Citrus Valley High has been looking for a girls’ basketball coach. A lot is riding on this. Plenty, in fact.
Shaun Battle knows basketball, plus football. The onetime Ken Hubbs Award winner can only do so much.
By his own reckoning, this ain’t much of a high-level, hoops-playing area, at least girls-style. Cajon and Arroyo Valley, plus some Yucaipa firepower ⎯ that’s it!
Most other programs are somewhere between basic recreation-level and a short hop above.
Battle took over at Citrus Valley last December. Early-season changeover. Keisha Mackall, who’d done a nice job before leaving — “personal reasons” — turned the reins over to her third-year assistant.
It was one obstacle to overcome in pulling off third place in a top-heavy Citrus Belt League. Better than .500. Battle may have saved Citrus Valley’s season.
From a Citrus Valley parent: “Not sure [why Mackall left].
“They called the girls for a meeting and told them [Mackall] was on administrative leave and never came back. Another coach quit after [the Las] Vegas [tournament] and another one [was] fired a little after.”
Battle, he said, “saved our season. Along with Coach Reggie [Swain].”
That duo apparently coached Varsity, JV and freshman ball.
Battle brought defense and a slight change in culture. He’d be a good one to keep moving forward. No sooner does he pull the Lady Blackhawks through their first playoff win since the school’s birth, he’s pulling the Family Card.
Got to. His daughter, Leilani, who graduated, is headed to play at nearby Cal State San Bernardino. His eighth-grade son is now a ninth-grader, slated (under non-COVID times) for full time duty (three sports, perhaps) as a Blackhawk.
These days, it’s family first. Battle would’ve been a nice long-term Citrus Valley choice, except for family.
Imagine the pull of his own job in nearby San Bernardino schools. Watching games at Cal State. Coaching games at Citrus Valley. Being a dad. All other stuff. It’s too much.
Citrus Valley’s athletic director, Boyd Lium, has plenty of connections. He’s been around. Guy’s got to make a choice.
“We had someone [hired] before COVID,” Lium said last week. “We were very, very close. It was a good name for us to have.”
No name was disclosed. Just this, though: “We should have someone by Nov. 1.”
“Volleyball’s got that culture around here,” said Battle, whose daughter, Leilani, also played the sport. “Basketball’s a little different.”
Here’s the rub. Scheduled to return in a Citrus Valley jersey is Marilynn Jacques (MJ3). The lone freshman in Citrus Valley’s starting five, the rest seniors — 22.5 points, four steals, seven assists a game — is an Inland Empire United clubber.
Might be among the best all-around female players in the area.
MJ3 can play — dribble, play defense, shoot — but there needs to be more. Starts with a coach. Got to protect this kid with more than just any coach.
I’ve seen her workouts. Dead-on serious.
“Basketball,” says Battle, “is a culture. We’ve got to get that around here.”
How good MJ3 will be is determined by how well she’s developed. Sometimes a high school hire is determined by circumstances, and how the position is written.
If I’m the parent of a kid like MJ3 — her initials, plus her jersey number after legendary Diana Taurasi — I’d have my eye on the coach Citrus Valley brings onto the bench.
Sure, MJ3’s got friends on that campus. Parents should want her to stick around; not transfer.
You’d almost expect MJ3 and her folks to peek at those area programs with a culture.
This kid is a serious baller. Heard that MJ3’s folks had her playing U-12 and U-14 boys, plus girls.
Think that didn’t play well in Citrus Valley’s playoff win over a 10-0 Garden Grove Santiago team back on Feb. 23?
Regular powerhouse Paloma Valley had a lot more firepower for Citrus Valley in round two.
“We lost bad,” Battle was saying. “We played okay. Just wasn't able to overcome their athleticism.”
Got a hunch those Paloma Valley ladies had their game plan on swarming MJ3. She needs help.
This is a kid to watch.
Truth is, she departed Citrus Valley for private campus Arrowhead Christian Academy ⎯ briefly.
Not so fast.
Rick Jacques, MJ3’s dad, said, “We had a long talk with our daughter … she has decided she wanted to finish what she started and finish her high school career at one school.”
Dad says she’s staying put. No transfer.
Truth is, ACA finished 0-14 in last year’s Ambassador League race, 5-17 overall. It’s a fully loaded league, state qualifiers, playoff teams all around, topped by some out-and-out small-campus powers ⎯ Aquinas for one ⎯ that play big-time basketball. Not sure it would’ve been the best basketball move for MJ3.
Not since Barbara Grainge ⎯ 90-22 between 2004 and 2008 ⎯ has the Lady Eagles been a force in girls’ hoops.
Citrus Valley, meanwhile, made the playoffs last season.
Add this, via Rick: “Training and workout out five days a week. She works with her trainers three days and I take her to Yucaipa the other two days.”
The gymnasium on Oak Glen Road.
There’s more: “When [Inland Empire United] was having open tryouts over the summer, MJ3 invited her teammates from Citrus Valley …”
A handful of kids showed up every week. Building chemistry. Seems real good.
There’s a decent chance that Citrus Valley might challenge for its first-ever Citrus Belt League basketball championship next spring.