Joe Davidson

Capital Christian girls repeat as Division V basketball champs

Capital Christian's Michaela Mahnke (12), Ashtyn Butler (24) and other teammates enjoy the moment following the victory in the Sac-Joaquin Section Girls Division V final playoff game between the Capital Christian Cougars and the Argonaut Mustangs at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, March 4, 2016.
Capital Christian's Michaela Mahnke (12), Ashtyn Butler (24) and other teammates enjoy the moment following the victory in the Sac-Joaquin Section Girls Division V final playoff game between the Capital Christian Cougars and the Argonaut Mustangs at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, March 4, 2016. jvillegas@sacbee.com

They didn’t have a Senior Night this season at Capital Christian High School, an annual ritual to bid a fond farewell to student-athletes bearing down on graduation.

This wasn’t an oversight. The Cougars girls basketball team has no seniors, a rarity for any prep program, especially of the powerhouse variety.

But Capital Christian players acknowledged senior citizens in attendance on the final night of the regular season, handing them flowers, hugging them and thanking them for their support.

On Friday night at a spacious NBA venue known to devour nervous kids whole, the young Cougars performed like poised veterans. They shared the ball, defended and used their bench to overwhelm Argonaut 58-36 to repeat as Sac-Joaquin Section Division V champions at Sleep Train Arena.

It’s the craziest thing not to have seniors. We’ve come a long way as a program. Our ultimate goal is to get here. It’s an honor to be here. It used to be, ‘Let’s just hope we get into the playoffs!’

Capital Christian girls coach Suzanne Baker

The band was on hand – students, faculty and alums, too. This was a campus celebration. And there may be more in coming seasons with such a young roster.

“It’s the craziest thing not to have seniors,” said Suzanne Baker, in her 15th season as the Capital Christian coach. “We’ve come a long way as a program. Our ultimate goal is to get here. It’s an honor to be here. It used to be, ‘Let’s just hope we get into the playoffs!’ 

Now it’s the norm. The Cougars (22-7) lost their first two title games, and Baker stood tall as the program leader then. She reminded players who wiped away tears that life isn’t about winning championships. It’s about the pursuit, and bouncing back, and appreciating all of it. Now the discussion is appreciating victory and winning with dignity.

All this for a school that 20 years ago played on a carpeted floor and could not fathom this.

Destiny Walker, a sophomore forward, had game highs of 21 points and 11 rebounds. The point total represented a season high. Mariah Deguara had 11 points, Elena Hall 10, Michaela Mahnke seven and Cierra McClain six for Capital Christian.

Walker’s calm reflected that of her team and coach throughout. The Cougars made 6 of 11 shots in the first quarter, not at all bugged by the depth perception that foils so many teams.

“Coach Baker always tells us to relax, to treat it like any other game,” Walker said.

Only this wasn’t any other game. It was the game.

Rio Linda 64, Christian Brothers 51 at Sleep Train Arena – Brandy Huffhines scored 17 points and was superb in handling the ball and leading the club to propel the Knights past the top-seeded Falcons in the D-III championship game.

It was Rio Linda’s first championship in six section finals, including last season, and it was a special moment for coach Jerry Huffhines, who didn’t expect to coach more than a season when he took over 16 years ago.

He’s the father of Brandy Huffhines, a junior point guard, and their postgame hug was years in the making. Ke Ari Morrison had 10 points and 12 rebounds for Rio Linda, and Alexis Zimmerman and Dejanet Porter had 10 each.

Sacramento Waldorf 59, Turlock Christian 51 at Galt – Lillian Olson scored 35 points and had an all-levels section championship game-record 27 rebounds to power the Waves to the D-VI title, the program’s first since taking D-V honors in 1999. Olson’s point total was a D-VI championship game record as Waldorf (21-5) won its 15th consecutive game. A 6-2 senior center, Olson averaged 30.5 points and 18.7 rebounds entering the game.

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