By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Ciera Pacheco is not used to sitting and watching someone else steer a basketball team, unless she’s on the bench catching a breather.
But that’s part of the dues-paying process for the freshman point guard and 2012 Waiakea graduate at Los Angeles Pierce College, which is 12-8 overall, including 0-2 in the Western State-North Division of the California Community College Athletic Association.
The North Division is pretty stacked and includes the Ventura Pirates, who have won six state championships, the most recent in 2010. They’re not even in first place. Cuesta and Santa Barbara are ahead in the conference standings.
However, conference play is only starting to pick up steam. Allan Hancock (4-14, 0-2) shares the cellar with the Pierce Brahma Bulls in the six-team division.
Pierce hosted Ventura last Wednesday and fell hard, 83-66, part of a three-game losing streak. The Brahma Bulls play host to another conference opponent, Moorpark (13-8, 1-1), today before a rematch with the Pirates early next month on the road.
“We’re decent,” Pacheco said. “We’ve been playing hard teams and coming out with a ‘W.’ But we fall back when we take teams for granted. I think we can beat the losing teams that are not too good. I’d say we’re a decent team. We’re good.”
On Wednesday, in their most recent game, the Brahma Bulls traveled to first-place Cuesta and gave the Cougars a game, showing that they’re good. But being a good, decent team wasn’t enough, and Pierce lost 89-80.
At least, Pacheco, who’s majoring in nursing, can take part in school pride. The Pierce women’s volleyball team is the three-time defending state champs, currently riding a 66-match winning streak.
She can also enjoy the environment. Pierce, with an enrollment of 23,000 students, is located in the sunshine community of Woodland Hills, about 20 miles from Hollywood.
“I like the location and the people,” Pacheco said. “The college is right in the center of Los Angeles. There’s a lot of stuff to do.
“It was a last-minute thing. My parents wanted me to get out and experience the mainland. I wanted to be in L.A. and I like the surroundings.”
Pacheco has played in 18 games, starting six while averaging 1.88 points per game. So far, she’s shot 36.7 percent (11 of 30) from the field, hit 2 of 9 from 3-point range, and made 10 of 14 free throws.
In light of Pierce’s record, a good, decent team can be dangerous. Underdogs pull upsets all the time. Back on Dec. 8 of last year, Pierce took down No. 5 Pasadena 64-52.
Pacheco started because the regular point guard was out with an injury. She didn’t score, going 0 of 6 on field goals, but found other ways to contribute, grabbing five rebounds and dishing six assists.
It was the type of production that would make her dad, Dominic Pacheco, the Kamehameha boys basketball coach and her lifetime teacher, very proud.
“My dad was my coach since I was 4 years old,” she said. “He’s been my biggest influence. He taught me everything I know: patience, life lessons, basketball skills, all those fundamentals. I learned from him that I don’t need to only score points to do good. He made me realize I could help the team in other ways.
“I went to a lot of camps and he would make me go to the gym with him every day. We had to run on the track and be in the weight room. It’s helped because the competition is a higher level than high school. You see more skills and aggressiveness. The game is at a faster pace because of the 30-second shot clock.”
If patience is a virtue, the 5-foot-2 Pacheco is stockpiling that positive trait. She’s the backup to Nichelae Henderson, a 5-9 freshman, who scored 22 points in the loss to Ventura. The shooting guard is 5-7 Zenith Hernandez, another freshman, who went 0 for 5 and had two points against the Pirates, but is averaging 6.4 ppg.
Los Angeles junior colleges don’t offer athletic scholarships, but they’re great scouting ground for bigger schools. One of the Brahma Bulls from last season’s team, Danielle Tyler, hooked up with Talladega (Ala.) College, an NAIA school.
But before Pacheco can think about bigger and better things, she needs to get on the court.
“I get anxious at times when I sit on the bench,” she said. “But I pay attention to the game and learn how our point guard runs the game. My goal is to be starting next year. This year, I’m trying to become better at the position I’m in now, so I’ll be able to start next year. I want to learn from this year to start for next year.”
Then asked for advice to others who might want to play in the competitive L.A. Juco ranks, Pacheco sounded the part of a well-rounded student who learned much from her teacher.
“If someone wants to come up here, you have to keep working hard and get your grades up,” she said. “You have to put work in every single day. You can’t take a day off. It’s not easy to get where you want to be. You have to put in work to get there.”
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College: L.A. Pierce College
BIIF: Waiakea, 2012