When your team wins its league and you’re a second-year starter as well as league player of the year as a sophomore, you just hit repeat and keep doing what you’ve been doing, right? Well, not exactly. At least not in the case of the La Costa Canyon girls basketball team, Coach Mario Flores and his standout junior guard Alexis Machain.
Machain was the Mavericks’ leading scorer last season as they ran roughshod over the Avocado League West, claiming the title with a perfect (10-0) record before being knocked out of the CIF Open Division Tournament in the first round. The 5-7 backcourt ace was the team’s leading scorer, averaging right around 15 points per contest last winter but now Flores has tweaked her role to that of a more traditional point guard—asking her to worry less about putting the ball in the basket and more about distributing it in order to make her team better.
So far, so good. While Machain’s scoring output has dipped only slightly to 10.5 points per game, she’s dishing out five assists and pulling down right around five rebounds an outing. And as far as making the team better, the Mavericks are a solid 18-5 overall and well on their way to an 11th consecutive league title with a clean slate (6-0) in the Avocado West. Supported by seniors Kaylee Berry and Colleen Haggerty and a cast of young up-and-comers, the “new look” is producing the “old” results. Flores is happy with Machain’s adjustment.
“Alexis is not afraid to have the ball in her hands and is an excellent passer,” says Flores, whose club’s more balanced offense now has five players averaging seven or more a night. “Her high basketball IQ is probably her greatest asset. She has great court vision and knows how to attack in a way that will create openings for herself and her teammates.
“She can still score a lot of points (see 24 vs. No. 10 San Marcos in mid-January) and has the green light to take her shot but understands there are going to be nights when we’re going to need others scoring if we want to be successful. I’ve told her that when she has nine of 10 assists, that’s just like scoring.”
The Mavericks, No. 5 in the Union-Tribune’s most recent ranking of the top teams in San Diego County and humming along with wins in nine of their last 10, have great make-up, according to Machain.
“This is really a special group—we’re not too big and not too small,” she says. “Our posts can handle the ball and be guards and our guards know what to do in the paint. It allows us to play different types of ball offensively. On defense, we’re quick and aggressive and force a lot of turnovers.”
Although they appear to be all business on the court, Machain says she and her fellow Mavericks can also be quite the fun-loving outfit. “We’re a bundle of joy,” she says. “We love laughing and talking and we can make any situation a good time. Sometimes, Coach Flo gets frustrated when we lose focus because we’re having a good time.
“It’s a good group of girls. What I love most is it’s always very positive and we enjoy ourselves every moment we can.”
Unlike most of today’s top athletes, Machain didn’t start off playing a variety of sports before focusing on one. She began playing her dad Christian’s favorite sport, basketball, in the fifth grade. As they say, the rest is history.
“My first and only sport was basketball,” said Machain, the second of three children (older sister Gallilea was a goalkeeper for the LCC soccer team and younger brother Christian Jr. will be a Mav freshman next year). “I got into it because of him. He would take me to the park and teach me fundamentals. It went from there.
“Once he started seeing something in me, he used to take me to the gym every day to work on the basics.”
Whether at Poinsettia Park, Stagecoach Park or anyplace with an open court, father and daughter were regulars, playing well into another priority in Machain’s life—family.
“It was nice, spending time with my dad and we have a real close relationship,” she said. “Every day can sometimes get tough, though, and there were times I would get frustrated, mostly with myself when I couldn’t do something right.
“As I got older, more independent, he backed away and let me do my stuff, but once in a while we go out like we used to.”
Machain still finds plenty of family time whether it be the group going en masse to one of the other’s athletic events or traveling to Mexico where her father’s floral business has a large ranch—trips that offer horseback riding, ATVs and the beach to those looking for fun. Of Hispanic heritage, another of her hobbies is dancing to Mexican music.
After a little prodding, Machain admits she can hold her own on the dance floor too, using an approach that works in hoops.
“Yeah, I’m a good dancer. Practice makes perfect” she said explaining her proficiency. “I love dancing to Mexican music. You watch, observe and feel the music. It comes to you and you just go with the rhythm.”
No matter the sphere, the lessons learned in the family realm have clearly paid off for Machain in terms of both skills and training habits. That work ethic is one of the traits Flores likes best about his floor general.
“Alexis is intelligent, tenacious and, most importantly, always trying to get better,” says Flores. “She has a lot of tools and knows that understanding and working with her weaknesses will make her a more complete player.”
In addition to refining her defensive prowess, mid-range shooting and aggressiveness, over the past year she has added a 6:15 a.m. shoot around to her training routine, a practice several of her LCC teammates have joined. Yet another detail Machain attributes to her dad.
“Over the summer, he got me a trainer. I had to wake up really early, about 4:30 a.m., to make the sessions” she said. “My dad suggested I continue that schedule during the school year. He knew it would improve my basketball but also wanted me to have that work ethic—get used to waking up early and working so I would have the rest of my day after school free.”
In a sense, using basketball to prepare for life. “He always wants to make sure that whatever I do on the court reflects back on what I do outside of basketball.”
Her ascension as a junior to upper classman status has also brought the mantel of leadership that comes with both years and performance. While not something the naturally quiet Machain gravitates towards, it’s a facet she’s eager to add to her repertoire.
“The thing I’ve improved most during high school is learning to play as part of a team,” she says. “You come from club basketball where it’s kind of a place to ‘show off your skills’ but in high school it’s five people on the floor, not just one. Learning to be a leader is naturally a part of that.”
Machain gets some inspiration from an unlikely source.
“Recently, I’ve felt Russell Westbrook (NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder) is a pretty good basketball model,” she suggested. “He can do anything on the court, is super aggressive, works hard and is one of the best players in the NBA.
“I like how he leads his team and that’s what I’m trying to do more—be a better leader.”
Flores likes what he sees in that department.
“Alexis is definitely getting better at being a leader,” he says. “She’s not quite to the point where she’s comfortable holding others accountable but one thing I’ve noticed is that she’ll be there to pick up our younger players when they need it—make sure they’re OK. That’s neat to see. She knows the right times to step in.”
And from a big picture perspective, still stinging from last year’s early CIF exit, Machain & Co. know where they want their work to take them.
“We lost just one senior from last year’s team (Margaux Eibel) and she was a good contributor,” says Machain. “But we have a lot of experience on our roster, played a strong schedule to prepare us and I think done a good job up to this point. We have a team goal. We want to go all the way—CIF Open Division champions.”
It’s an objective she knows her father would approve.
“The most important thing I’ve learned from my father is to have respect for myself, respect for others and never to settle with where I’m at—to be the best.”
Machain and the Mavericks are well on their way to the latter.