Joe Davidson

Barely able to field a team, they made the finals. Forest Lake Christian perseveres

On Saturday at Pacific, Forest Lake Christian saw its 18-game winning streak halted by Ripon Christian, which pulled away in the fourth quarter to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI championship 52-46.
On Saturday at Pacific, Forest Lake Christian saw its 18-game winning streak halted by Ripon Christian, which pulled away in the fourth quarter to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI championship 52-46. jdavidson@sacbee.com

Getting here was a feat in itself.

Last fall, Forest Lake Christian High School wasn't even sure it would have enough bodies to field a girls basketball program. And who would coach?

Finally, Valerie Horner volunteered to lead her alma mater, located in Auburn, and senior players agreed to scour the 177-person campus for able-bodied sorts willing to rebound and run the floor.

On Friday at Pacific, the effort was there if the desired results were not, and Forest Lake Christian saw its 18-game winning streak halted by Ripon Christian, which pulled away in the fourth quarter to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI championship 52-46.

It was the 12th championship for the Knights and first in D-VI.

Forest Lake was in its first title game since 2006. The Falcons won three straight championships from 2003-05.

"This team has brought me to tears multiple times, for good reasons," Horner said. "We didn't know if we'd have a team. We were literally praying we'd have a team, and we got one. I'm so proud of them."

Forest Lake Christian (20-6) still qualifies for the CIF Northern California tournament that starts next week, and it expects to be a difficult opponent with Johnna Dreschler in the mix. The senior forward had 14 points and 12 rebounds, and teammates Breezy Adams and Ellie Wood had 16 and 11 points, respectively.

Ripon Christian (17-12) was led in scoring by Rilee Clark with 11 points and Kelly Engel and Ariel Van Elderen had 10 each.

Dreschler led the section in rebounding with 17.4 a game. Other key Forest Lake players include Amber Jackson and Bella Horner, daughter of the coach.

"Johnna is a phenomenal player and always gives 150 percent," coach Horner said. "I've never seen her have an off game. All the girls play so hard. That's all you can ask for."

Horner was in good spirits, though missed free throws and layups made her groan. Her assistant coaches are Tom Ritchart and Marty Pearce, veterans of the program. They decided it would be wise to stay at a local hotel on Thursday night, good for team bonding and on traffic stress, given the inclement weather in the foothills.

"We didn't want to miss the game because of snow!" Horner said with a laugh. "It's all about memories. We made some."

Horner said her father and longtime coach Lou Castantini was in the stands. He's a pastor who can get loud in any arena, bursting of family pride.

"We're Italians," Horner said. "We yell!"

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