Reflecting on Ursuline’s legacy

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It seemed like a big deal when McKenzie Mangino scored for Ursuline with 1:03 to play on Wednesday. The Bears were locked in a win-or-go-home fight with Cloverdale in a North Coast Section Division 4 playoff game, and Mangino’s basket put her team closer to victory.

McKenzie Mangino, left, shown during a game last month against Montgomery, scored the last basket in Ursuline history on Wednesday night. Photo by Crista Jeremiason / The Press DemocratBut Cloverdale pulled out a 60-59 win, sending the Bears away brokenhearted. That left Mangino with a larger distinction: She scored the final points ever for Ursuline basketball.
The passing of another sports season turns another page in the history of the 130-year-old school, which announced last November it would be shutting its doors at the end of this school year.
A season-ending loss is always hard to reconcile for an athlete. This one hit the Ursuline alumnae, too.

“It’s so crazy,” said Lorraine Etchell, Class of 2008. “To be the last game forever? I don’t know. It’s a feeling more like graduating as a senior: ‘It’s my last game, but I’ll always be a Bear.’”
And now? Will junior guard Elisa Vargas always be a Bear, or will she be a Cardinal, too?

It’s a confusing time to be a Catholic high schooler in Santa Rosa. Cardinal Newman has announced it will go coed and accept every eligible Ursuline student who applies for a transfer. The boys’ school has also given every indication that all the Ursuline sports teams will re-form under the Cardinal Newman banner.
Still, it was stunning news for most Ursuline graduates.

“I was shocked,” said Etchell, who currently plays basketball and studies interior architecture and design at Academy of Art in San Francisco.

“It was a shock,” echoed Shannon Mooney, Class of 1990.
“I’m sort of disconnected up here in Portland,” Mooney continued. “You kind of forget about high school after 20 years. I guess I was a little surprised about how I felt.”

There have been many advantages to an Ursuline education, and athletic prowess was always among them. The Bears have won two NCS championships in basketball (one by Mooney’s team in ’90), and have consistently contended for the North Bay League title.

“I think back to seventh, eighth grade, and it was ‘I’m going to watch the Ursuline basketball games.’ That’s where you went. That’s where you wanted to be,” said Monica Mertle, Class of 2003, who has been teaching at Ursuline as well as coaching hoops at Windsor and with the North Bay Elite club team. “As a kid, you don’t understand the gift of going to a private school. But looking back, I’m so grateful for it.”

Mooney, who transferred from Piner in her sophomore year, said she might not have remained at Ursuline were it not for basketball. Friends on the team talked her into staying when she doubted her decision early on.
Part of the reason the Ursuline closing has resonated so much with alumnae is the school’s strong sense of legacy. Mertle’s mother attended Ursuline. So did Etchell’s.

“It’s a sisterhood,” Mertle said. “We came from the same place.”
Despite all of the initial hand-wringing, most of the Ursuline grads have come to accept the proposed changes. Like the current crop of Bears, they already felt an affinity for Cardinal Newman.

“Coming in as a sophomore, I started out right away having a shared campus,” Mooney said. “It was one school to me.”
No one was happy about Ursuline’s decision to shut down. But given that reality, at least the girls will be able to simply walk across campus instead of shopping for a whole new high school experience.

“Newman saved the day,” Mertle said. “It will never be exactly the same, but that’s OK. It may be better. I don’t know.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.