Santa Rosa girls exceeding expectations

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Santa Rosa girls’ basketball team has enjoyed a boisterous home-court advantage recently, whether it was the final game of the North Bay League tournament at SRJC’s Haehl Pavilion on Feb. 18, or at home in Friday’s victory over American in a North Coast Section quarterfinal game.

Hannah Sourek, right, and Santa Rosa teammate McKennan Bertsch practice Monday. Photo by Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat

Now the 23-7 Panthers must take their show on the road — to Clayton Valley, where they will be slight underdogs Wednesday for the first time in quite a while. Monday, the school was hurriedly looking into ways to shuttle students and fans to the game. There was talk of chartering a full-size bus.

“We’re in uncharted waters,” coach Steve Chisholm said.

Indeed, as the only large-school girls’ team in the Redwood Empire to advance to the semifinal round of the sectional playoffs, Santa Rosa has secured its first berth ever in the NorCal playoffs.

The Panthers have won 12 consecutive games and might have set a new standard for unselfish play.

“We’re all best friends,” junior center Hannah Sourek said. “We hang out every weekend, and at school. “I think it’s a big factor (on the court) to know each other so well.”

The Panthers figured they had a good team coming into this season, and that they’d get plenty of senior leadership from their three co-captains — do-everything guard Shawnee Phillips, forward McKennan Bertsch and point guard Rachel Brumfield. Stellar freshman guard Katie Daly has been a breath of fresh air in the system.

But Santa Rosa has exceeded expectations, earning a No.3 seed in NCS, and the biggest reason may be Sourek.

“At this point, if I had to pick an MVP, I’d probably pick Hannah,” Chisholm said. “Shawnee does what she does. She’s so consistent. She gets her 10, 12 points a game, and her four, five steals. McKennan is really steady.

“But Hannah has come up big in big games, and just the progress she has made since last year is tremendous.”

Sourek played varsity as a sophomore a year ago and garnered All-NBL honorable mention as an occasional starter. But it was based more on moments of excellence than sustained success. Chisholm called her “pretty erratic” on defense last year.

Seeing there might be a starting job available in the post with Cori Talafili having graduated, Sourek stepped up her game. She played AAU ball, summer league, fall league, and was a regular at Santa Rosa’s open gyms and conditioning program. Sourek came into 2010-11 in better shape, and with a sounder fundamental base.

“Yeah, I feel like I became a new player,” she said.

She has been an important cog for the Panthers all year, but seems to have bumped it up a notch in recent games. In the league tournament showdown with Montgomery and NCS games vs. Mt. Eden and American (all victories), Sourek has averaged 15 points and 10.7 rebounds, and has been very active on defense.

“I have not seen a post player get up and down the court so quick,” Chisholm said.

Santa Rosa faces a big challenge at Clayton Valley. The No. 2-seeded Eagles are 25-2 and, like the Panthers, went undefeated in their league (the Diablo Valley).

Santa Rosa is a very confident team, though.

Sourek and her friends see no reason they can’t add an NCS banner to their NorCal appearance.

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