ARVIN - Last season was arguably the best girls basketball season for McFarland since Johnny Samaniego took over as head coach 13 years ago.
The Cougars went 29-4 but lost in the Central Section Division IV quarterfinals.
Luckily for Samaniego, he has his core “big-3” back this year and McFarland might be as good as ever.
The Cougars beat Oxnard 36-30 for the Gold Division championship in the 36-team Arvin Holiday Showcase on Saturday.
Kathy Rodriguez scored a game-high 15 points and Neli Diaz added 12 in the championship win. Along with the presence of fellow senior Julie Hernandez, who scored two points in the finals but was named to the all-tournament team, and Samaniego believes this is the best team he’s had to date.
“Absolutely. We have what we call our big-3,” Samaniego said.
All three players are four-year starters and Diaz and Rodriguez both eclipsed the 1,000-point mark last season in their high school careers. Hernandez is well on her way to hitting that mark this year.
“Behind those three, we have a great cast behind them,” Samaniego said. “They know their roles and play to it well.”
McFarland (12-1) beat Independence and Oxnard defeated previously undefeated San Luis Obispo, a team ranked No. 5 in the BVarsity Central Section Top 10.
Oxnard (12-6) came into the tournament as one of the top teams in Southern Section Division 3A.
For McFarland, getting a win like this gives the senior-heavy team reason to be excited about what’s still to come.
“I’ve been waiting for this since our freshmen year,” Diaz said. “It’s our senior year, we are starting to compete and we have team chemistry. This tournament allows us to play against top-notch teams. In our league, we don’t have that and this is a big accomplishment for us.”
McFarland is already 4-0 in the early part of its first season in the South Sequoia League, with all four wins coming by double digits.
Rodriguez scored most of her points in bunches underneath, hitting the first two field goals of the game against Oxnard and then scoring the first eight points in the third quarter.
“She’s a huge help. She so big already. She uses her body to dominate,” Diaz said. “When she is on her A-game, she is an amazing player.”
Diaz hit two 3-pointers in the second quarter and had eight of her 12 points in the frame as the two scored 27 of the Cougars' 36 points.
“Oxnard is a great team. They are a strong team,” Samaniego said. “We tried to take their legs out from them and run away from them. It’s nice to end the year with a win. Hopefully we can carry the momentum from here.”
• Teagan Thurman scored a game-high 18 points for Tehachapi, as the Warriors beat Taft 46-33 for the Silver Division title.
• East beat Kennedy 43-30 for the Bronze Division championship. Kanyah Patterson led the Blades with 25 points.