfield.
“We play a first-class schedule right out,” said DeBolt. “We’re going to play good basketball teams and we’re going to become a good basketball team.”
There is a lot that DeBolt likes about the four new freshmen players — in particular their love for the game and all the time they spend working in the gym.
“These are kids who love to be in the gym, who love to get shots up and love to be around basketball,” he said. “They’re shooters. You’re going to see us take a lot of shots, a lot of 3’s this year. We get up and down the court. We press. They can defend. They’re sneaky defenders. I like sneaky defenders. We’ll teach them to be in your face defenders.
“They’re having fun together. They’ve already sort of bonded. It’s important because in a basketball season you go through the ups and downs and if you’re close and you understand each other, you can get through the hard parts. That’s really a big part of what they get to learn by playing collegiate sports, is to get through the hard stuff and keep going and not give up and stop.”
Napa Valley looks forward to playing its first Bay Valley Conference games since 2019.
“We have a core of kids who are coming back from last year. We have a lot to look forward to,” said DeBolt. “We’re also going to play hard. We just go from one day to the next and we build. What it is we’re trying to do is get them into some good habits and get them working.”
There was a lot that the players got done during the summer session — with shooting and scrimmages and work in the weight room, four days a week.
“We got a lot of shots up. We did a lot of volume shooting, ball handling, some scrimmaging, physical conditioning,” said DeBolt. “I think the biggest thing for me in the summer is just them getting to know each other. And then us as coaches getting to know them as basketball players on our court. We’ve seen them play other places. But seeing them play right in front of us makes a big difference. You can start to formulate how we’re going to use them and some of the things that they need to work on.”
Napa Valley also hosted a high school girls summer basketball league again, from July 9-30, with Napa, Vintage, Justin-Siena, American Canyon, Vanden, Rodriguez-Cordelia, Ygnacio Valley-Concord, Vacaville and Fairfield competing.
DeBolt compiled a 562-380 record over 30 years (1986-2016) as the head coach at Contra Costa-San Pablo. He led the Comets to 11 Bay Valley Conference titles, 19 postseason appearances, and runner-up finishes at the California Community College Athletic Association state tournament in 2001 and 2003. DeBolt was named as the California Community College Women’s Basketball Coaches Association State Coach of the Year during the 2000-2001 season.
He is an eight-time BVC Coach of the Year and three-time CCCWBCA Junior College Region 8 Coach of the Year.
DeBolt directed Contra Costa to three state final four appearances, four state elite eight appearances, and seven state Sweet 16 appearances.
A look at the four incoming freshmen:
The two-year starter at Napa High is excited to continue her basketball career at NVC.
“When I first met Paul, when he introduced himself, I really liked the fact that he’s confident in what he says, and he really holds his truth,” said Armstrong-Brown. “He knows what he’s talking about. I knew I could trust him right away by everything he said. I fully trust him. I have full trust that he’s going to make a great program.”
Armstrong-Brown is looking forward to getting back in the gym and continuing to work on her game when the fall semester starts this month.
“When fall comes, we’re going to be running even more, and we’re going to be in even better shape. It’s going be a good season,” she said.
She can already see the team chemistry and a bond forming.
“Everybody’s clicking together and trusting each other and everybody’s in the right spot at the right time,” she said.
Her bio projects her to be a “high volume shooter for the team” and adds she is a “hard worker and a focused player.”
Armstrong-Brown had 18 points and nine rebounds in a 43-41 loss to Vintage on May 7. She has played club basketball for the Lady Legends.
“She’s a really good shooter, a good ball handler, a smart basketball player, and just savvy around the ball,” said DeBolt. “She’s going take a lot of shots for us.”
Her bio says she will “fit in perfectly with the team’s up-tempo style of play – attacking the basket and raining 3-pointers.”
Bennett made 21 3-pointers during the shortened 12-game season for American Canyon. She scored 18 points, with five 3-pointers, in a 57-37 win over Sonoma Valley.
She averaged 22.3 minutes per game for the Wolves.
“She is just a knockdown shooter,” said DeBolt. “The first couple times I saw her, as a junior, I’m sitting up in the stands at American Canyon and I’m watching her warm up. I’m thinking, ‘I need that kid. That kid can play for me.’
“She’s real fundamental with the ball. She’s a good, solid defender in the open court. And then just when you need a 3 – bang. You’re going to see her take a lot of 3’s here.”
Bennett feels like she is getting better and better in the game day by day, with the work that she is putting into it.
“I feel I made the right choice at the end of the day to come to Napa and play,” she said. “I love the team. I love this coaching staff. Everyone on campus has made me feel welcome. I feel very comfortable about my decision.
“We’re working really hard, getting up a lot of shots, working on our ball handling and scrimmages.
“Every day that I step in the gym, I feel like I’m getting better. I think we’ll do very, very well.”
Fernandez’s bio points out that she will play “both guard positions for the Storm, employing her long-range shooting ability and her acrobatic moves.”
She averaged 15 points per game during her club and high school career, playing for Marianas High School of Saipan. She played in under-16 and under-18 divisions on the Northern Mariana Islands National Team and was honored with numerous most valuable player awards, according to her bio.
“I think you’ll enjoy watching her play. She’s a great shooter, with a great release. She’s been adding a lot to us already,” said DeBolt.
Susbilla-Madriaga’s bio reads that she is a “3-point bomber and intense competitor. She will fit in well with the up-tempo pressure Storm offense and defense.”
Said DeBolt, “She is fun to watch. She is a scrappy player. Her shot is getting better and she is learning how to play in the full court. She is fast and she can run.”
* Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019 after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016 and the Vintage High School Athletic Hall of Fame in September of 2019. firstname.lastname@example.org