Joe Davidson

Tight-knit Colfax girls win section-championship thriller, while boys come up short

Colfax High School celebrates the 10th Sac-Joaquin Section championship in program history and the first in Division V with a 43-38 overtime win over defending champion Argonaut.
Colfax High School celebrates the 10th Sac-Joaquin Section championship in program history and the first in Division V with a 43-38 overtime win over defending champion Argonaut.

The 1983 ZZ Top classic "Sharp Dressed Man" blared throughout Spanos Center Saturday afternoon, and how fitting.

The best-dressed fellow in the venue was Rich Simpton, the fifth-year Colfax High School girls basketball coach who was decked in a black suit with school-color green in his socks and tie.

He also fancies himself as an old rocker. Simpton's gritty group of Falcons also wore the expression of winners, embracing Sac-Joaquin Section championship hats and patches – and each other – after surviving a slugfest of a Division V title bout against defending champion Argonaut. Colfax played strong defense in the final three periods of play and showed remarkable poise with so many young players in the mix, prevailing 43-38 in overtime in what could well be a sign of things to come.

The Falcons (25-4) won their first banner since 2004 and the 10th in program history. The first two came in 1983 and '84, which Colfax parlayed into the region's first CIF State championships.

And more tradition: Colfax has won 80 section playoff games, among the most in section history.

Colfax and Argonaut will advance to the CIF Northern California tournament that starts next week, the Falcons as a higher seed.

"Love the old stuff," Simpton said of his musical taste. "Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith. But the girls never let me listen to it."

The sound they all embrace is team harmony, big on defense. The Falcons allowed Argonaut to score five, four and three points in the third, fourth and overtime periods.

Colfax is anchored by three three-year varsity seniors Annaliese Ballowe, Caleigh McClenahan and Kendall Rice. Ballowe had 11 points and five rebounds, Rice had five rebounds and McClenahan powered inside for 10 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots.

Freshman point guard Natalie Lundberg and sophomore guard Grace Bliss make the Falcons hum on offense.

Lundberg expertly handled the ball and had four points and five assists, and Bliss contributed six points and six rebounds despite foul trouble. The other starter is freshman guard Aliya McCord, who had five points. Freshman reserve guard Jazzy Owens had six points and five rebounds.

"Jazz was huge, and Natalie and Grace are always huge," Simpton said. "They all are." McClenahan said the Falcons are inspired by the program's tradition, saying, "I think these girls will keep it going. We're such a family."

Simpton thought it a wise family move to stay at a hotel in Stockton on Friday night, given the snow concerns in Colfax. It also made for more team bonding as Colfax has been a road warrior outfit this season with trips to Santa Rosa, San Andreas, Yosemite and more. "It's not as much basketball as the camaraderie," the coach said. "That's what these girls will remember. The memories will last forever."

Argonaut players are sure to remember Saturday, too. It was the first time the Mustangs played a game without their beloved coach Mark Giannini since he took over in 2000. An inspiration in recent years as he was wheelchair-bound due to multiple sclerosis, Giannini died Thursday.

There was a moment of silence before Saturday's tip. Lauryn Davis led Argonaut with 16 points, and Macie Arevalo had 13 rebounds.

Argonaut boys 74, Colfax 57 – In D-V, Adison Cramer scored 21 points and Aris O'Neal and Jared Votaw 14 each to power the top-seeded Mustangs to their first championship in pulling away from the No. 2 Falcons, who have won four banners since 2004, all in D-IV. Garren O'Keefe, one of the section's top three-sport athletes, had 22 points and 10 rebounds for Colfax, coached by his father, Terry O'Keefe, a Falcons star in the 1980s.

O'Keefe was awarded the game's sportsmanship award. Nate Sawi had 14 for Colfax, which, like Argonaut, will advance to the NorCal regionals.

Votaw was presented the sportsmanship award for Argonaut.