Vega has already made her mark
Appeal Staff Writer
Brandi Vega used to be a little girl with big-time dreams.
With womens soccer beginning to garner national attention, Vega was one of a new generation of girls who wanted to be like the popular Mia Hamm. So with her poster of the superstar on her bedroom wall, Vega set out achieve her dreams of playing on the United States Olympic soccer team and started playing soccer when she was 4 years old.
By the time she had reached the third grade, Vega added another aspiration to her list of goals.
“I always dreamed of playing varsity basketball for Carson as a freshman,” Vega said. “I gave it my all. I did what I had to do. I showed what I had and hoped to get on the team.”
Vega has had success on both fronts and she’s started as a freshman for both the Carson girls varsity soccer team and the varsity basketball squad.
In soccer, Vega was named the Sierra League Offensive Player of the Year, scoring nine goals and dishing out 15 assists for the Lady Senators, who lost 3-2 to Galena in the 2005 state championship.
Vega was also named to the All-Sierra Nevada soccer team for her performance as a forward for Carson.
As with soccer, the 15-year-old Vega’s freewheeling style has been tempered with enough maturity to get other players involved and it is reflected in her statistics in league play: Vega has averaged 4.4 points, 2.3 assists, 2.7 steals and 2 rebounds a game.
And at 5-foot-2, Vega has gotten the job done the only way she knows how: All action, all of the time.
“Energy. Period,” Carson coach Ric Garcia said when asked what Vega brings to the team, which is now 7-2 in the Sierra League and in a second-place tie with North Valleys. “She’s 100-miles-a-second and she never slows down.
“She’s one of the best defenders in the league as a freshman. She just doesn’t give up. If you think you just got rid of her, no, she’ll get back in front of you. And she’s had a lot of steals from behind.”
Although Garcia had seen Vega play soccer, the first time he saw her play basketball was when she tried out for the team.
“My first impression was that she had a lot of quickness,” Garcia said. “She was a little on the wild side. She was 100 percent all of the time. She needed to slow down to make the pass. That’s where she’s improved. She’s slowed down at times.”
Vega knew no fear and resembled a whirling dervish as she drove in against defenders.
“My attitude was just, Give it all you got,” Vega said. “I came into it (her freshman year) thinking eighth-grade defensive teams weren’t that bad. But high school defensive teams can kill you. Don’t run into them. Pass it off.”
This, Garcia said, was a lesson which Vega learned early.
“Instead of dribbling 100-miles-an-hour into three people, she’ll dribble out to the point,” Garcia said. “She no longer drives into double or triple coverage. She’s maturing.”
Garcia said Vega’s experience playing varsity soccer as a freshman helped her in her adjustment to varsity basketball.
“She’s very intelligent. She has a high basketball I.Q.,” Garcia said. “She knows she can’t be bombing away with threes. That can lead to turnovers and set up the other team. She understands. She takes some (3-point) shots–not five a game–maybe two or three. But it’s all to help her team. She’s a big team player.”
Which is part of the reason she seems to be popular with her older teammates (along with freshman forward Blaike King, Vega is the only freshman on the team). Another reason is her personality, which even prompted Douglas girls coach Werner Christen to give her a bear hug following his team’s recent loss to Carson (“I love this girl,” he said with a grin).
“Little Vega…That’s my little buddy,” said 6-foot-2 senior center Nicole Scott, who was seen playfully wrapping Vega in a headlock following a recent game. “She’s fun to be around. She’s just so funny. She’s always telling little wisecracks.”
“I like to put a little spunk into the game, a little fun,” Vega said. “I crack jokes and play with people to get their personality out. Our team’s great. I love all of the girls. We all get along. We never fight. It’s wonderful. You couldn’t ask for a better team.”
And apparently you also couldn’t ask for a better teammate than Vega.
“She brings so much energy to the team,” said senior forward Briana Dodge. “She’s willing to put it all on the floor. She’s confident, not cocky confident. When Brandi plays defense, she steals the ball and makes things happen offensively. She makes everyone play that much harder.”
“She brings a lot to the team as a freshman,” said senior guard Rosella Nunez. “She’s doing great. It’s a huge step up going from middle school straight to varsity. She’s done a good job handling the pressure the juniors and seniors bring. She handles the ball well and she’s a great shooter as well. She fits right in.”
Scott–a four-year varsity player–understands as well as anyone what it feels like make the quantum leap from middle school to varsity ball.
“When you come in as a freshman, you can be so nervous that you freeze up and don’t know what you’re doing,” Scott said. “She has done awesome. When she’s running the point, she’s done an awesome job. She makes sure she gets the plays done. When she messes up on offense, she works twice as hard on defense to get the ball back.
“If she gets an open look, she’ll take the shot, which is good. Everyone needs to shoot when they’re open. But she does a good job of knowing when to shoot and when not to.”
Garcia said Vega brings a good attitude to the game, which is an important part of her development as a player.
“Brandi’s very open. Maybe it’s because she’s a freshman,” Garcia said. “She accepts anything. She accepts criticism. That’s why she’s starting and getting better. She started out as a second-stringer and had to work her way up. Everyone knows she gives 100 percent the whole time. She never quits.”
Of course there’s always room for improvement.
“I’d like her to be a better shooter from the outside,” Garcia said. “But she’s improving like crazy. She can leave alone the three–that wasn’t the case long ago. And we’re working on her dribbling in traffic–she likes to speed-dribble. She has to back up and change the speed on the dribble. That’s what we’re working on.”
And if there’s one thing other than her speed that stands out in Vega’s game, it’s her ball-handling skills, which she’s constantly refining.
“I always work on my dribbling,” Vega said. “Behind the back, through the legs.”
What about that Allen Iverson cross-over dribble?
“It’s getting there. I’m working on the double cross-over…cross-over this way, then cross-over this way,” Vega said over the phone.
In addition to her quicksilver dribbling skills, Vega also passes crisply, putting a lot of mustard on the ball rather than floating it out lazily. She also sticks to opposing players like Velcro on defense. And she still has plenty of time to improve.
“She’s going to be one of the best players ever at Carson when she gets to be a senior,” Scott said. “If she’s this good as a freshman, there’s always room for improvement. She’s got three years to get there.”
Asked about Vega’s potential, Garcia was unequivocal in his assessment.
“It’s unlimited,” he said. “If she stays after it, if she works hard and stays in shape, she can be as good as anyone has ever been at guard. And we’ve had a lot of good ones.”
Although she still harbors dreams of playing for the U.S. soccer team and the WNBA, Vega said she’s learned to first set smaller goals that lead up to bigger ones.
“I’d like to make it to a college on a scholarship–USC basketball if I had a chance, or UNLV,” she said. “But first we have to get through this half-season. Then zone first and get out as the top seed, then state.”
As her taller opponents have found it, it may be fairly easy to look over Vega, but it wouldn’t be advisable to look past her. After all, she’s had a way of making her dreams come true.