Yorba Linda High’s girls basketball team is returning to competition with a quiet strength and well-balanced perspective after enduring one of Orange County’s first tragedies of the pandemic.

Coach Teiko Ikemoto remains the leader of a tight-knit squad, which includes her daughters Katie and Kristi, nearly one year after the death of her husband and the girls’ father, Klete Ikemoto of Anaheim Hills, from COVID-19 on April 2, 2020. The couple’s seventh-grade daughter Kelsey, 13, plans to join the team in a few years.

The loss of the ultra-supportive father and husband has been difficult for the family but Teiko and her players are back in the gym, aiming to play a schedule of mostly league games safely with their friends.

“I’m doing this because I like it,” Teiko said before a recent practice. “In a regular season, yeah, we would have been competitive, but in this season, (the players are) just ‘Lets enjoy our company.’ If we get a chance to compete fine but if we don’t, no big deal. At least we’re out here and we’re safe.”

  • Yorba Linda High girls basketball coach Teiko Ikemoto holds a photo of her husband, Klete, who died of COVID-19 last April, is shown in Yorba Linda on Monday, March 29, 2021.(Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Yorba Linda High girls basketball coach Teiko Ikemoto, left, holds a photo of her husband, Klete, who died of COVID-19 last April, is shown with her daughters at the Yorba Linda High School gym in Yorba Linda on Monday, March 29, 2021. Pictured from left, Teiko Ikemote, her daughters Katie, Kelsey and Kristi. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Yorba Linda High girls basketball coach Teiko Ikemoto holding a photo of her husband, Klete, who died of COVID-19 last April, is shown with her daughters at the Yorba Linda High School gym in Yorba Linda on Monday, March 29, 2021. Pictured from left, Kristi, Teiko, Katie, and Kelsey Ikemoto. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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The Mustangs, like teams throughout the county, are undergoing the required weekly coronavirus testing. The squad practices while wearing masks and wipes down basketballs and its shoes. Teiko said she understands if some of her players decide not to compete.

“We’re on the same page,” she said. “If they don’t feel comfortable, that’s fine. I understand.”

The journey back to this spring season included Teiko and Katie, a senior, fighting off the virus early in the pandemic and isolating upstairs in their home while Kristi, a sophomore, cared for Kelsey downstairs for several days.

Teiko, a former standout player at UCLA under her maiden name Teiko Nishi, said she struggled with shortness of breath until she received her first vaccine shot in early March.

“It’s scary,” she said of the virus. “For the longest time, I just couldn’t catch my breath.”

The coach said Katie has encountered similar symptoms and uses an inhaler before practice. She hopes the vaccine, which is becoming more accessible, will help her, too. The mother also is closely monitoring the health of Kristi and Kelsey.

The Mustangs’ seniors, the coach said, are motivated to finish their high school basketball careers with their classmates. Katie, who missed last season with a knee injury, is one of eight seniors on the team. She and Kristi are playing on the same team for the first time.

“All of the seniors are basically my close friends since freshman year,” Katie said. “I think being safe comes first in anything we do. It’d be nice to play because we just want to play together.”

Kristi recently expressed some of her feelings about the loss of her father in an essay with Chapman University’s Holocaust project. She won first place after listening to the testimony of a Holocaust survivor and answering the prompt to relate the survivor’s experience to some of the challenges of the pandemic.

Kristi’s parallel included remembering being woken up suddenly one morning, confused that her father was leaving for the hospital.

“I heard the garage downstairs and the car roaring, and I barely got down in time to say goodbye to my dad,” she said. “I didn’t know what was really going on. It kind of went by so fast.”

Teiko said the resiliency of her girls has motivated her.

“They’re rebounding back, so I can at least do this,” she said. “It’s about more than just basketball.”

NOTES

Sage Hill features four freshmen who played for the late Kobe Bryant’s Mambas travel squad while Pacifica Christian has one. The Lightning, ranked a program-best fifth in the county, have Zioe Lamkin, Emily Eadie, Kat Righeimer and Annabelle Spotts while Pacifica Christian’s top player is freshman sharpshooter Annika Jiwani. …

Brea Olinda has hired Cal Tech assistant Chelsea Stocks as its coach, replacing Nancy Smith. …

Aliso Niguel lead assistant coach Tom Riach recently died of cancer, Wolverines coach Brad Johnson said. Riach also coached with the boys program. “He was always around,” Johnson said.  …

Mater Dei’s Matt Denning Classic showcase on April 17 has been reduced to one girls game (Mater Dei vs. Fairmont Prep, 5:30 p.m.) and one boys game (Mater Dei vs. Cypress, 7 p.m.). …

JSerra 6-foot-4 junior center Ava Carter is out for the season with an injury, said Lions coach Geoffrey Clayton. The team also will be without Santa Margarita transfer Hailey Johnson and likely his daughter, Jailynn, a freshman who also is dealing with injuries.