Bob Grexton was ready to call it a career a year ago. His players wouldn't hear of it, and he was over-ruled.
So a man who constructs homes for a living for Elliott Homes and craft and mold basketball teams as a labor of love gave it one more season. And finished on top.
Playing inspired and making sure their beloved coach bowed out on top, the Victory Christian Vikings overcame a slow start, caught fire and then finished strong, beating defending champion Faith Christian of Yuba City 61-44 on Thursday night to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI championship in Galt.
Grexton bows out with four championships and three since 2010. All told, he led 17 of his final 19 teams into the postseason in establishing the Carmichael school heavy on academics and life-building experiences into a small-school powerhouse. And now it's officially time to turn in his whistle and clip board. "What a way to end it," Grexton said, fighting back emotions, surrounded by jubilant students. "These kids play so hard and love each other so much. It's been 22 years coaching for me. I got into it because I didn't want my son Doug to get cut, and then he went on to become the best point guard in school history.
"I celebrate a 40th anniversary with wife Debbie, and we've never done anything but basketball over the years. Now we will. I've loved coaching here."
Grexton said one player he promised to coach until the end was Mike Halverson, and Halverson will graduate as one of the program's all-time greats. The gritty yet skilled 6-foot-1 senior forward runs like a guard, taking it right to the basket, and rebounds like Moses Malone. He had 28 points and 19 rebounds - and he was the one embracing the blue championship banner moments after a spirited throng of Vikings students flooded the court to celebrate.
Want to hear a charmed senior season? Halverson is No. 1 in his graduating class of 26. He is a 4.2 student with a boat-load of difficult courses. And he was voted homecoming king.
"I grew up playing in gyms, and you have to earn everything, get every rebound," Halverson said. "I play hard."
As for his outgoing coach, Halverson said, "He taught us toughness, hard work, dedication. He's great."
Grexton said he isn't an X's and O's coach. He's a motivator, saying, "I get our teams to play hard."
To a man, that was true against Faith Christian. Tyler O'Day scored 14 points for Victory Christian, and he seemed to enjoy every bucket, enthusiastically pumping his fists on plays and celebrating the efforts of teammates. Mike Furtado had nine points for the Vikings. Victory Christian superintendent John Huffman, the former Sacramento State co-coach with wife Sue Huffman, said he is saddened to see Grexton step away, but he can understand the rigors of the coaching grind.
"He's done a tremendous job, and he's done it the right way," Huffman said. Victory Christian (22-6) ended on a nine-game winning streak.
Valley Christian girls win first title
Brad Gunter Jr. needed a girls basketball coach eight years ago at Valley Christian Academy in Roseville. He wanted two core basic requirements met: a teacher and a passionate sports leader.
The Lions athletic director who doubles as the boys basketball and baseball coach found one in Kim Contreras, who learned the X's and O's of the craft on the fly, and then ignited a program.
On Thursday night, Contreras basked in her program's first Sac-Joaquin Section championship, beating Turlock Christian 54-47 in Division VI play.
And Gunter? He was the one planted in the middle of a spirited Lions rooting section, a sea of student bliss decked in pink. The bearded and affable Gunter led chants, offered high-fives and hugs, and heaped praise on his championship coach and program after it was over, stressing family, unity and the rewards of effort and commitment.
"Kim didn't know a lot about basketball, but she learned, and she's a great science and math teacher, and now she's a section champion," Gunter said. "This is huge."
Here's huge: the Lady Lions won the school's first section championship not affiliated with Gunter's baseball program. Gunter's powerhouse small-school program has won five of the last six section titles and three in a row in D-VI.
"It was about tie we won something else for our school," Contreras said amid laughter. "What a wonderful feeling. Brad Gunter has been my No. 1 supporter. He's backed me, and he's up there in the stands supporting us."
Lily Haggerty scored 23 points for Valley Christian, working inside, outside and playing defense. Erika Lyon had 11 and Jenny Frank 10. The team's lone senior in Grace Magni had six points, and she offered a warning to the rest of the section D-VI world that the Vikings will be back for more.
"We worked so hard for this," Hagerty said. "We were wearing blue all week, our new color to match (the section championship banner color)." Said Magni, "This feels amazing. It's a great team, and coach Contreras is a great coach for us."
Valley Christian (22-5) ended on a 14-game winning streak and went 10-0 in the Sacramento Metropolitan Athletic League.
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