It's always a fun-to-observe transformation with the Sacramento Dragons, the girls basketball juggernaut from Oak Park.
Giddy, giggling and general goofballs outside any arena, they suddenly and collectively morph into grim-faced defensive tyrants when it counts especially big games.
On Friday night at Power Balance Pavilion, the top-seeded Division III Dragons blasted No. 2 Modesto Christian 73-36 in the Sac-Joaquin Section championship game in impressive display of speed, defense and offensive balance.
Sacramento has won 22 consecutive games since a six-game skid all agonizingly close games to state and national competition. The Dragons (26-6) are unbeaten in the section and walloped a Crusaders team that they beat by four earlier this season.
Before Friday's rematch, the Dragons had a sing-song cheerful demeanor, then were stoic in pouncing on loose balls, trapping with purpose and bolting down court on outlets in gassing the Crusaders (25-6).
Afterward? Shrieks of joy, of course, so much so that Sacramento principal Will Jarrell couldn't resist getting into the group high-five act.
"I really feel this team has something special happening here," Dragons coach Michele Massari said. "They play so hard. We play incredible defense. They like each other. They hang out with each other. Unbelievable team chemistry."
Unbelievable, team, too. Senior leaders Jasmine Ware, Jehiah Cook and Briana Womack led an otherwise young team with typical complete-game efforts.
Ware, the 5-foot-10 wing headed for UC Santa Barbara, had 19 points and 12 rebounds, and her bloodied lip spoke of her relentless nature. She swarmed on defense, crashed the boards, initiated the break, attacked the lane and hit jumpers.
Cook, a blur of a point guard headed to UNLV, had 18 points, scoring off steals or on breaks and hitting mid-range jumpers. Womack, a shooting forward, had seven points.
The support crew included junior Casey Williams, who had 10 points, sophomore Zonyia Cormier with 10 and sophomore post Ayanna Edwards had six points with five rebounds and two blocks.
Massari heaped praise on her team and her coaches, including strength and conditioning guru Alex Van Dyke, a former Burbank High and Nevada All-America wide receiver who had a stint in the NFL.
"We're in shape," Massari said of Van Dyke's impact. "Every day, we run like it's track practice and we're fast."
Ware wore the look of relief and pride. Earlier this season, she crumpled to the floor with what she initially feared was a season-ending knee injury. It was just a deep bruise, and Ware has played with purpose ever since, with no hesitation.
"I'm glad I was OK, and I thank coach Van Dyke for the rehab," Ware said, the cut-down net around her neck. "I'm going to miss my team when it's over."
It may not be over for a good while as the Dragons expect to land at least a No. 2 Northern California D-III playoff seed when brackets are announced Sunday.