This team had every reason to stall this season of promise.
The Elk Grove High School girls basketball program entered the campaign still reeling from the loss of its beloved coach, Larry Price, who died shortly after last season from heart failure at 61.
New Thundering Herd coach Trisha Campbell took over and saw a fast start to the season jolted by the loss of three key players due to ACL injuries — Leticia Perez, Keyara McCoy and Amayia Evans.
Campbell, also in her first year teaching English at Elk Grove, was joined by Thundering Herd point guard Rylie Hardin in a show of support before each player underwent knee surgery.
“It just takes an emotional toll on your team, including me,” Campbell said of the player losses. “But people have stepped up. These girls have been through a lot and yet are still showing heart and strength through it all. I am extremely proud.”
The good vibes continue. Fifth-seeded Elk Grove on Thursday night in Loomis eliminated No. 4 Del Oro 63-47 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II quarterfinal as Maya Chelini scored 16 points, Hardin 13, Amani Britton 11 and Mele Finau 10.
And now the next challenge: Elk Grove (20-7) visits top-seeded Antelope (28-2) on Tuesday in a semifinal, eager to reach a section final for the first time.
Elk Grove players can turn to their coach for guidance in dealing with big games. Campbell coached her alma mater, Dublin High, to the 2014-15 North Coast Section championship, the first in 20 years for the program. Dublin then beat, of all teams, Del Oro 59-54 in a CIF Northern California Division II opener, eventually reaching the final.
Those within the Bradshaw Christian girls basketball circle were boggled as to why it gained a No. 8 seed in Division III.
So the Pride decided to do something about it: Win.
After eliminating No. 9 Livingston 71-46 in an opener, Bradshaw Christian on Thursday stunned top-seeded Vanden 61-53 to earn a date with another storied program in the semifinals: Nevada Union.
Bradshaw Christian (16-13) was led by Anaya Mejia’s 17 points, 13 each from Jasalyn Brown and Cookie Marques and 12 from Jordan Patterson-Reid. The Pride have won seven section titles in lower divisions under coach Mike Ruble and are in the D-III field for the first time.
Monterey Trail has fielded good basketball teams before, including league-championship clubs in 2012 and 2014. And then this season happens.
A fourth-place showing in the Metro League — behind McClatchy, Laguna Creek and Grant — granted the Mustangs with a No. 13 seed in the D-I field. Not many flinched. There is a lot of flinching now.
Monterey Trail (17-10) has stunned the field, first with an opening-round double-overtime victory over No. 4 Folsom (62-60) and then with a 63-58 win over Davis, which bounced fifth-seeded Oak Ridge. Senior guard Chardonay Jones had 21 points and two late free throws to seal it.
Now coach David Whitsett prepares for top-seeded Bear Creek of Stockton on Tuesday in a semifinal.
Grace Bliss has been the heart and soul of the Colfax girls program, and the 5-foot-10 junior guard leads the storied Falcons in scoring at 20.5 points a game for the top-seeded D-IV team that is rolling at 26-3.
She now has 1,504 points over three varsity seasons. Mike Ray of the Colfax Record and Gold Country News Service said Colfax’s all-time career scorer is Kellie Kuelper, who had 2,073 points from 1990-93 (to go with 106 wins). Sue Mead had 1,859 points from 1982-84 to go with two CIF State D-III titles.
Those two stars were front-court players. Bliss, with a year to go, is in great company, to be sure.
Bernada Rreshpja, the area’s leading scorer, was up to her old tricks Thursday in leading Valley Christian Academy of Roseville past Stockton Christian 62-45 in a Division VI contest.
The senior guard, who averages 26.5 points, went for 44 to go with seven rebounds, five steals, five assists and two blocked shots.
Said Ben Bodding, a Bee reporter in the 1970s, “She is the real deal. She can shoot 3s and is tough to stop inside. She can bring the ball up court, passes behind her back, takes the ball around her waist on the way to layups.
“She’s a nice young lady and highly respected by classmates. Definitely All-Metro!”
Once a reporter, always a reporter.
For complete girls and boys basketball playoff scores and brackets: cifsjs.org