The Guam teams picked up their first wins, closing their U17 Oceania FIBA Championships Friday on a good note in New Caledonia.
In the women's game, they eked out a 75-72 hard-fought win against the home team.
Despite being outsized, the Guam team played as a cohesive unit, overcoming a 46-point performance from hometown favorites Celia Puleoto and Enola Noemie Sangarne.
Alana Salas, a senior at George Washington High School, had a monster all-around game, putting up 37 points on 48% shooting. She added five boards, three assists, three steals and a block. Teammate Cori Nicole Paulino, a sophomore at Academy of Our Lady of Guam, proved herself an asset on both ends of the court. She knocked back 16 points and racked up seven steals. She chipped in four assists and three rebounds.
Head coach Jimmy Yi said the team made key shots and moved the ball better, contributing to a better game overall.
"Super proud of our girls," Yi said. "Great to end the tournament with a win."
For Salas, it's been a week of adjustments.
Every game is an experience, Salas said, adding that losing and winning are part of the learning process.
"We knew that this tournament would be a challenge for all of us," Salas said. "The level of competition is much higher, so it motivates you to get better and work harder."
Salas, the team's captain, said she embraced the role.
"Being able to lead this team as their captain was an honor and a blessing for me," she said.
The big losses earlier this week prompted her to take an advisory role for the younger athletes.
"This is a very young team with an amazing group of girls," she added. ... "We always have to remind ourselves that this is all a learning experience. We just gotta keep our heads up and keep going and make that four letters across our chest mean something."
Salas said she couldn't be prouder of the team and all that they've accomplished together.
"I am extremely proud of our team for taking every challenge and learning from every game we played," she said.
Salas, a key cog in the Geckos varsity lineup, will be adding the knowledge she gained playing against the top caliber in the region to her repertoire this upcoming high school season.
Jon Lujan, her high school coach who has been keeping up with his players who are currently in New Caledonia, said he was glad his athletes got the opportunity and represented the island well.
"I am extremely proud of her (Salas)," he said. "Being the senior player on this squad, her leadership is important ... (She's) taking the moment to shine at the next level."
The senior was ecstatic over Guam's first win
"Getting our first win meant everything to us, we played with our hearts," she said. "I'm extremely happy we were able to get a win for Guam."
Men's team earns first win in New Caledonia
The Guam U17 men grabbed their first win, edging the home team 63-58 to end their week on a high note.
They overcame a 34-point performance from New Caledonia's Yannick Fenuafanote and Ethaniel Fenuafanote.
Colin Santiago, a senior at Father Duenas Memorial School, had been relatively quiet the entire tournament. Embracing his "growth mindset" for his final game powered the senior to a 21-point performance. He chipped in five assists, five rebounds and five steals.
"The growth of this team was tremendous both chemistry and skill wise," he said, sharing his team's early struggles. "It feels good to represent the island and get a win for Guam. Our goal was to get better every game, while representing Guam to the highest level. No matter the outcome. I believe we did that."
Rebounds were a key factor for Guam with Brock Ada powering the way, ripping down 16 boards. Darryl Robles chipped in 10 boards and 8 points, just shy of a double-double. The duo are juniors at FD.
Elijah Garrido, a junior at FD, has been a consistent force offensively and defensively for Guam. Garrido racked up a double-double - 14 points and 10 boards – to lead his team. Elijah-Joaquin Cruz, a sophomore sharpshooter from Southern High School, also chipped in 13 points and five boards.
"The win feels good because it gave the boys a small reward for the amount of effort and commitment they put into this process," said head coach Brent Tipton. "On the tactical side of the game, the boys truly earned this win together."
He commended the team for implementing the defensive strategy on New Caledonia's toughest player, securing the boards to pull a 53-51 advantage on rebounds over the taller team and pushing the pace on offense.
"We were focused on three primary keys to our success," he said, adding the athletes "executed well down the stretch."
Tipton commended his team's effort, which pushed through every game, regardless of size, physicality and outcome.
"When a team plays hard for each other and plays unselfishly for each other, the win feels even better," he said, adding he will be taking his lessons learned in New Caledonia and implementing them when gets back home.