Bianca, a six-foot-tall grinder at her forward spot in the frontcourt, uses Balvin’s music to “get in a frame of mind” to play. Basketball, though she loves it, hasn’t been a joy ride for her. This comes right out of the playbook of her fiery coach, who fought for game minutes in her own playing career at UC Irvine and who has taught her young charges, “Don’t take anything for granted.”
“Basketball has been hard for me. Coach (Bamford) knows that,” confides Notarainni, who has committed to play for Washington University of St. Louis for next year.
“One thing I pride myself in is, I’m not going to be the best player out there, the best rebounder, the best shooter. So I want to contribute to my team in any way I can,” the senior returner says. Bamford, in her 20th year leading the LJCDS program, affirms, “She competes on every possession.”
Leading the break in transition for Notarainni and the others, Oakry, a “jet quick” point guard standing 5-feet-10-inches tall, relishes the physical contact on the court. “I like everything about basketball,” she says. “It’s kind of a place to be free. Not a lot of thinking. You can allow your skill to be free.”
The 17-year-old, who like Ellenbeck is a USD commit for fall 2018, states, “I’m told anyone can beat anyone on any given day.” And she plans to compete in that spirit. She and Notarainni literally form the Lady Torreys’ “brain trust,” because they are both interested in studying neuroscience in college. “I like to study in the sciences,” reports Oakry. “I like psychology, biology, and chemistry. There’s a major that combines all three, neuroscience.”
Echoes Bianca, Bamford addresses each affectionately by the first syllable of their first name, “Bi” (“bee”) and “Ki” (“key”),”I just like the brain. It sounds weird. It interested me how little we know about the brain, and how it makes each person totally different.”
Bamford, who serves on campus as the athletic liaison to College Counseling, learned some hard-earned lessons in her undergraduate days. “I had to work really hard to get playing time (at UC Irvine), so putting the time in on fundamentals is really important.”
Over her 19 years guiding the Lady Torreys’ basketball program, she has raised it to an elite level and garnered 13 league titles, an equal number of CIF titles, eight regional titles, and four state championships.
“We have something we call the Breakfast Club at 6 a.m. before school, and girls can come in for extra help,” she says. “Kelsey Plum (a former Torrey who set the NCAA record for career points last season at the University of Washington) was a big one on that. She was there five, six days a week.” That means weekends, too. That’s the level of commitment in a program like this.
Villareal, a 5-foot-6-inches tall guard, is a three-point bomber and First Team All Coastal League returner. “We know when Jayda is on,” says Oakry, the point guard. Her teammates will find her with the open pass. She has signed a National Letter of Intent to play at Cal Poly Pomona.
Ellenbeck, a six-foot tall power forward, completes the senior “Fab Four” and likewise takes no prisoners. “She is a much improved offensive player,” says the coach, “the team’s best post defensive player, and one of the scoring leaders from the summer” on Bamford’s AAU team.
Getting high marks from Bamford is 5-foot-10-inches tall sophomore Te-Hina Paopao. “She is one of her class’s top-ranked point guards nationally,” says Bamford. “She tore her ACL right before the season last year. She came back at the end of the season to play in the playoffs. She came back in four and a half months. She did a pro-recovery.”
Paopao lives in Oceanside and takes advantage of the private school’s transportation system, which provides a regional pickup for students from the North County. “On non-school days, her father takes care of some of the driving,” says her coach.
Notarainni inherits quite an international strain from her father Mark, in addition to her mother. “My dad was born in Miami, but he moved around a lot. He lived in London, Japan, and other places.”
“I just really love travel,” says the hard-working forward. “Both my parents are in business. Both are successful, from the way I look at it. So I want to combine both (elements) and work in international business.”
Bianca notes the cohesion of the 2017-18 edition of the team. “It’s a special group of girls. We’ve been together since seventh grade. Our team slogan is ‘All game, all season, all together.’”
As J Balvin warbles in front of an uplifting beat to prepare Notarainni before stepping on the court, “If you need reggaeton, go for it/Keep dancing, woman, don’t stop.”
“We hype each other up,” says Oakry, of how the entire team unit gets pumped and raises the energy level. “One person will start dancing, then the others join in.”
The 5-foot-10-inches tall senior, who would like to go into a career “in the medical department” (field), gets assigned to guard the opponent’s top player. “I’m a pretty fast person.,” she says. “I’m able to move my feet laterally faster than some others.”
Bamford, who has produced college and pro standouts including Plum and Candice Wiggins, who starred at Stanford and in the WNBA, among others, says, “For me, the culture of the program is just as important as the basketball part. How we treat each other; how coaches treat the players. I spend half the time on culture, half the time coaching the X’s and O’s.”
“The school (LJCDS) does a good job of providing leadership training for the student athletes. They take the team captains and coaches every year. I took my whole team. The whole team needs to know what it means to be a leader.”