Steve White finally agreed with the criticism, to a point, and he’s lived happily ever after.
Or pretty close.
For years, the veteran Oak Ridge High School girls basketball coach would hear from a parent or two about a perceived preference for certain players.
“I used to get offended when a parent would say, ‘You’re playing favorites!’ ” White said shortly after Oak Ridge beat Enochs 63-43 on Tuesday in El Dorado Hills in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I first-round playoff game. “Finally, I said, ‘You’re right!’ I play those who work the hardest, who earn the time. I always tell my leaders, my star players, I need to be harder on you than everyone else.
“And anyone can be a favorite if they work hard for you, for the team. Give me the things I can’t coach. I can’t coach effort, intensity, aggressiveness. Give me those things, and we as a staff will teach you the X’s and O’s, the fundamentals, and then we’ll have something.”
With those principles, and a lot of intensity and aggressiveness, Oak Ridge has had remarkable success.
With White as coach since the mid-1990s, the Trojans have won 43 section playoff games and championships in 2003, 2009 and 2010. Their 2010 CIF State Division I title team is perhaps the area’s all-time best. Oak Ridge also has advanced to the Northern California Regional playoffs the past seven seasons and reached the championship last season at Sleep Train Arena.
The Trojans lost that game to McClatchy, which won the CIF State Division I title. The teams meet again Thursday at Oak Ridge in one of the most anticipated second-round girls games in region history because McClatchy was given a surprisingly low seventh seed despite avenging its lone section loss to Metropolitan Conference rival Sacramento. Oak Ridge is the No. 2 seed behind St. Mary’s of Stockton.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to play McClatchy so early, but it is what it is, and we can only play who’s in front of us,” White said. “We know we have to come out and play an A game to beat McClatchy.”
The Trojans (26-1) have a 24-game winning streak. Their only loss was to Clovis West 65-49 in the Nike Central Valley Showdown on Dec. 5. Clovis West (26-3) is a longtime Central Section power.
The Trojans are led by Briana Dulgar, a 5-foot-8 senior guard, but they use up to 13 players. The other starters are Brittany Belanger, Kassidy DeLapp, Skye Lamy and Hailey McCoy, with key reserves Maria Dutton and Laura Soper playing a lot of minutes.
The tempo starts with Dulgar.
“She’s our heart and soul,” White said. “She’s our communicator, our leader, a defensive stopper, the point guard. She does everything. She’s a third-year varsity player, and it shows. It shows in her work ethic, her presence on and off the court, in the locker room, pregame, in practice.”
White earned his 500th coaching victory earlier this season and was moved by the outpouring of support – texts, emails and calls – from past and current players, the latter giving him a cake and balloons to celebrate.
“I’ve had great groups before, and this group is an utter joy to coach,” White said. “We just hope to keep it going.”
Et cetera – Bella Vista reported to the section office Wednesday that it unknowingly used an ineligible player in its 57-32 girls D-II first-round playoff win over Pitman of Turlock on Tuesday. Because the player just became ineligible, the No. 6-seeded Broncos will not have to forfeit any other games. Pitman, seeded 11th, was declared the winner and will play at No. 3 Elk Grove on Thursday.
▪ Angelina Contreras scored a career-high 36 points to lead two-time defending D-VI champion Valley Christian Academy of Roseville past Victory Christian 52-46 in a girls first-round game. Contreras is a junior three-point specialist and the daughter of coach Kim Contreras, who notched her 190th coaching victory. The fourth-seeded Lions (14-10) play Thursday at top-seeded Sacramento Waldorf (19-5), which is led by senior center Lillian Olson (30.2 points, 18.2 rebounds).