The Modesto Christian High girls basketball team has limped through the first month of the season, absorbing growing pains at every turn of the schedule.
The Crusaders leaned on six seniors during the 2016-17 season, but that meant there was little experience left in the cupboard. Modesto Christian coach Robb Spencer welcomed back just one starter, junior Daj'a Bryant, and has packaged the 6-foot-4 center with seven underclassmen, including six freshmen.
Naturally, the Crusaders have been wildly inconsistent. Modesto Christian hasn't won more than two games in a row and dropped two of its three games at last week's West Coast Jamboree.
The Crusaders (5-4) enter 2018 just one game above .500, but there is hope on the horizon.
Transfers Maia Wong and Nia Smiley are expected to make their season debuts on Wednesday afternoon against Clovis North (15-2), ranked 10th in the state by MaxPreps and Cal-Hi Sports. The Broncos' only losses are to King of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and No. 5 Harvard-Westlake of North Hollywood.
By comparison, Modesto Christian is No. 452 in MaxPreps' computer state ranking.
The game will tip at 1:30 p.m. at Modesto Christian.
Fortunately for Spencer, reinforcements have arrived. Wong and Smiley sat out the first 30 days of the season after transferring from programs in the southern half of the Sac-Joaquin Section.
Wong is a 5-foot-10 senior forward who starred at West High in Tracy. She averaged a double-double last season, netting 11.9 points while pulling down 12 rebounds per game. In two varsity seasons, Wong averaged 9.9 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 0.4 blocks. She was a two-time all-Tri-City Athletic League selection.
Spencer said Wong is tenacious on the boards and should combine with Bryant to give the Crusaders one of the most formidable frontcourts in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
Smiley brings varsity experience to the backcourt. According to MaxPreps, the 5-foot-10 guard played two seasons at the varsity level for Buhach Colony, but it's unclear how many total games she appeared in. Also, based on statistics entered for the 2016-17 season, Smiley was the team's per-game leader in assists with 2.1. She also averaged 6.2 points and 3.4 rebounds.
Her presence takes some of the pressure off freshmen guards Tora Bell, Julianna Tolbert, Natalie Brown and Deira Avila.