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The Fountain Hills girls basketball team played its first game of the season yesterday, Nov. 23, after publishing. The Falcons opened its season at home against Valley Christian.

Amanda Baca is back as the head coach of the Falcons in her 13th year with Fountain Hills Unified School District. She led the Falcons to a state championship in 2014, but her program has taken a hit over the last two years.

Baca had six players last season and has eight girls on her roster this season. The team is top heavy with four seniors and two juniors. In past years Baca could fill a varsity and JV team. This year, her two freshmen will have to play varsity.

Baca knows the best way for a small team to win is to play great defense and be in shape. Fortunately for her, all eight of her players are at least two-sport athletes and are already in shape. The one downside is that the players have been practicing volleyball or softball and haven’t practiced their dribbling or shooting since June.

Baca also thought she would have five new freshmen, but three changed schools unexpectedly. Transferring is a two-way street, and Baca does have a new senior on her team, Michaela Quintana. Quintana came from Desert Mountain, and she gives the Falcons more height.

The other seniors on the squad are Soliel Smith, Estrella Camacho and Ezra Scaife. The juniors are LJ Holland and Titleist Patrick, and the freshmen are Seilah Smith and Shania Rivera.

“We have a group that’s a little green and little bit raw,” Baca said. “But they’re very coachable kids and they work hard.”

The team is vulnerable to big teams and size mismatches, but Baca said that they dealt with that last year, too. She had to teach her guards how to play and defend the post, and she has several returners, like Holland, who played post for them. Baca said they don’t have a lot of natural position fits, but they’ll try to have a well-rounded team.

Defense will be crucial for the Falcons, especially in the early stages of games. They only have three rotational players, so the Falcons need to avoid foul trouble and be interchangeable in the positions they play if they want to be successful late in the season.

“You always want to make the playoffs,” Baca said. “That is our number one goal because when you get that far, I think at that point in the season, if you have a little belief and trust in your teammates and what our philosophy is and what coach is trying to do, anything can happen.”

According to Baca, her 2014 state championship team was the No. 7 seed entering playoffs and they beat the No. 1 seed. Baca knows what’s possible and how to win once they get there, but the Falcons will need to make the playoffs first.

The postseason is months away, but the Falcons do have four more regular season games and a tournament in 2021. Next up, the Falcons travel to Payson on Tuesday, Nov. 30, to take on the Longhorns at 6 p.m. The Falcons host their next two games, the first against Gilbert Christian at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 2, and then the Falcons host Benjamin Franklin at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 8.