Joe Davidson

Why the Union Mine girls basketball team is 18-1 without doing ‘anything super fancy’

Union Mine’s Ali McDonald, center, goes for a layup against Sheldon’s Melissa Gilmore, left, and Alina Higgins during last month’s Jan Vitel Tournament. McDonald is the top scorer for the 18-1 Diamondbacks.
Union Mine’s Ali McDonald, center, goes for a layup against Sheldon’s Melissa Gilmore, left, and Alina Higgins during last month’s Jan Vitel Tournament. McDonald is the top scorer for the 18-1 Diamondbacks. Mountain Democrat (Placerville)

This is a throwback sort of team, coached by an old-school guy who values sharing the ball, defense, cohesion and small-town living.

The Union Mine High School girls basketball program is off to an area-best 18-1 start this winter with no end in sight.

Though the Diamondbacks of El Dorado may not compete in as rigorous of a schedule as perennial ranked powerhouses, it cannot be disputed how good this bunch is. They have size, skill, depth and desire.

Ranked No. 9 by The Bee, Union Mine is the only area team to beat Colfax. The Diamondbacks’ loss was in the season opener, 77-74 to Rocklin of the stacked Sierra Foothill League.

The formula to success? Simplicity.

“Each practice, the bulk of what we work on are fundamentals and defense,” third-year UM coach Scott Gilliland said. “We don’t do anything super fancy. We just do a lot of simple things well.”

Union Mine opened in 1999, and the girls program endured 15 losing seasons. The first winner was in 2013 at 20-8, then 15-12 in 2015 and 20-8 last season, when the Diamondbacks reached the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinals.

Seven seniors returned as program anchors, Gilliland said, adding, “When we met as a team before the summer, a goal was to go farther than last season, and that’s what’s driving us.

“We have great chemistry. Coaching can be a huge grind but we enjoy each other and enjoy practice. We have versatility. We’re old school in that we have a post player, a center, and we try to play inside-out, and we have a shooting guard, a point guard, a small forward, power forward. Old school.”

Madi Ball is the point guard, Jaryn Trulli plays shooting guard, Maisey Bruno is the small forward and Lindsey Whited plays power forward. All are senior captains.

The center is Carley Zaragoza, a junior. The sixth man goes against Gilliland’s line of position-player thinking. Alli McDonald is a 6-foot-1 sophomore do-all player: guard, forward, post.

“She can play any position, can bring the ball up, rebound – just amazing,” Gilliland said.

McDonald leads the Diamondbacks in scoring with 15.4 points, and she averages 7.5 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocked shots. Zaragoza averages 12.8 points and 8.2 rebounds.

The seniors grew up together in the area, “and that’s where the chemistry started,” Gilliland said.

Gilliland can appreciate growing up in a town where kids dream of winning championships. He was a forward for the 1992 South Tahoe High team that won a Nevada state championship. Gilliland learned the game from esteemed South Tahoe coach Tom Orlich.

A physical education teacher at Union Mine, Gilliland previously coached at Golden Sierra High in Garden Valley, some 18 miles away from El Dorado. His assistant coach is Haley Martinez, a math teacher at Union Mine.

“Small towns,” Gilliland said, “is that comfort zone. It feels very familiar.”

Metro madness – First place in the Metropolitan Conference and city bragging rights are on the line Wednesday, when No. 4 McClatchy hosts No. 2 Sacramento in what has been the region’s most intense rivalry in recent years.

The teams tied for Metro honors in each of the past two seasons, with McClatchy winning it in 2015 en route to the CIF State Division I championship. Sacramento has won five section titles since 2007.

The Dragons have no local losses in playing another national schedule. McClatchy has local losses to No. 1 Folsom and No. 3 West Campus but won the Gold Division of the West Coast Jamboree and also has a victory over state-ranked Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth.

Sacramento is led by guards/wings Andriana Avent, Rebekah Brown, Serina McMillan and RyAnne Walters. McClatchy is paced by versatile floor leaders Kamryn Hall, Nia Lowery and Richelle Turney.

Boys basketball

Sheldon rises – Sheldon jumps two spots to No. 1 in The Bee’s boys rankings after blowing out previous No. 1 Capital Christian 76-57 on Saturday in the Adidas Challenge held at the school.

Kaito Williams scored 17 and Dale Currie 15 for the Huskies, who have won eight consecutive games and avenged their lone area loss.

No. 2 Capital Christian also defeated preseason No. 1 Folsom, now ranked third.

CAL showdown – Christian Brothers lost its top player, Elias King, via transfer to rival Jesuit, but the Falcons have not lost their way.

The Falcons play Rio Americano on Wednesday in a battle of Capital Athletic League unbeatens.

Everett Perrot, a 6-6 forward/center, is averaging 15.3 points and 11.3 rebounds, and Andre Albason is scoring 13.3 a game for the Falcons.

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD


With last week’s ranking in parentheses.

Girls basketball

1. Folsom (1) 17-3

2. Sacramento (2) 11-8

3. West Campus (3) 11-7

4. McClatchy (4) 14-5

5. Cosumnes Oaks (5) 13-2

6. Foothill (6) 16-3

7. Antelope (7) 13-3

8. Oak Ridge (8) 10-10

9. Union Mine (-) 18-1

10. Colfax (9) 18-1

11. Whitney (13) 11-6

12. Christian Brothers (11) 12-6

13. St. Francis (12) 10-7

14. Roseville (10) 11-5

15. Del Oro (14) 13-6

16. Woodcreek (15) 14-5

17. Davis (16) 9-9

18. Franklin (17) 10-4

19. Rocklin (18) 11-7

20. Placer (-) 12-7

Dropped out: No. 19 Granite Bay, No. 20 Valley

Boys basketball

1. Sheldon (3) 15-3

2. Capital Christian (1) 13-6

3. Folsom (2) 17-3

4. Jesuit (4) 15-3

5. Liberty Ranch (5) 18-2

6. Oak Ridge (10) 13-7

7. Del Oro (6) 14-5

8. Sacramento (7) 15-3

9. Grant (8) 14-5

10. Woodcreek (9) 13-7

11. Antelope (11) 15-3

12. Whitney (12) 14-4

13. Burbank (13) 14-5

14. Davis (15) 12-7

15. Franklin (16) 11-6

16. Roseville (17) 13-5

17. Del Campo (18) 13-5

18. Granite Bay (14) 10-8

19. Colfax (-) 14-6

20. West Campus (20) 13-5

Dropped out: No. 19 Lincoln