By ALICIA KRUEGER
Get one percent better every day.
The Carmel High School boys’ varsity basketball team walks into practice every day with this mindset. An underdog entering the most competitive division in the Pacific Coast Athletic League, the Gabilan Division, this team faces new challenges as they attempt to exceed last year’s accomplishments. The team is standing with a league record of 4-1 heading into Tuesday’s game at Alisal and a season record of 15-4.
In 2017-18, the CHS basketball team won the Mission Trail Athletic League Championship and finished their season in the third round of the Central Coast Section, only losing one starting senior and three others for this year’s season.
The team consists of a group of high-energy, talented young men with a passion for the game.
“We put in a lot of time on defense but tend to be a pretty successful offensive team,” head coach Kurt Grahl says. “We have some offensively skilled players. Our style often times gets us into an up and down, fast-paced game, which tends to bring out offense, and that is one we are pretty good at.”
Sophomore JT Byrne, named 2017-18 All League MTAL MVP, has led the team this season as a scoring leader with an average points per game of 20.54 and total points of 267 leading into Tuesday’s game against Alisal. He has led in free throws with an average of 3.85 free throws per game, and has also led the team in field goals.
Following Byrne in scoring as a whole is junior shooting guard Kai Lee with a total of 195 points and averaging 15.00 points per game through Jan. 28.
“Kai Lee is a person who has a flare for the spectacular,” assistant coach Hans Schmidt says. “Against Pacific Grove he hit a very long three and has had a number of dunks this year. He is a defensive whirlwind as well.”
Each player brings a different aspect to the Padres, bringing energy and drive to each game, making themselves tough competition.
“I think what makes this team so special is the group of guys we have,” Byrne says. “We are all ‘team-first’ kinds of players. We are all so passionate about the game, and we have so much respect for each other.”
Both coaches and players recognize that their bond grows tighter, and their ability to play cohesively expands through the significant leadership on the team.
“Zach DeZee and Joe Garello uphold standards that all of the younger players are expected to meet every day,” says junior Ethan Fletcher of the two senior leaders.
Carmel won against Monte Vista Christian, finishing with a huge lead of 70-17 on Jan. 25 and beat Salinas 82-72 on Jan. 23. After losing their first game of league play to Monterey 58-63 on Jan. 18, the boys bounced back with a 69-51 win against Palma on Jan. 21, ending a 20-year losing streak against the Chieftains.
“We knew going to Monterey, the number-one team in the area and in Division III, that they would be tough,” Grahl says. “What we took from that is that we need to execute better down the stretch, we need to get better looks at shots and we have got to make their shots a little tougher. This has been a great lesson for us: We need to stay true to who we are. Against Monterey, we weren’t playing the style we have been practicing but against Palma we made that change.”
On Jan. 11, the team kicked off league play with a road victory of 69-61 against Alisal High School, a Gabilan League Champion who had not lost at their home since 2015.
“I think that we showed that we belong in this new league with our game [against Alisal],” says senior captain and power forward Zach DeZee, who was named MTAL Defensive Player of the Year last season. “Winning against Alisal was like crashing the party. I think that there are a lot of teams who don’t think we should be in this tough league with them.”
The Carmel players are constantly striving to improve and push each other in regards to their individual roles. Players who are not starting or playing many minutes remain supportive in order to reach the team’s goals.
“If we continue the march that we have been on and if we do things the right way, we understand that we have a pretty high ceiling. Winning Central Coast Section would be a goal that is realistic,” Grahl says. “We believe that if we achieve our goals each day, our goals will take us to some pretty cool destinations. CCS being one of those destinations.”
This past week, Carmel was scheduled to face Alisal at home Tuesday and Palma on the road Thursday before a rematch with Monterey in the CHS gym at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5.