There are lasting benefits to winning a state championship: a bit of fame, bragging rights and memories.
McClatchy’s girls basketball team made history last spring by becoming the first girls team in the Sacramento City Unified School District to win a CIF state championship. The Lions were feted with a parade through Land Park, a trek to City Hall and a campus visit by Sacramento Rep. Doris Matsui.
Now, almost a year later, still basking in the lingering glow of success, The Bee’s top-ranked team doesn’t feel burdened by expectations and is embracing the challenge of repeating as a state champion. Though McClatchy has a dramatically different roster, the Lions are 10-3, unbeaten against Sac-Joaquin Section competition and preparing for a Martin Luther King Showcase in Stockton against some of the best teams in the state.
Hardly a week goes by without a McClatchy player being asked about the 65-61 victory over Serra of Gardena in the CIF State Division I title game at Cal.
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We hear it all the time, in town, even at school, ‘Remember, we’re still the state champs.’ When we go out of town for a tournament, we hear, ‘Oh, that’s the team from Sacramento that won the state championship.’ It’s neat to hear.
Kelsey Wong, McClatchy High School senior guard
“We hear it all the time, in town, even at school, ‘Remember, we’re still the state champs,’ ” Lions senior guard Kelsey Wong said. “When we go out of town for a tournament, we hear, ‘Oh, that’s the team from Sacramento that won the state championship.’ It’s neat to hear.”
Kristi Wong, Kelsey’s twin sister and backcourt running mate, said she’s inclined list to McClatchy’s feat on her résumé. In a competitive world, she figures, why not?
“I might do that, a good thing to do,” she said. “Just a little add-on.”
McClatchy’s résumé is a work in progress, too. Last year’s star, forward Gigi Garcia, The Bee’s Player of the Year who is headed to Washington on scholarship, can only watch and cheer after tearing her ACL during a summer-league game. Destiny Lee, Garcia’s partner in the paint last season, is playing at UNLV, and guard Lauren Nubla is playing at Cal State Fullerton.
The Wong twins are back, which may not seem impressive with a quick look at the roster. But the 5-foot-1 guards play with relentless energy, pressuring the ball on defense and attacking the basket off turnovers, and they’ve replaced Garcia, Lee and Nubla as the team’s heart and soul.
Other top players are returning junior wing Jordan Cruz and junior guard Sara Shimizu and newcomers Kamryn Hall and Nia Lowery, 5-11 freshmen who can handle the ball, shoot and post up.
One thing has carried over from last season. McClatchy coach Jessica Kunisaki said her team of friendly faces can transform in a hurry.
“They’re the nicest girls, well liked in school, the teachers love them, then they go compete and it all changes,” said Kunisaki, a former player and assistant coach with the Lions. “They get so intense and turn to a different level.”
The Wong twins always have been competitive.
“I’m seven minutes older, though Kristi was supposed to be born first,” Kelsey said. “I guess I got competitive. I pushed her out of the way.
“One thing about us, we just love basketball. We played other sports growing up – soccer, softball, karate – but basketball was the one we were the most passionate about. We’ve played this game since we could walk, and it’s been really nice to have someone so close to enjoy the journey with. Having her, someone to play with, to compete against your whole life, it’s shaped us.”
They are terrific students, too, both taking Advanced Placement courses.
“You study, study, study, and your brain needs a break, which is where basketball comes in,” Kelsey said.
Said Kristi: “There was a moment in middle school where I wanted to stop basketball. I’m glad I didn’t. People ask us, ‘Who’s better?’ We’re different, but similar, and we balance each other out. We like to guard each other in practice, too. We give each other advice and not smack talk.”
It’s still really surreal to think what we did, winning state. Last year, we weren’t even thinking we’d be at the state championship. It wasn’t on the agenda. Now we definitely want to get back there.
Kelsey Wong, McClatchy High School senior guard
The team’s temperament is set in practice, the players said.
“It all starts in practice,” Kristi said. “We’re a lot shorter than other teams. We have to really play hard, pressure the ball, force turnovers.”
McClatchy will get its defense tested Saturday and Monday in the MLK Classic in Stockton. On Saturday, the Lions cap the event’s first day against Oaks Christian of Westlake Village, and they conclude Monday’s schedule against Sacred Heart of San Francisco.
Playing in the featured game both nights is another example of a championship afterglow.
“It’s still really surreal to think what we did, winning state,” Kelsey Wong said. “Last year, we weren’t even thinking we’d be at the state championship. It wasn’t on the agenda. Now we definitely want to get back there.”