Michele Massari’s message comes through loud and clear to her Sacramento High School girls basketball team, sometimes with her eyes bulging and arms waving.
She tells her 14-player roster that while the seniors must continue to lead, the time is now for her five precocious freshmen. Today. Tomorrow. Next year.
“Our motto is ‘14 Strong,’ ” Massari said. “I tell our freshmen, ‘You’re our future, and you’re our now.’ It’s unique: Five freshmen impacting a team, and they’re going to be so good. They’re already good now. But they’ll be really good.”
Not that it’s always been easy blending youth with experience, never mind the No. 3 Sacramento Bee ranking and 7-0 showing in the Metropolitan Conference at the league schedule’s midway point. The run was punctuated by a 60-55 victory over previously top-ranked McClatchy on Thursday.
“This has been my hardest challenge in my eight years here,” Massari said. “We have seniors who are 18 years old, experienced, going to play in college. And we have these freshmen, who are 14, just 20 games into their first year, and they’re getting pushed in practice and games. We’re making it work.”
Sacramento (13-7) is bolstered by senior captains and guards Aliceah Hernandez, Quayonna Harris and Lyric Wilson. Junior forward Sasha Brown and sophomore guard Richelle Turney also provide skill and experience. The freshmen are guards Rebekah Brown and RyAnne Walters and frontcourt players Andriana Avent, Anna Blount and Nailah Dillard. Collectively, they give the Dragons a deep rotation, one Massari expects to make a deep run into March in pursuit of Sac-Joaquin Section and Northern California championships.
While Sacramento has won four section championships and advanced to six NorCal tournaments under Massari, the Dragons were one-and-done last season, falling to Ponderosa 81-74 in a playoff opener.
We have seniors who are 18 years old, experienced, going to play in college. And we have these freshmen, who are 14, just 20 games into their first year, and they’re getting pushed in practice and games. We’re making it work.
Michele Massari, Sacramento High School girls basketball coach
A daunting early schedule this season included losses to highly regarded teams from Illinois, Arizona, Nevada and Southern California. The Dragons showed growth and resolve in rallying from 25 points down to beat powerhouse Salesian of Richmond 64-56 on Dec. 28. Their lone section loss was to Folsom 56-53 on Dec. 12.
“We’re growing, getting better,” Massari said. “The seniors and the experienced players know what I expect. The freshmen are learning. They could’ve gone to any other school and been stars, but they came here. They knew they had to be patient, and they have. It’s paying off.”
Eagles rising – The El Camino boys debut in this season’s rankings at No. 13 on the strength of a six-game winning streak. The Eagles (15-5) are 3-0 in the Capital Athletic League entering Wednesday’s contest against Christian Brothers. The highlight of the streak was a 56-54 victory at rival Rio Americano in a packed gym Wednesday. Senior guard Kenny Olsem hit the winning three-pointer as the horn sounded.
Averaging 18 points, Olsem scored 25 against the Raiders.
“That was a great game with a great atmosphere, and I was so grateful I got to play in it,” Olsem, one of the Eagles’ captains, said of the game against Rio Americano. “We have high hopes for the rest of the season. We’re just trying to get El Camino on the map!”
Other El Camino captains include guards Sawyer Concklin, Antony Escobar and Ben Khatirine.
Bowing out – Liberty Ranch football coach Warren Schroeder has resigned to spend more time with son Timothy, whose fight against cancer inspired the Hawks to reach their first section championship game last season. The team’s motto: “Timothy Strong.”
Juggling staff – With his co-coach, Troy Taylor, leaving for Eastern Washington, Folsom coach Kris Richardson said the play-calling duties will go to longtime assistant coaches Bobby Fresques and Chris Parry. Folsom went 58-3 the past four seasons with four section titles and a CIF State Bowl win in 2014.
“The big thing for us is having someone to coach the quarterbacks,” Richardson said. “I can tell a quarterback where to throw the ball, and I can coach the linemen, but it’s teaching the techniques and understanding the reads that Bobby and Chris will do. We’re still full steam ahead.”
The Bee’s Top 20
With records through Saturday and last ranking:
6. Granite Bay
8. Liberty Ranch
10. Capital Christian
13. El Camino
15. Elk Grove
17. Bella Vista
19. West Campus
2. Oak Ridge
5. Christian Bros.
6. St. Francis
8. Pleasant Grove
9. West Campus
11. Elk Grove
13. Rio Linda
16. River Valley
17. Cosumnes Oaks
18. Capital Christian