Season preview: Guided by new coach, girls’ basketball focuses on shoring up defense

November 16, 2023 — by Aiden Ye and Florence Wei
Photo by Bryan Zhao
Urvi Iyer dribbles down the court towards teammate Ava Cai.
With a goal to improve defensive skills, the team aims to make it further into CCS this season.

Head Coach: Manny Steffen

Last year’s record: 6-18

Recap: With just eight players on the team last year, the Falcons struggled with injuries and an unstable roster. Despite wins against Los Gatos and Homestead, and a 19.3 points per game performance by then-senior Tanya Ghai, the team did not qualify for CCS.

Key Matchups: Los Gatos, Homestead and Palo Alto

Star Players: senior shooting guard Zinneerah Ahmed , junior point guard Urvi Iyer

Key losses to graduation: Tanya Ghai

League: De Anza League


Youth is one theme of this year’s team. As the winter season begins, players are practicing, drilling and playing preseason games in preparation for league games in January. After losing last year’s top scorer, Tanya Ghai, to graduation, two freshmen — power forward Emma Williams and shooting guard Payton Steffen — have large roles on the 12-player team.

“Everyone on the team treats us equally and supports us, especially the upperclassmen,” Williams said. “If we make a mistake during practice, they ensure we don’t feel discouraged.”

Although the starting lineup is still being determined, it will likely be led by junior co-captain point guard Urvi Iyer and senior co-captain shooting guard Zineerah Ahmed. The  two are co-captains.

Though the introduction of new members brought challenges, the team has bonded through open gyms sessions in recent months, where interested members could drop in and play during the summer, as well as group activities such as eating boba and frozen yogurt together. Members plan to have more team-bonding activities throughout the season.

As the season approaches, the team is focused on polishing specific plays.

“I think it’s important for our team to have a solid defense because we’re not that offense-focused,” Williams said.

To do this, they have been practicing helping in man-to-man defense and creating turnovers. The team has also been practicing the “Michigan State Drill,” in which players rapidly pass, catch and finish in transition. The drill raises the speed of transitions, so players will be able to react quickly during a game. 

In addition to new members, the new coach, Manny Steffen, the father of Payton and a well-known media arts teacher at Redwood Middle School, has worked to strengthen the team. He records the scrimmages so members can review and see what they need to improve.

With solid team spirit and a clear goal, the team has high hopes for the season despite not making CCS last year. 

“High school basketball is really intense compared to middle school,” Williams said. “But we’re all really prepared, so I think it will be great.”

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