It took some time for El Camino High School's girls basketball players to adjust to the change.
Bill Baxter, their fiery yet beloved coach and a fixture at El Camino since well before any of the players were born, had switched shades of green from El Camino to Sacramento State as an assistant women's coach after last season. Rich Drawbert, Baxter's longtime assistant coach and decades-long friend, took over.
On the surface, it seems little has changed. The No. 4 Eagles look a lot like the Eagles of the past: deep and skilled and 21-4. But the transition wasn't easy, Drawbert said.
Baxter is synonymous with success: a Sac-Joaquin Section girls record 601 victories, 24 playoff teams in as many seasons, 14 league titles, five section crowns, 10 trips to the Northern California playoffs, three NorCal titles and a 36-0 team in 1994 that still rates as the region's best ever.
"The girls are here to play for Baxter, and when he said that he was leaving, it was a bombshell the tears were flowing," Drawbert said. "I encouraged Bill to go because he's done it all here at El Camino, done a great job, and go get a new challenge."
Drawbert said it took time for the players to get used to his style. Victories helped prove the message was received, even if the transition was bumpy.
"I told the girls that I'm not Bill Baxter, but I think they took it out on me at first as we struggled a little," Drawbert said. "Bill and I have a pact: If he ever wants to come back to El Camino, I'll help him coach again. It's his program. I'm just helping fill in. We have some very nice players, and we're still improving."
The Eagles are a contender in Division II, which also includes national power St. Mary's of Stockton, red-hot No. 3 River City, McNair of Stockton, No. 8 Florin, No. 13 Inderkum, No. 17 Rio Americano and No. 19 Antelope.
The Eagles play rival Rio Americano on Thursday in a Capital Athletic League finale. Drawbert, who has coached for 40 seasons, coached various sports for 13 years and taught mathematics at Rio Americano.
El Camino is led by guards-wings Courtney Brignac, Jade Sowell-Hundon and Alexis Haffner. Simone Shepard, a 5-foot-10 sophomore, is an impact player for this season and beyond, Drawbert said. Another sophomore, Alexis Price, has been a defensive stopper, the coach said, "like a gnat in your face with some serious defense."
"We can be really good," Drawbert said. "I told the girls that if we don't share the ball, we won't go far. They know."
San Juan uprising A year after going 8-18, No. 20 San Juan is 10-1 in the Sierra Delta League behind the efforts of four juniors: Robbin Martinez, Rashell Casey, Brandi Abercrombie and Reese Davis.
Each played a role in a victory over longtime area small-school power Bradshaw Christian 54-50, ending the Pride's 63-game league winning streak.
El Dorado uprising After recovering from knee injuries that slowed them earlier in the season, Sam Reeder and Emily Boyd have No. 18 El Dorado primed for a spirited rematch with River City tonight, with a share of the Sierra Valley Conference title on the line. El Dorado is going after at least a share of its fourth consecutive conference title; River City is seeking its first league title in the school's 35 years.
Courtney Macklin, a returning all-conference player like Reeder and Boyd, made 6 of 8 three-pointers to help beat Union Mine, and Macklin has averaged 14 rebounds in league play.
THE BEE'S TOP 20
PR previous ranking; records through Sunday
Team W-L PR
1. Sacramento 19-6 1
2. Pleasant Grove 18-7 2
3. River City 24-1 3
4. El Camino 21-4 5
5. Sheldon 18-7 6
6. Oak Ridge 19-7 4
7. St. Francis 14-12 7
8. Florin 20-5 9
9. Kennedy 18-7 8
10. Christian Brothers 19-6 10
11. Nevada Union 13-11 11
12. Del Oro 15-10 12
13. Inderkum 18-5 13
14. Monterey Trail 19-5 15
15. Rocklin 14-11 18
16. West Campus 18-5 16
17. Rio Americano 17-8 17
18. El Dorado 17-7
19. Antelope 16-7 19
20. San Juan 20-6