Hometown Report

Revisiting Sacramento area’s high school basketball state champions

Eagles Malik Thames drives up the floor as Vikings Jordan Mathews waits to check into the game in the third quarter of the CIF Div. l Championship game between Pleasant Grove and Santa Monica on March 22, 2013 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California.
Eagles Malik Thames drives up the floor as Vikings Jordan Mathews waits to check into the game in the third quarter of the CIF Div. l Championship game between Pleasant Grove and Santa Monica on March 22, 2013 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Great teams. Great talents. Great upsets.

Those themes have defined the CIF State Basketball Championships since its inception in 1981, and in the spirit of the Northern California Regional finals, we look at the area’s past title teams:

Alba’s angst – The region’s first state championships were delivered back-to-back by the Colfax girls in 1983 and ’84, under coach John Alba, whose game-induced anxiety forced him to resign.

After beating Marshall of Pasadena 63-52 in 1983 and Woodlake 65-43 in 1984 with the same roster that included stars Lydia Kranz and Sue Mead, a tearful Alba bowed out at age 31 at the urging of doctors. He suffered from stress seizures, his body folding up, his fingers and toes curled under, his face horribly distorted. Although he never watched Colfax play again, Alba tried coaching years later but the seizures returned, forcing him out again.

No Harms, no fouls – Losing in the 1985 Sac-Joaquin Section semifinals and gaining new life as an at-large NorCal entry, the Folsom boys never looked back. Coach Stan Harms told the Bulldogs this was “a team of destiny, and we’ll win.” And they did, beating Avenal 68-57 in Division III as center Mike Doyle dominated.

Green with envy – The Grant girls repeated as D-II champions in 1989 under coach Connie Zuercher, who, despite all her sideline bluster and stomping, admitted to adoring her players, and it was mutual. Senior twin guards Tesia and Tina Green led the Pacers in both title seasons. In 1988 title game, Grant beat Palos Verdes, which featured the world’s tallest female twins – 6-foot-4 pillars Heidi and Heather Burge – according to Guinness World Records.

What’s in a name? – The Placer girls took pride in their mascot and bristled when national No. 2 Brea Olinda snickered during warmups for the 1989 D-III state title game: “So, what exactly is a Hillgal?”

Parsh policy – Going against a certain Kevin Johnson every day in practice while the two competed for Sacramento High in 1983 prepared Dave Parsh for anything basketball wise. The real fun was leading St. Francis to the 1993 D-III girls title, beating Costa Mesa 50-43 with a lineup of scholars and athletic overachievers.

Answer? A motivated winner. Behind seniors Caree Anderson and Christa Gannon, Placer prevailed 54-43, snapping a 55-game winning streak for Brea Olinda. Hillgals coach Jim Mallery, a private investigator in Placer County, wore his lucky green jacket – not that he needed it..

Perfection plays out – In a 1994 showdown of unbeatens, El Camino capped the best season in the region’s history – boys or girls – by walloping state-ranked Woodbridge of Irvine 71-38 in the girls D-II state final to finish 36-0. Leading the charge for the Eagles were Emily Hart and Kristin Niemann. El Camino parents were so proud that they threatened to sprint through Arden Fair mall in school-color green skivvies. Common sense – and the prospect of community service – intervened.

Hibbs’ heroes – The region’s only boys program to win two state championships did so under the direction of one coach, Drew Hibbs. Nine years after winning the title, Foothill beat Harvard-Westlake 66-62 in the D-III final behind All-Metro guards Sam Kirby and Chris Walker. In 1994, Foothill snapped the 28-game winning streak of Pacifica of Garden Grove, 81-61, in D-III behind Alvin Houston, Rick Gonzalez and Mike Pelton.

Shocking victory – Playing relaxed yet still with a sense of urgency, the 2005 Oak Ridge boys beat Mater Dei in a 60-44 shocker in D-II. Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight, trying to improve his record CIF state title haul to 12 on Saturday against Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland, said the loss to Oak Ridge was his most humbling. Oak Ridge coach Steve Scott leaned on Ryan Anderson, now in the NBA, Andrew Browning and Ryan Moya.

Trojans uprising – Heavy underdogs in 2010 to the nationally ranked No. 2 Long Beach Poly girls, Oak Ridge prevailed 55-42, prompting longtime Cal-Hi Sports Editor Mark Tennis to deem it “the greatest upset in the history of girls basketball in this state.” Poly had seven D-I scholarship players and Oak Ridge one, Stanford-bound Sara James, who had 26 points to derail the Jackrabbits, who were seeking a record-breaking fifth consecutive state title. “We were magical,” Oak Ridge coach Steve White said then.

Eagles soar – They didn’t win the Delta River League, or the section, but the Pleasant Grove Eagles did capture the 2013 D-I boys state title, rolling Santa Monica 73-57 behind senior stars Matt Hayes, Cole Nordquist, Matt Smrekar and Malik Thames. Players group-hugged spent coach John DePonte, who said later, “special teams never quit.” Pleasant Grove is the section’s only boys team to win a D-I title.

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.

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