Justin Kraft caught big passes in big games and frequently dived into the end zone in front of a sea of student-body humanity the last two seasons.
He’s a two-sport performer for Whitney High School, a shining example of why it’s OK – good, actually – to play in as many sports as possible while you can. On Wednesday at Pacific, Kraft played a role in Whitney’s basketball team beating Del Oro for the first time in program history, doing so in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinal. The junior called that the greatest night of his sporting life, then updated it.
On Friday night, Whitney made more history, beating Beyer of Modesto 60-38 to win the program’s first such championship. Whitney opened in 2003 in Rocklin and became a sports power in short order. The overall culture on campus is thriving – academics, athletics, the band, the nationally recognized media department.
“Now this is the best high school moment of my life,” Kraft said, surrounded by giddy teammates after the team photo.
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Kraft is not a star in hightops like he is in cleats, where he maneuvered around defenders or raced past them to catch 126 passes for 2,046 yards and 26 touchdowns in two seasons. But this is what makes the Wildcats such a cohesive basketball bunch. There is one recognized star – senior guard Jashon Lewis – and a cast of reliable cogs that embrace their roles. Kraft is one of those guys, a steady starting guard who can dribble, pass, shoot and defend – and appreciate the full sporting experience.
More multisporting – Jared Rice was a star running back for Central Catholic of Modesto last fall, rushing for 1,449 yards and 16 touchdowns, and he’s elusive and explosive in hoops, too.
A senior guard, Rice scored 21 of his 29 points in the second half and overtime Friday to key an 89-79 win over West Campus for the D-IV banner, saying later that he couldn’t imagine playing only one sport.
For Capital Christian, forward Austin Alexander caught seven touchdowns for the section D-V champions and averages 13.7 points on the basketball court this season.
Venue switch – The boys D-I and II section finals were not held at Sleep Train Arena for the first time since 1985, and this was the first time other divisions were not held at that building since 1998. Sleep Train no longer hosts hoops, and Golden 1 Center had a scheduling conflict this week, but the general review of Pacific was favorable. Players, coaches, administrators, fans and bands all enjoyed and endorsed the 6,150-seat facility.
NorCal time – All section semifinalists and finalists advance to the CIF Northern California tournament that starts Wednesday at home sites. The brackets will be released by the CIF office on Sunday afternoon.
Sheldon and Woodcreek – top ranked in Northern California much of the boys season by MaxPreps – will be placed in the prestigious Open Division. Those teams face off Saturday night at Pacific for the D-I title. Open criteria include recent championship success and current-season state rankings. No area girls teams are expected to be picked for the Open, though McClatchy and Oak Ridge should draw high D-I seeds, as should Sacramento in D-II.