SAN DIEGO — Filling the void left by a graduating senior doesn’t always come naturally.
After last season, the Academy of Our Lady of Peace girls basketball team lost three seniors to graduation, including Ari Meek, the Pilots’ top outside scoring threat.
Amanda Shayota took notice, and during the summer she went to work.
Along with playing club ball, Shayota, 16, trained with a shooting coach and estimates taking at least 500 shots a day. She also worked on her ball handling and post play, learning to use her 5-foot-9 frame to exploit smaller opponents and her athleticism to blow past bigger ones.
“Last year I didn’t think I needed to be a leader because there were seniors on the team,” said Shayota, a junior forward from Rancho San Diego. “But with the loss of them, I felt I needed to step up to help us reach our goals.”
At OLP, those goals are high, and they’re reflected in the team’s work ethic.
After sharing the title last season with Cathedral Catholic, the Pilots want to win the Western League crown outright. It would be the program’s first league title since capturing the Central League in 1991.
The team also is hungry to win the San Diego Section Division III title after losing to Canyon Crest Academy in the championship game.
“We were so close last year that it’s just fresh in our minds,” senior co-captain Christine Drummy said. “You can see it in our faces. We want it, and we want it quite badly.”
The bar has been set high, and summers filled with basketball are just one example of the lengths the Pilots are willing to go to reach it.
Last week, OLP (6-4) completed a rigorous stretch to begin the season that called for 10 games in 13 days. The run included matchups against formidable opponents Corona Santiago, West Hills and Mount Miguel.
“It’s really prepared us because each day, we notice things we need to do,” said Ashlee Guay, a standout point guard and junior co-captain. “Having games every single day, we have to learn quickly what to do next. It kind of makes us smarter in a sense.”
Missing as many as three girls during part of the stretch because of injury, Pilots coach Norm Guay said the players showed resilience while taking on that challenge.
“I knew the girls could handle the schedule,” Guay said. “I have a deeper group that wants it more than ever. Before, I’d have one or two. There’s a group of five or six playing because they want to win, because they want to excel. They’re going for it.”
Shayota’s summer work appears to have been rewarded. She leads OLP with 15.6 points and 2.9 three-pointers per game.
Meek, now the starting point guard at Grossmont College who has remained with what is instagram spy the OLP program as an assistant coach, has noticed.
“I really think she’s stepped up,” Meek said. “She’s a great three-point shooter when she has her confidence.”
Shayota said she isn’t satisfied. Not yet.
“To me, it doesn’t matter how I do. As long as we reach our goals,” Shayota said. “I can’t describe how great I would feel to know that everything I put in finally led up to something. It would just feel awesome, for the team and not only for myself.
“Being there with these girls that I’ve put so much work in with — blood, sweat and tears basically every day. It’d be really nice to win with them.”