LAKE COUNTY – Paige Astley did for Middletown what Heaven’Lee Loans Arrow did for Upper Lake as both teams won undefeated league championships in the 2021-22 women’s basketball season.
While senior Astley helped guide the Mustangs to a 13-0 North Central League I record, junior Loans Arrow had her fingerprints all over Upper Lake’s 9-0 mark in the NCL II ranking. Thanks to their contributions during the season, Astley and Loans Arrow were named the most valuable co-players of the 2022 All-County Team, selected by the Lake County Record-Bee.
“She’s always been the backbone of our team,” said Middletown head coach Andy Brown, who announced last month he would not return next season. “Having him in my last team is a good mark.”
According to Upper Lake head coach Mike Smith of Loans Arrow, “Heaven has matured so much as a basketball player over the past two years. She spent a lot of time developing her game.”
The Mustangs scheduled during the preseason, a decision that helped them greatly in their NCL I title run. Middletown went 19-6 overall, including a 62-44 win over Upper Lake in the 49th Stokes Annual Invitational last December in Kelseyville where Astley led the way with 18 points. Loans Arrow had a team-best 13 points for the Cougars.
“Other players on the team have been looking for her to lead the way,” Brown said of Astley, co-MVP of the All-NCL I team this season. “She accepted responsibility. She knew she could do it and she did. She did it every day. »
Astley’s leadership didn’t just show up on game days, but also in training.
“She came out every day ready to improve on the pitch. Other players were asking me how they could get more playing time and I was like, ‘Go against Paige (in training) and show tell me what you can do.'”
Brown added: “Going through a season is a process, but she has made every minute worth it.”
Loans Arrow was a freshman rookie on the 2019-20 Upper Lake team that won the NCL II Championship and reached the NorCal 5 Division Playoffs, finishing 22-6 overall. She would earn a share of the league’s MVP award that season, just as she did this year. Of course, like other Lake County players, Loans Arrow lost its entire sophomore year (2020-21) to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unlike many other players, she used that free time to hone her skills and came back stronger than ever as Upper Lake went 20-3 overall this season. Unfortunately for the Cougars, a weak preseason schedule resulted in them only drawing a No. 7 seed for the Divisional Playoffs (compared to No. 4 in 2019-20). After beating Clear Lake in the first round, they met the mighty Branson in the quarterfinals and lost 57-32. Branson, the No. 2 seed, won the Division 5 title.
Upgrading his team’s pre-season schedule is high on Smith’s list for next season when Loans Arrow and many of his teammates return for their final year and hopefully another extended run in the playoffs, similar to 2019-20.
Middletown junior Jaidyn Brown, a defensive dynamo for the Mustangs, and rookie Mia Hoogendoorn, who opened the season as a reserve but worked their way into the starting lineup before the end of the year, were named to the All-County First Team. They are joined by Upper Lake senior guard Zoey Petrie, who shared All-NCL II Most Valuable Player honors with Loans Arrow this season, and Upper Lake junior center Taylar Minnis, who provided the Cougars strong presence at the post.
Rounding out the First-Team All-County roster is the county’s top shooter, senior guard Sydney Howe of the Clear Lake Cardinals, the third-place team in NCL I.
The second-team All-County includes a pair of Clear Lake juniors, guard Sierra Bruch and center Montana Wells, junior guard Upper Lake and defensive star Maddy Young, who split his winter sports season between basketball and wrestling, versatile Middletown junior guard Skylar Williams, and Lower Lake senior guard and team leader Margarita Cordova.
Coach of the year
Brown’s final season with Middletown couldn’t have gone better. After leading its team through a difficult preseason, the Mustangs topped the NCL I standings and did what few other county teams have accomplished in recent years, winning a postseason game in the ultra-tough Division 4 playoffs.
“I had a great time coaching these girls,” Brown said.