Last year, the Oakwood High girls basketball team was the little engine that could, defying expectations and ultimately having its hard work and determination culminate in a Central Coast Section playoff berth.
This season, coming off the back of an incredible year, no one dared underestimate the Hawks, which meant that for the first time for a lot of the girls on the team, they would have something to prove the next time they got on the court. And the team showed it was more then up to the task.
Oakwood went 14-6 this season, winning the Pacific Coast League Arroyo Division championship, and beating Summit Preparatory Academy 41-23 in the opening round of the Central Coast Section Division V playoffs on Feb. 15. For standout senior Jade Bautista, the success this year comes down to the bond the team shares.
“I think the main reason we’ve succeeded is just the unity our team,” said Bautista. “There are a lot of teams that have players on the roster that play because they think they have to, but the players that we have on this team are all really driven, regardless of skill or play time.”
This is particularly impressive considering the number of new girls on the team.
“The team has more players this year, especially players who have never touched a ball in their life before, so it’s different,” Bautista said. “It’s also different because we have a lot of players, so it’s really nice to have a full bench.”
One surprise addition to the team included sophomore phenom Kate Marcotullio. Last year, Marcotullio’s athletic accomplishments included being the top scorer and Mission Trail League Coastal Division Player of the Year for the league champion Hawks, to go along with a tremendous cross-country season in which she earned berths to the CCS and CIF State Championships. Marcotullio also posted school records in four track and field events.
It’s fair to say Marcotullio enjoyed a breakout year in all three of her sports, which made it even more of a shock when she announced this year she would be taking a break from soccer to pursue basketball. When asked why she made the sudden switch, the reason wasn’t complicated.
“A lot of my friends were playing basketball and I just wanted to try something new,” she said.
Already establishing herself as one of the team’s standout players on the hardwood this season, Marcotullio seems to be borrowing from an old Nike commercial that her success might be “in the shoes!” The sophomore has been wearing the same pair of Nike running shoes for all of her successful seasons of cross country, track and Basketball.
Marcotullio and Bautista attribute a lot of their success to Oakwood girls basketball coach Isaac Berniker. Bautista, who has been with Berniker for all four years, has developed a strong kinship with her coach.
“Not gonna lie, he still intimidates me, even though I’ve been with him for four or five years,” Bautista said. “He’s done so much, though. I mean, I saw what Oakwood girls basketball was like before he was here and I’ve been able to see and be a part of what the team is now. He’s really put a lot of effort into building what the team is today. He is super organized, super hyped up but at the same time he’s very focused and very driven to get wins.”
No one seemed more emphatic after Oakwood’s win over Summit Preparatory Academy than Berniker.Even though the team has enjoyed a lot of success this season and was fortunate to have a lot of players returning, Berniker stresses that it has not been an easy road.
“We were returning our core from last year, but we also added a huge amount of players to the team and it’s been a difficult year in that sense, trying to play everyone and include everyone,” he said. “We’ve had some injuries we’ve had to maneuver and negotiate. It’s been a challenging season, despite the fact we did have a number of returning players. Our league is competitive and personally I had no visions of going 9-1.”
With all the pressure on them this season, the Hawks showed that not only could they perform under expectations, they thrived on it. And if the old saying is true, that success breeds success, it seems Oakwood has figured out a way to turn the pressure of succeeding from one season to the next into a prime motivator.