John McDaniel remembers the standing-room-only crowds that packed the old Nevada Union High School girls gym more than two decades ago to watch Kellie Cook and the Lady Miners put on a show.
"They had some amazing teams when I was there," said McDaniel, a 1993 graduate. "They loved to run and gun and shoot three-pointers. The team was deep. They'd run line changes every three or four minutes and wear teams out."
From 1988 to 2000 under then-coach Craig Strohm, the Miners appeared in 10 Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship games, winning five times. The Cook-led Miners won three consecutive section titles from 1989 to 1991.
McDaniel, who played boys basketball at Nevada Union, went on to college, became an engineer, worked in Seattle for several years before returning to Grass Valley a decade ago to become a teacher and coach at his alma mater.
For six seasons, he's been trying to get the Miners girls back to their glory days.
Nevada Union has taken a huge step this season.
The No. 4 Miners are 20-4 and last Thursday ended No. 13 Del Oro's seven-year reign as Sierra Foothill League champions with a 70-67 victory in Grass Valley. It drew the same kind of big crowd (albeit in a larger, newer gym) McDaniel used to see as a student.
But McDaniel's bunch is doing it in a different way.
There is no superstar like Cook, who was inducted into the Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in October, and the Miners don't try to shoot teams into oblivion with three-pointers.
"The girls' game has changed a lot since those days," McDaniel said.
Now even reserve players are highly skilled and defensive schemes more sophisticated. Nevada Union has won with remarkable balance junior Sydney Porter is the Miners' only double-figure scorer at 12.4 points per game depth and chemistry.
Seniors Emily Smith, Olivia Gulsvig, Sarina Orellana, Kaylin Martin and Nicole Lierly have played together since sixth grade. The same goes for juniors Porter, Erin Selleck, Katie Johnson, Melanie O'Brien and Emma Peterson. Sophomore Sammy DeHart, 5-foot-11, is a starter.
"They're a bunch of gym rats," McDaniel said. "The seniors have probably played close to 400 games together."
Says Del Oro coach Mike Takayama: "They play really well together. They do a lot of great things. They shoot the ball well, and they're fast. They were deserving of the (league) championship."
Nevada Union last won a league title in 2005-06 when it was in the Metro Conference and coached by Duwaine Ganskie, now the Bear River boys coach.
"The players' goal has been to bring this program back to the status it once enjoyed and get to a section final," McDaniel said. "We're really excited. We're on the right track."
Brie is back Although Brianna Ruiz's return from summer knee surgery gives Del Oro a huge boost going into the postseason, Takayama is still preaching caution.
Takayama said the 5-foot-11 Ruiz played about six minutes in her season debut Tuesday on Senior Night against Roseville and nearly 15 minutes against Nevada Union, a game in which she scored 19 points and made five of eight three-point attempts.
"Brie is moving very well, but we are only going to run her out there three or four minutes at a time," Takayama said. "She has great loyalty and wants to help us finish as best we can, but we don't want to endanger her future."
Takayama said he and Ruiz made sure they got the OK from the women's coaching staff at the University of Washington, where Ruiz will play on scholarship next season.
Streaks continue No. 11 Rio Americano extended its area-best winning streak to 17 games with its 55-52 overtime win over Antelope on Monday.
No. 5 Bradshaw Christian has the area's second-longest winning streak (16 games).