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JAMES QUIGG, DAILY PRESS
Victor Valley College's Claudia Meneses shows her tattoo that reads ‘The love for basketball...' during a practice Monday morning.
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On the rebound

VVC's Meneses leads the state in rebounds

Claudia Meneses admits she’s still working on the finer techniques of rebounding.

But she’s found her own way to dominate the boards at Victor Valley College: a big grunt she likens to that of a rapper.

“When I am in the air, I swear I feel like when I do the Rick Ross grunt I feel like I jump like 40 inches,” Meneses said. “I really do. I don’t even mean to do it. It just happens.”

Those grunts can’t help but draw attention on the court. She gets looks.

“(Other players) are like, What’s wrong with you,” Meneses said. “I scare them.”

VVC assistant women’s basketball coach Andrea Stewart can hear it each time she watches tape, she said. It’s become a good thing because Meneses’ performances have become key for the Rams.

These day Meneses does a lot of grunting. The sophomore forward leads the entire California Community College Athletic Association in rebounding with 16.2 per game through Jan. 23. She averages a double-double, scoring 15.8 points. San Jose City College’s Aiwekhoe Okungbowa is second in rebounding at 13.9 per game.

“I usually just jump and get it, but I know the proper way to get a rebound is to box out,” Menses said. “I do box out a little bit, but I do just want to jump and get it. I just jump. It’s true.”

Yet rebounds, basketball and life have not always been easy for Meneses.

Meneses is the oldest of five children. Her mom Donna Meneses works two jobs to help support the family and was gone from 8 a.m. to midnight on weekdays. She said her dad Carlos Meneses was an abusive drug addict.

“I forgive him now,” Meneses said. “We don’t talk. I thank him because he motivated me to be a better person than he has ever been. I thank him for that because I don’t want to be like that.”

She chose to play at VVC in order to be close to home. Meneses played for a successful high school program at Desert Pines in Las Vegas, but she openly admits she was a mess when she arrived at VVC. She didn’t take well to coaching.

“She was a scared child when she got here, when her mom brought her out,” Stewart said. “She was petrified.”

Meneses begins to tear up as she talks about her appreciation for VVC head coach Mike Stewart and his wife Andrea’s tough love with her. The pair are almost like parents to her now, she said, and she thanks them for seeing potential and forcing her to live up to it.

“I thank them for never quitting on me cause I was messed up,” Meneses said. “I had an attitude problem. I would always think I was right. They would always tell me like, ‘You are not boxing out Claudia.’ I’m like ‘Yes I am.’ I would always talk back. That’s my first year. That’s not being coachable. I had to change. I knew I had to change who I am overall as a person and as a basketball player to get what I want. They helped me with that.”

She took an inward look after learning her left ankle had a hairline fracture during the summer of 2011. That forced her to miss the entire 2011-2012 campaign, but allowed her to watch from afar. She took it as a chance to improve.

Meneses learned to take coaching. She also became obsessive in the weight room. Coming out of rehab her vertical jump went down from 26 inches to 18. Now she’s up to 28 inches.

“Now I can look at her and say it was worth every minute, every minute that I invested in her,” Andrea Stewart said. “Because there were a lot of minutes.”

She said she wasn’t much of a rebounder when she arrived at VVC for the 2010-2011 season. She averaged 8.3 rebounds per game during her freshman season. Listed at 5-foot-10 and closer to 5-8 in reality, she’s far from the tallest player on the court and played guard in high school before switching to forward at VVC.

Everything changed in the season opener against Orange Coast College this year.

“I wasn’t trying to be out there (thinking), Oh, I’m going to get every rebound.” Meneses said. “No, it just happened. I don’t know how. I was just out there grabbing.”

Not thinking about it led to a 18-rebound performance. The rebounds have been piling up since.

Against Taft on Dec. 15 she scored 31 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. The next night she scored 26 points and grabbed 25 rebounds against West Hills College Lemmore.

Previously she’d always ask how many points she had after games. Now she just asks about her rebounds.

She’s managed to grab all those rebounds without getting in foul trouble, which was a major concern earlier in her career. She’s fouled out just once this season.

“She’s always been one of those that’s in foul trouble because she’s really aggressive,” Andrea Stewart said. “That’s been something we’ve really had to harp on for her this year. She’s reached a stage now where we can’t win without her. We just absolutely cannot win without her. If she’s out of the game, everything about our game changes. We need her on the floor as much as possible. If she’s getting into foul trouble, she’s killing us.”

Recruiters have taken notice. Azuza Pacfic, Whittier College and South Dakota State are among the schools interested, according to Mike Stewart. A scholarship would mean one less thing for her mother to worry about.

“I don’t just do this for myself,” Meneses said. “I do this for my mom. Growing up, I didn’t have anything handed to me. I always had to work for everything. My mom is so strong. She motivated me. I don’t want her to struggle no more,” Meneses said. “She’s just my motivation because I don’t want her to struggle no more. I just want to make her proud.”

Matthew Peters can be reached at mpeters@vvdailypress.com or (760) 955-5365.


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