Season preview: Napa Valley College women's basketball
By MARTY JAMES
Paul DeBolt fell in love with the game of basketball the very first time he stepped inside a gym.
He was 8 years old at the time when he took in the sights and sounds of the De Anza High School gym in El Sobrante.
"I fell in love with everything about it – being on the hardwood" DeBolt said. "I love this time of year, when it cools down outside and the days get shorter. It's basketball season."
DeBolt's career in basketball has spanned several decades – starting out when he played at De Anza High, then at Contra Costa College in San Pablo and San Diego State, and continuing for many years as a coach.
"This is a time of year where it's easy to get excited about basketball," he said.
As the new Napa Valley College head women's coach, DeBolt has been very active and busy since the summer, working hard to find players, assembling a roster, doing all he can to resurrect a program that was forced to cancel the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons due to not having enough players to field teams.
A combination of Brian Fonseca resigning as coach and not enough players forced Napa Valley to also cancel the 2018-19 season.
The last time NVC had a team was during the 2017-18 season, as the Storm, with just six players, finished with a 3-21 overall record and a 3-13 mark in the Bay Valley Conference.
DeBolt has posted signs around campus, alerting prospective players to the fact that NVC has a team and that practices are under way. He has also been on the phone, talking with high school coaches in the area, asking for their help and support on names of potential players.
"It's just a normal process of trying to pull a team together," said DeBolt. "The work starts once we get going. I've talked to all the coaches and I've gotten to know a lot of people. If you want to keep playing, Napa is a place that they should consider."
DeBolt brings a winning background to his job at NVC.
He got his start at Pinole Valley High, serving as the head coach for three seasons (1983-1986).
He was the head coach at Contra Costa College for 30 years (1986-2016), leading one of the top programs in the state. He is sixth for wins all-time in California community college women's basketball history and was named as the California Community College Women's Basketball Coaches Association State Coach of the Year during the 2000-2001 season.
DeBolt directed Contra Costa to 11 Bay Valley Conference titles and 19 postseason appearances. He has had four seasons with 30-plus victories, nine seasons with 25-plus wins, and 15 seasons with 20-plus victories.
The Comets finished as the state runner-up at the California Community College Athletic Association state tournament in both 2001 and 2003.
DeBolt led Contra Costa to three state final four berths, four state elite eight berths, and seven state Sweet 16 berths, compiling a 562-380 record.
He is a three-time CCCWBCA Junior College Region 8 Coach of the Year and an eight-time BVC Coach of the Year.
He has also coached six first-team WBCA Kodak or State Farm All-Americans, two state MVPs, 15 first-team CCCWBCA All-State players, 28 CCCWBCA All-State players, 12 BVC Most Valuable Players, and 69 All-BVC players during his career at Contra Costa.
DeBolt stepped down as coach in April of 2016, in order to spend more time on his teaching duties as a journalism professor and as the faculty advisor for the school's student newspaper, The Advocate. He is in his 40th year as an instructor at Contra Costa. A resident of Vacaville, he is planning to retire from Contra Costa in late May, 2020, at the end of the school year.
Leading the NVC program is a challenge that DeBolt is excited about.
"I know that I'm going to have to be patient," he said. "I'm used to having high-powered teams. We're not quite there. But it's OK. To me, the fun thing about this level is, you can turn a team around in one year, where get four or five kids who really want to play and are good basketball players. And all of a sudden, you're good.
"Being competitive is a goal. But I think the bigger thing we're trying to do is to just establish a place where we regularly have a women's basketball team. It's important to have a starting point and to begin to work."
A preseason conditioning class, taught by DeBolt, began on June 18 and went for eight weeks. This was followed by a basketball class, which began in August, with the fall semester.
"I didn't get here until late June, early July, so we really have had to kind of piece things together slowly, and that's kind of how we're going to do it this year," said DeBolt. "We're just going to take things as they come, hopefully stay together, get better as the season progresses, and begin making the program stable."
NVC will go into the 2019-2020 season with eight players on the roster.
The Storm opens the 28-game regular season schedule on Nov. 7 with a nonconference game at home against Modesto Junior College.
There are 11 more nonconference games, which includes Napa Valley's appearance at the Modesto Tournament, Dec. 5-7.
The Bay Valley Conference season begins on Dec. 18 with NVC at home against Merritt College (Oakland). It's a 16-game BVC schedule.
"My only goal is to play all of our games. I'm not sure we can do that. But I want to play a 28-game schedule, a full schedule," said DeBolt. "I want to stabilize the program so that while we're out recruiting this year, we can let young women, in Napa, in the Valley and also in the contiguous areas, know and understand that Napa will have a team and eventually we're going to be a very successful program."
Ajaloni Irvin, a guard from Mare Island Technology Academy in Vallejo, is the only sophomore on the team. She played on the 2017-18 NVC team.
Irvin made two starts and played in 11 games for the Storm during the 2017-18 season, averaging 3.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
The freshmen are Maira Montañez, a guard out of Calistoga High; Alexia Stewart, a forward out of American Canyon High; Dominique Jones-Torres, a forward out of Wooster High in Reno, Nevada; Martha Sanchez, a guard out of Vintage High; Maleiah Cronin, a guard out of Benicia High; Stephanie Rodin, a center out of Turlock High; and Egypt Asaeli, a guard out of Smiley, Texas.
Gabriela Silva is redshirting as a freshman guard out of New Tech in Napa.
"There is not a lot of basketball experience there, but there is a willingness to play, so that's a good thing," said DeBolt. "The skill level is varied. Some of them are very skilled and some of them just haven't played much.
"They're going to learn a lot. They're going to have a lot of fun. These kids are going to improve as basketball players and are going to learn a lot about basketball. They're also going to learn a lot about themselves, because that's what happens at this level – you learn about yourself and basketball. We're going to go out and compete and do the best we can.
"We're going to have to get better and set reasonable goals, reachable goals. I'm thinking by the time we get to January, if we're healthy and we're together, that we should be a lot better. That's my goal – just get through the first two months, then get to January, and we will be OK."
DeBolt is putting in an offense where the Storm will look to push the ball at a high-tempo pace and will be taking a lot of 3-point shots.
"There are four or five of them who are pretty good shooters," said DeBolt.
DeBolt graduated from San Diego State in 1977, earning a degree in journalism. He got his master's there in mass communications in 1980.
* Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 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, Associated Press Sports Editors, and California Prep Sports Media 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.