Rio Americano coach Jeff Hart has been around girls basketball for a long time.
His daughter, Emily, was a member of the Bill Baxter-coached 1993-94 El Camino squad that went 36-0 and won the CIF State Division II championship.
The Capital Athletic League was a previous home to El Camino, and spawned other Sac-Joaquin Section and state powerhouse teams through the years, including those from Nevada Union, Grant, Bella Vista, Del Campo and Sacramento.
Hart coached girls basketball for 14 seasons at Loretto, leading the team to a D-IV section title in 2005, before the school closed in 2009.
But even while realignment and demographic changes have made the CAL a shell of its once-formidable self, Hart's Raiders are doing something at the school unseen since Karen Smith and company were churning out section titles six in all from 1977 to 1983.
With three regular-season games to play, No. 11 Rio Americano (21-3, 7-0) has won 14 games in a row and has a shot at winning its first CAL girls basketball title in school history. The Raiders last won a girls title in 1987 as a Capital Valley Conference member.
The CAL had long been dominated by Baxter-led El Camino teams (he won a section-best 601 games and 14 league titles before stepping down in 2011 to work as an assistant coach for the Sacramento State women).
But Rio Americano won at El Camino 64-63 on Jan. 10 and 47-31 at home on Jan. 30, another rare accomplishment for the Raiders.
"El Camino has been the leader of the pack in the CAL for a ton of years," said Hart, in his fourth season at Rio Americano. "So to beat them twice in one season is pretty big for our program."
And a bit of a surprise, too.
With just one major college recruit junior all-around talent Daizy Wilson Hart wouldn't call this his most talented team.
"In years past, we've had more shooters, bigger post players," Hart said. "But they play real well together, they really get along, and they're experienced."
Fourth-year varsity starter Elizabeth Moulton, a 5-foot-5 guard, leads the section in three-pointers made per game (3.3), set the school season three-point record this season with 65 and leads the team in scoring (15.6 points per game). She also twice set school records for three-pointers in a game with six, both times against El Camino.
The 5-6 Wilson, a three-year varsity guard, averages 11.5 points and a team-leading 74 steals and 4.2 assists. Junior forward Emily Hansen averages 9.5 points and a team-high 7.6 rebounds, and senior post Samantha Reil set a school record for blocked shots with 48.
Seniors Sierra Martinez, Julia Butterfield and Colette Hodges and junior Sydney Ford are role players who are trying to set a school defensive record.
Rio Americano is allowing 38.7 points per game. The school record is 39.9.
The Raiders are ranked second in the Division III power rankings. That could mean up to two home playoff games and a shot at going beyond the first-round exits of 2012 at Del Oro and 2010 at East Union in Manteca.
Leaders of the pack Wilton Christian junior Kayla Brown is the area leader in points scored (23.1) and steals (8.9) per game, as compiled by MaxPreps.com.
Other area leaders: Rio Americano's Moulton, three-pointers (3.3), Antelope's Tyler Ellis, rebounds (16.9); Del Campo's Megan Roberson, blocked shots (7.8); Burbank's VyVy Tran and Rosemont's Irene Colaivalu, assists (5.8).
Big Metro finish The Metro Conference title and a long league winning streak could be on the line Friday when top-ranked Sacramento (20-4, 11-0) hosts No. 3 Kennedy (19-4, 10-1) and Monday when the Dragons travel to No. 4 McClatchy (20-3, 8-3).
Kennedy (19-4, 10-1) enters tonight's game against winless Johnson with its only league loss to Sacramento, 53-49.