KINGSBURG - Kingsburg head coach Mark Willis doesn’t deny the talent of the girls basketball team, but injuries have impacted the starting lineup since last year.

“Over the last 24 months we had six ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] knee injuries,” Willis said. “That’s really hard to overcome.”

This season, two season-ending injuries are Karen Rodriguez and junior Emily Kozlowski. Rodriguez is a two-time Central Sequoia League first-teamer, and Kozlowski has only played in five games in three years because of multiple injuries.

“The injury bug has been the most severe for us over the last two seasons,” Willis said. “It’s unheard of what we've gone through.”

Fortunately, Kingsburg will have junior Emily Fuentes returning in the second half of the season. Fuentes, a first-team all-league player as a freshman, suffered an ACL injury in December 2016 during her sophomore season. Willis said she should be cleared to play before the Vikings’ game against Clovis on Jan. 9.

“She really changes the dynamic of our team,” he said.

With multiple season-ending injuries, Willis brought up players from the junior varsity team to fill the roster spots before the Dinuba-Orosi Holiday Classic tournament. The Vikings went 2-2 in the tourney on Dec. 20-23.

Despite the injuries, Kingsburg have been getting production from juniors Maddy Reed and Shareen Purewal.

Redd scored at least 20 or more points in three of the Vikings’ four games at the Dinuba-Orosi tourney.

Purewal has also been among the team’s leading scorers. In the Dinuba-Orosi tournament, Purewal was second on the team in scoring in three of four games. Purewal’s best game of the season came against Reedley when she scored 24 points in a 56-35 win.

Once Fuentes returns, Willis expects the girls to play to their full potential.

“When we get everybody back together in early to mid-January, I think it’s going to be a different team,” Willis said.

Last week, Kingsburg played in the 6th annual Gator Winter Classic in Henderson, Nevada, which included 34 teams from around the country. At the tournament, the Vikings played against Fullerton, Green Valley - the host the tournament - and Rancho, a school in Las Vegas.

Kingsburg defeated Fullerton 48-47 behind 30 points from Reed and 18 from Purewal.

However, the Vikings struggled against Green Valley in a 60-31 defeat in their second game of the tournament.

Currently, Kingsburg’s record sits at 4-5 and was on a three-game winning streak before the loss to Green Valley.

Willis said the Nevada trip was a chance for the girls to get an experience of playing basketball outside of the Central Valley.

“I want them to experience basketball in different regions of our country and out of our country,” Willis said. “We get that opportunity, which is pretty rare for high schools kids. We get a chance to see different styles of play.”

During the tournament in Nevada, Willis said the team had to make adjustments including playing with no shot clock, which is a regulation the girls aren’t used too.

The Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association - the governing body of high school athletics in the state of Nevada - doesn’t use a shot clock for basketball games unlike the CIF does. California is one of eight states that use a shot clock for high school basketball.

Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Rhode Island and Washington are the other states that adopted a shot clock for high school basketball.

During the Nevada trip, the Vikings did get a chance to be tourists in Las Vegas, which is approximately 15 miles from Henderson.

Willis said the team went to the Tournament of Kings at the Excalibur Hotel & Casino and the Hoover Dam.

It was Kingsburg’s first action out of the Valley since the Vikings competed in the West Coast Jamboree in December 2012.

“We want to show them what a nice community we live in and appreciate what we have here back at home,” Willis said. “I think it's a good opportunity for them to experience other schools and other communities.”

This week, Kingsburg will compete at a tournament hosted by Yosemite High School on Jan. 3-6. The Vikings will be at home on Jan. 9 for a game against Clovis and two days later Kingsburg will begin CSL play on the road against Exeter.

Jeremiah Martinez can be reached at 583-2413 or jmartinez@hanfordsentinel.com

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