Notre Dame, Louisville girls basketball teams got center-stage treatment at Coastal Catholic Classic

The Notre Dame girls basketball team practices echoing on a regular basis — a process that involves coach Jena Laolagi giving a command, then players echo that command from the bench to the court. The purpose is to ensure that communication is effective even in loud environments, like a Mission League, tournament or playoff game that draws a big crowd.

“We weren’t necessarily planning for Crypto,” Laolagi said.

The Knights found themselves in one of the biggest basketball venues in Southern California at Crypto.com Arena on Saturday during the Coastal Catholic Classic. Former NBA player Trevor Ariza was among those in attendance.

Notre Dame girls basketball player Layla Wright stands on the court at the Coastal Catholic Classic on Saturday. (Courtesy of Roddy Tano)

The vastness of the NBA-sized court tested not only the team’s communication but also the abilities of Notre Dame against Louisville. Playing in that environment was a welcomed challenge.

“Being able to play on the Lakers’ floor is something that most people can’t say they’ve ever done,” Laolagi said. “To be able to walk through the tunnel to see the logo for the event with all the Lakers logos was really cool.”

Notre Dame vs. Louisville was the only girls game of the day and kicked off the event at noon. The five boys games included St. Bernard vs. San Joaquin Memorial, Riordan vs. Bishop Gorman, Loyola vs. St. Augustine, St. John Bosco vs. Mater Dei and finally De La Salle vs. Notre Dame at 7:30 p.m.

The Notre Dame boys team won its game 74-70 to improve to 17-0 overall. It has a Mission League game at St. Francis on Wednesday.

Louisville beat Notre Dame 56-48 as the Knights struggled to find their rhythm. Amia Witt scored 13 points and Natalie Villamor added nine points, finding her shot late in the game.

The Knights (11-6 overall, 1-1 in Mission League) resumed Mission League play against Harvard-Westlake on Tuesday night and they play at Sierra Canyon on Thursday.

Four teams held 1-1 league records heading into Tuesday’s games.

“Mission League is as tough as it comes and just getting the girls prepared for battle every Tuesday and Thursday and then also just getting them to understand we can compete,” Laolagi said. “We’ve gotta move on from Saturday and prepare for Harvard-Westlake.”

Notre Dame girls basketball player Natalie Trujillo reaches to hold on to the ball at the Coastal Catholic Classic on Saturday. (Courtesy of Greg Fiore)

Notre Dame’s involvement in the Coastal Catholic Classic and having the opportunity to play at Crypto.com Arena comes at a time when women’s basketball is on the rise in Southern California.

No. 2 UCLA set a new school record for single-game attendance when it hosted No. 9 USC on Dec. 30 for a women’s basketball game, and high school players are gaining national recognition, too. Twelve players from Southern California were nominated Tuesday for the 2024 McDonald’s All American Games.

Izela Arenas and Mackenly Randolph from Sierra Canyon and Brooklyn Shamblin from Oaks Christian are nominated players from the LA Daily News coverage area.

“It’s important to show that we matter just as much and that we can play great basketball as well,” Laolagi said.

“The game might be different in some ways, but just being able to play on that stage and still have prominent people there watching the game… it’s just continuing to push the importance of girls and women’s sports.”

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