Submitted by Denair High School:
PACIFICA – A coach’s perspective. That’s what R.J. Henderson tried to impart to his Denair players Tuesday night in a tearful locker room after 47-44 defeat against Pacific Bay Christian in the first round of the Northern California Division V basketball tournament.
Less than a day later — the sting and disappointment of a close loss still fresh in his mind – Henderson talked not of how the season ended, but of the magical moments it featured and the lifetime memories that were created.
“We had an incredible run,” he said. “You’re not going to repeat 26-4 very often. It was just one of those great years. I want to thank those kids; my coaching staff, which was terrific; the administration, which let the coaches coach; and the parents, who supported all the traveling we did in the spring and summer to be in the position we’re in.
“It was just a special group. Everything that transpired since November has been special.”
The Coyotes have much to be proud of. Denair won its first outright Southern League title since 2004 and qualified for the NorCal tournament for the first time since 2002, which it went 28-4 overall and lost in the second round. Hayden Feldman was named the MVP in the Southern League. He was joined on the first team by two more seniors, Jacob Kuharski and Jordan-Smith Stiles. Another senior, Austin Upfold, made the second team.
A sold group of sophomores — led by Mario Plasencia, Jack Henderson, Cooper Feldman and Connor Leonard – give Denair plenty of returning talent, though Henderson realizes he will have to replace his entire front line.
He’s hopeful that making the playoffs three years in a row will be a magnet to attract other players who may not have the same opportunity at another school, like it did with Kuharski (Pitman), Smith-Stiles (Fairfield), the Feldmans (Turlock) and Upfold (Turlock). Those transfers combined with the homegrown talent to push this year’s team to levels of success never previously achieved in Henderson’s eight years as coach.
“I think there are some future coaches on this roster that you’ll see in 10 or 15 years,” Henderson said of team. “We have some real cerebral kids with good people skills, and I think that will translate well if they go in that direction.”
Tuesday in Pacifica, 10th-seeded Denair built an early six-point lead, but went cold on offense and found itself down 15-9 after the first quarter against the seventh-seeded Eagles (28-3). Pacific Bay Christian maintained that margin for much of the game before the Coyotes rallied to tie the score at 41-41 with about two minutes to play.
“The game was there in many ways, but our shot selections were just not good in three of our last four possessions,” Henderson said. “There was not a need to hurry, but that’s what happened.”
Still, after the Eagles went up 46-41, Denair rallied. It scored to make it 46-43, then got a stop on defense. Out of timeouts, the Coyotes hurried up the court and found Hayden Feldman for a 3-point attempt that would have tied the game.
It missed and just that suddenly, the season was over.
“It went down to wire,” Henderson said. “The bus ride home was somber, but I’d be happy to run it back with this group anytime. They were special.”
Kuharski led Denair with 15 points and eight rebounds. Upfold hit some key 3-pointers. Smith-Sires chipped in 10 points. Plasencia grabbed 12 rebounds and played tremendous defense.