The Murrieta Valley Lady Nighthawks begin Southwestern League play this week with a 13-3 record and a #6 ranking in the state in Division 2A (maxpreps).
The Nighthawks opened pre-season 2-2 in the Wildcat Tip-Off Tournament with a close opening loss to Paloma Valley 51-49 and a loss to Centennial 69-37 in the consolation bracket. The 12-1 Centennial team is ranked #3 in Division 1AA in the Southern Section and #5 in the state.
Murrieta Valley then went on a five-game win streak with wins over Fallbrook (65-47), Oceanside (45-37), Notre Dame (54-19), Redlands East Valley (68-52), and Redlands (68-52) before finally falling to AB Miller 60-41 in the championship game of the Valley Invitational Tournament. Miller is the #2-ranked team in Division 1A in the Southern Section and #11 in the state.
Then, for the first time since 2009, the Lady Nighthawks won their own tournament, the Lady Nighthawk Classic, with wins over Beaumont (64-21), Temescal Canyon (73-26), Vista del Lago (70-12) and Redlands East Valley (70-44). They had fallen short in the finals round in 2010 and 2011.
“I told the girls to leave a legacy behind,” said Head Coach Scott Richards.
“This feels great!” exclaimed point guard Arian Hernandez. “We haven’t won the Championship in three years.”
Hernandez scored 14 of her 16 points in the second half of the championship game, sparking a 35-14 run to down the Wildcats.
Senior power forward Karen Wolf had her best game of the year with 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting and 3-of-3 from the charity stripe. She also had 13 rebounds, five steals and an assist.
“This is a team’s team,” said Wolf. “We have lots of options and different people step up each game.”
Wolf and teammate Aliah Marshall were named to the All-Tourney Team. Guard DeShea Wilkes was selected Tournament MVP. She had tournament totals of 38 points, 31 rebounds, five blocks, 18 steals and 10 assists. She had never played in Nighthawk Classic before this year.
REV’s freshman point guard, Natalie Ruhl, scored 23 points on 69 percent shooting, including 4-of-4 from the 3-pt arc, in the finals loss. San Jacinto beat Beaumont 57-41 for third place; Elsinore beat Temescal Canyon 60-36 for fifth place, and West Valley defeated Moreno Valley’s Vista del Lago 64-45 for seventh.
Murrieta Valley finished pre-season play with a 76-27 win over Elsinore and a 66-40 win over San Marcos. Their five starters were in double figures against the Tigers: Hernandez and center Brynn Dahmer had 18 each; Wolf had 16; Marshall and Wilkes each had 11. Wolf (21), Wilkes (15), and Hernandez (10) led the scoring against San Marcos.
The Lady Nighthawks have won the Southwestern League title twice and have five postseason wins since the 2010-11 season.
“This is a very balanced team,” said Richards. “We can play pressure defense, rely on our posts to beat other posts on the boards, Karen (Wolf) is averaging a double-double (12.8 pts, 10.3 rebounds per game), we have a good decision-maker at point, and we can shoot.”
“We could have won our first state game,” said Wolf. “I’m looking forward to that.”
They hosted Great Oak (6-4) on Jan. 9 and traveled to Murrieta Mesa (12-4) on Jan. 11.