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Coach's Corner: Q&A with Canyon girls hoops coach Jessica Haayer

Posted: March 4, 2016 10:53 p.m.
Updated: March 4, 2016 10:53 p.m.
In just her second year helming the program, Jessica Haayer has Canyon on the cusp of its first CIF-Southern Section divisional title. Signal photo by Dan Watson In just her second year helming the program, Jessica Haayer has Canyon on the cusp of its first CIF-Southern Section divisional title. Signal photo by Dan Watson
In just her second year helming the program, Jessica Haayer has Canyon on the cusp of its first CIF-Southern Section divisional title. Signal photo by Dan Watson
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Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of an ongoing series we introduced earlier this season called Coach’s Corner, in which we feature Q&A sessions with prep and college coaches from around the Santa Clarita Valley.

Canyon girls basketball head coach Jessica Haayer will lead the Cowboys into their second CIF divisional final in program history today.

And on the cusp of possibly winning the program’s first championship in just her second year, Haayer spoke about playing with WNBA superstar Diana Taurasi and how her Cowboys have evolved over the course of the season.

Q: The Canyon girls basketball team has been ranked No. 1 in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2AA for most of the season. How have you been able to handle the notion that there is a target on your back?

A: We really just try to focus on ourselves, not the numbers, not anyone else. It’s just been about us getting better day by day. We haven’t really talked about it that much or focused on the fact that we’ve been No. 1.

Q: Do you feel you have gotten better over the course of the year?

A: Oh, without a doubt. I think that every season, if you will, we’ve been different. Going into preseason, I didn’t have my transfers (Krystal Amato and Daisy Cardenas) so we were a different dynamic. Going into the (Foothill League) season, I had them, (so we were) adjusting to them and doing what we do. Obviously, going into the postseason, I think it’s just been about fine-tuning those things. We’ve now learned how to play with each other. We understand what each other does. We understand each person’s strengths and weaknesses.

Q: You have a lot of guards on your roster. How do you find the right dynamic on the court to make everyone happy?

A: It’s nice because we’re unselfish that way. You never know who is going to have their night. ... It’s kind of like who is doing well, who can match up with who. There’s times when we need people that can move their feet really quick, or we need size, or we need more shooters because we’re playing in a zone. So it’s just about matching up with an opponent. Who matches up best with them. There are some games, for instance, (when) Alaina Garcia might play 20 minutes, and there are others when she’s played five just based on the matchup. I think we’ve done a nice job utilizing all of them at their strengths. We’re not trying to not put them in where they’re not going to succeed. We try to mix it up, and if one needs a break, then here comes another one that brings a different dynamic.

Q: This team seems like a close-knit group that likes to joke around. Is practice a lot of fun? Or do you have to kind of shut down their antics?

A: That’s something that we’ve gone back-and-forth with all year, because they’re teenage girls. They get squirrelly. And they’ve understood, as the season has gone on, when’s the time to be silly. OK, now can we switch gears and be competitive and get after it. So they struggle with that throughout, but I think they’re finally understanding, ‘OK, coach means business here.’ They are getting with the program.

Generally, they like to have fun, they’re a young group, and I think, even being juniors and sophomores, they’re young personalities. Of course they love to have fun and goof off and do their thing.

They’re pretty goofy. We’ll laugh and joke at times and other times it’s serious. There is just that fine line that they like to toy with all the time.

Q: Who’s the funniest of the bunch?

A: Oh gosh. They’re all characters. I’d say there’s a trio. Alaina (Garcia), (Angelina Puno) and Talia (Taufaasau). They’re a pretty goofball group. They’re pretty funny. They’re always joking around about something and just laugh at everything.

Q: We’ve talked before about you playing basketball at Humboldt State. Where are you originally from?

A: I’m from the Chino area. I went to Don (Antonio) Lugo High School. I used to play with (WNBA star) Diana Taurasi growing up, I was a freshman when she was a senior. ... I was never that serious about basketball. I just showed up with my short shorts and my tall socks and suddenly I’m playing with one of the world’s greatest players and that was eye-opening.

Basketball got a little more serious, I think, after that. I had no idea I was at one of the best schools for basketball. It’s pretty funny looking back at it now.

Q: When you realized how good the school was, did you take more of an interest?

A: I had no idea. It was fun for me. I loved to play any sport. It was very much just fun. And I just happened to go to Don Lugo because all of my best friends are going there. Then I go there and suddenly I’m on a team with Diana Taurasi and another gal who’s 6-foot-5-inches, and everyone is just very serious about basketball.

It kind of willed me in a way that I needed to be serious about it, and I really got a little more into it going there.

Q: So, it seems like there are kind of similarities between your players now and when you played?

A: Yeah, very much so. It’s funny, because when one of my old mentors, one of the old football coaches who was my mentor at Don Lugo, came to one of my games — he came to our Alta Loma game — he said, ‘Man, your players are just like you. They play just like you. That is you.’

I love my team. I have a really cool group of girls. It’s really cool to be a teacher on campus because I see them about 92 times a day. ‘Coach do you have nail clippers? Coach, do you have a hairbrush? Coach, I need a hair tie.’ As much it’s the nuances of all those little things, I love it. It’s so easy to find them.

I think it’s comforting to them. Having me there, especially if they’re sick. It’s cool. I laugh seeing them everyday as I hope they laugh seeing me. They’re one of the best group of girls I could ask for.

Q: What made you decide to coach at Canyon and teach there? Did you know the program’s strong history before you started?

A: I got lucky and started teaching at Chino High School to start and then that was the year they pink-slipped everyone.

Obviously, I was first to go being I was a first-year teacher. I didn’t want to settle for anything less than a full-time job. I ended up getting one at Seaside High School in Monterey. I moved up there and became a teacher, varsity basketball coach and ASB director. I was there for two years.

Southern California is my home, it’s what I love. When jobs kind of started opening back up, I started applying and getting my name out there. I only knew about the Hart District (because), when I was a player, Hart was very good. I remember competing against them.

I applied to the district and got the job. I was the JV coach for a year, and then Chuck Johns left and I kind of slid into that varsity role. I was a coach for a year, and we had kind of known Chuck was going to move on. He became my mentor, and I kind of shadowed him a little bit and got to know the girls and hang out at practices. Here I am now.

After researching a little bit, the job is what I wanted first and coaching was a secondary thing that goes with it, but I had no idea (Canyon was) that good. I knew the (William S. Hart Union High School District) was a good district.

I knew athletics were good in the area, but I didn’t know the extent of it. I remember my first varsity game last year, because this is only my second year, I went ‘Holy cow’ — just all the kids and the student sections. It hadn’t been like that in my previous schools. It was almost like I was a player again.

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