The Girls Basketball Team at Sierra Canyon School Basks in the National Spotlight
Talk about defying odds!
Written byKaren Jordan
Photographed byBeau Ryan
It is a Monday afternoon, and the athletic complex at Chatsworth’s Sierra Canyon School is teeming with excitement. Students mill around outside as well as inside, where the screeching of basketball players’ sneakers can be heard sliding across the gymnasium floor.
Above: Ashley Chevalier
Whether in practice or come game time, the Sierra Canyon girls’ basketball team is all about competing, while simultaneously always having each other’s backs.
This is especially true for a trio of the team’s standout players, all of whom are seniors: point guard Ashley Chevalier, guard/forward Alexis Mark and guard Vanessa DeJesus.
Together they’ve proved to be quite the dream team for Sierra Canyon. The team has won four state championships in the last seven years including one in 2019, and is enjoying unprecedented success this year. “I would say it’s my most talented group of girls and probably one of my smartest group of girls in terms of their basketball IQ and how well they do in the classroom,” coach Alicia Komaki says of the trio.
The team is currently ranked as one of the top five teams in the nation, according to ESPN and MaxPreps, and began the current season as #1 in the state rankings, according to Cal-Hi Sports.
“We’re all talented, but we also play with heart and play with a purpose,” Alexis Mark says. “In practices, we’re always challenging each other, and then in games we sacrifice a lot for each other. We’re very unselfish, and we just play with one another.”
Above: Vanessa DeJesus
The Sierra Canyon Trailblazers are dribbling toward a strong finish with hopes of another championship. As this issue was going to press in March, they were headed to the state playoffs.
However, the star players have already achieved something of a victory this year. Ashley has committed to the University of Texas. Alexis is headed for Boise State, and Vanessa will attend Duke in the fall. The three players, all of whom received full scholarships, credit not just their work ethic but also their camaraderie.
“I think it’s a very great dynamic when you have three people who work as hard as we do,” says Ashley, whose father is the head coach of the Sierra Canyon boys’ team and whose mother coaches Pierce College women’s basketball. “You don’t ever have to force us to get extra work. Anytime you walk into the gym, you’ll probably find one of us in there doing some type of workout. When you have somebody on your team that you know is putting in the same amount of work or even more work as you, it’s very comforting and you don’t feel alone.”
“Most coaches can’t say that their best players are their hardest workers,” Alicia points out. “With these girls, all three of them are the hardest workers on the team, and it’s hands down.”
While she says her team is more talented than teams in previous years and is ranked nationally, the stakes have gotten higher. “This is the toughest California has ever been, so we were open division champions last year, state champions last year, and this team’s even more talented, but it’s even harder to win now.”
Above: Alexis Mark
Another challenge this year: the sudden deaths of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash in January. The tragedy weighed heavily on the team, which had a game the next day.
“It was just really hard to play,” Vanessa recalls. “We all talked about it, and we knew Kobe wouldn’t want us to be down or anything. He’d want us to just play with respect and play with love. It was really hard, but we all supported each other and had each other’s backs.”
Vanessa especially felt a close connection because the trio had an opportunity to meet the basketball legend at a book signing for his book, The Wizenard Series: Training Camp, and she also worked at his Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park last summer, where she met Kobe and his 13-year-old daughter.
“He impacted all of us, and I think what he did for women’s sports was just the beginning,” she says.
While the trio may just be starting out in their own basketball careers, the three players have carved out something of a reputation among younger players.
“They’ll come up to some of us after the games and ask for pictures,” Ashley says of the team’s young fans. “It’s kind of like, wow. They’re already looking up to you at this point and there’s so much more to be done in terms of our career and who we are as basketball players.”
All three are toying with the possibility of playing in the WNBA someday, but they aren’t limiting themselves. Vanessa is aiming for a career in medicine; Alexis and Ashley are interested in broadcasting. Regardless of what endeavor they pursue, their coach is convinced they can handle whatever comes their way.
“I’m pleasantly surprised at how well they’ve matured over the course of four years, how well they’ve handled success for four years, because those are really all hard things to do—not to get a big head when you’re getting media attention, or if you’re ranked,” Alicia says. “It’s really hard to handle at a young age. I’m so impressed with who they are as people and that they’ve handled that really, really well.”