Joe Davidson

Back to back! West Campus girls make regional history with state title

West Campus coach John Langston celebrates with his team after the Warriors won their second consecutive state championship, defeating Sunny Hills in the CIF State Division III basketball final on Friday, March 23, 2018 at Golden 1 Center.
West Campus coach John Langston celebrates with his team after the Warriors won their second consecutive state championship, defeating Sunny Hills in the CIF State Division III basketball final on Friday, March 23, 2018 at Golden 1 Center. jvillegas@sacbee.com

The joyous expressions at the interview table turned to a collective groan when the topic of team conditioning came up.

Every member of the West Campus High School girls basketball team put their heads into their hands. Please, they seemed to suggest, don't mention running.

But conditioning is what set the Warriors apart, and their familiarity with Golden 1 Center made Friday afternoon's CIF State Division III championship a relative breeze. Bombing away from 3-point range, moving the ball at a crisp rate and defending from start to finish with fresh legs, West Campus of the Sacramento City Unified School District barged into the regional history books with its 75-47 domination of Sunny Hills of Fullerton.

The Warriors repeated as state champs, winning in D-IV last season at this NBA venue, and they never flinched on the big stage where so many are undone by nerves in such a spacious setting. West Campus (29-7) made 8 of 15 3s in the first half in storming to a 47-27 lead on its way to its 22nd consecutive victory.

The Warriors became the region's third team to win back-to-back state titles, joining the Colfax teams that won in 1983 and '84 in D-III and the Grant squads led by Tesia and Tina Green in 1987 and '88 in D-II.

About that conditioning?

It comes under the watchful eye of longtime coach John Langston, a towering figure who said he treats each player like a daughter, with equal parts discipline and adoration. He turns his team over to area track specialist Hardy Slay, who runs them ragged so they are in better shape than opponents come March.

"These girls are so committed every summer," Langston said. "It can be 100 degrees, 90, 110, and they're running. Running has been imperative to their success. (Slay) ran them three days a week and said it was about finishing, the fourth quarter, to finish strong, and that's what these girls have done."

If this were indeed a relay team, the Warriors trot out quite a group of cruisers, headed by steady sophomore point guard Gabby Rones; senior leading scorer Nia Johnson, a guard headed to Cal State Bakersfield; and UCLA-bound do-all guard Kiara Jefferson. Each is a terrific student to match their athletic prowess.

Johnson had 23 points and powered inside for 12 rebounds. Jefferson slithered and sprinted down the lane and also made four 3-pointers in scoring 21 points, and Rones had 14 points. Rashida Myers had nine and Alexis Terrell six as the Warriors outrebounded Sunny Hills 42-29 and delivered 20 assists on 29 field goals.

"All the running was part of the process, and it paid off," Jefferson said.

Sunny Hills coach Jae Byun said West Campus looked like it belonged on this stage, as his group allowed a season-high point total.

"They were the much better team," he said. "You could tell that they've played here and were comfortable. They hit those shots and it was 'Geeze Louise!' We tried everything on them – man, different zones."

Langston said he'll allow his team a week off, then laughed in knowing that it's spring break and his players may suddenly not see those texts. Langston knew he had a powerhouse this season and he scheduled accordingly.

The Warriors lost to state and regional powerhouses early and learned from it.

"One day the girls said, 'You told us to box out and we tried to push them but they didn't move!' " Langston said of a halftime chat against a bigger and better team earlier this season. "Well, push harder. That's what we learned. You can move mountains if you believe."

Langston said the rigorous academic requirements at West Campus also prepared his team.

"These are great kids, great students, and they fight until 1 a.m. to get their homework done, and then I push them in practice, and then their teachers push them even more the next day," Langston said. "They can do anything."

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