By Keith Lair Staff Writer
ARCADIA – The changing of the guard in the Pacific League started long before Arcadia High School’s Melody Chang made her 36-point statement in a 64-42 win over perennial league power Muir earlier this season.
No, the changing of the guard began two years ago in a regular-season ending game against Crescenta Valley when she scored 21 points. Or maybe it was her freshman year, when in her first and only varsity appearance, she scored five points in a CIF-Southern Section first-round playoff loss to eventual champion Santa Monica.
“I always felt it was not my place to be the scorer,” Chang recalled of that Crescenta Valley game. “They were really focused on stopping our leading scorers. I had my open shots and I had to take them. It was the first time I scored over 20 points.
“My biggest problem has always been confidence. I’ve learned not to think about it and just play.”
The 5-foot-6 senior guard is averaging a school-record 23.7 points per game this season. She has helped put the Apaches in rarified air.
Arcadia is on the cusp of its first Pacific League title in 35 years. The Apaches last won the title in 1979. The Apaches are tied for first with Burroughs, both with 10-1 records. The teams meet Tuesday night at Arcadia.
“I’ve been blessed to have a player like her,” Arcadia coach Don Young said. “She’s a program-changer. She is this high school’s best-ever player, by far. It’s her work ethic. She’s never content. She’s always working harder.”
The Apaches (20-3 overall) play host to Hoover tonight and will finish regular season play at Crescenta Valley.
One of the major changing points this season may have been that 22-point victory at Muir. Surprisingly, it was the first time Chang had played in the Mustangs’ gym.
“To everyone, even myself, it is completely surprising,” she said of the team’s 10-1 start in league. “Everyone expects Muir to always be in first place or undefeated. The biggest thing was getting that first win over them. It was huge mentally. Here we are used to being in last place in league and not being able to get past that. We have to believe in ourselves that we can be the team to beat.”
But the Apaches then lost to Glendale in the next game.
“We cannot take teams for granted,” Young said. “This may be a once-in-a-lifetime deal where everything has fallen in place.
“Mel has been a big part of all this. As the best player, she sets the tone. She constantly works to improve. The other girls look up to her.”
In Young’s first three years as coach of Arcadia, the Apaches went 23-51. In his three years with Chang on the team, Arcadia is 48-25.
The Apaches won their first CIF-SS playoff game in school history, in 2011, the game after Chang had 21 against Crescenta Valley, and this year’s team is the first to surpass 20 victories in a season.
Chang, last year’s co-league MVP, will hold nine school records by the time the season ends. She has scored 1,190 points in her career, holds the single-game scoring record (36, three times), has made 10 3-pointers in a game twice, has made 69 3-pointers this year, has 149 career 3-pointers and will finish with all three steals records.
“I never come out thinking I’ll be doing whatever,” she said. “I focus on what I have to do. To get my teammates the ball. To assert myself. At the end of the game I’m surprised I scored that much. I feel like my stats are lying to me.”
She has had to take on another role of late. Point guard Christina Huynh broke her hand six games ago and will not return until the playoffs. Instead of rolling off screens to get her shots, Chang has had to find her offense from the point.
She has averaged 20 points in those games, including a pair of 27-poin efforts.
“With Mel, that’s her,” Young said. “That 27? She does it in so many different ways.”
It has opened up options for teammates. Sophomore Caira Benton is averaging 12 points per game.
The changes have also forced Chang to work on her game.
“My tone has changed a lot,” she said. “The confidence level has gone way up. I’ve been working hard to improve and to not limit myself.”
She has added the dribble to her shot, which has stopped teams from using a zone defense against her on 3-pointers.