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All-Empire Large-School Girls Basketball: Casa's Harrigan is Player of the Year

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The great Casa Grande girls’ basketball team featured skilled scorers and determined defenders, none better than forward Gretchen Harrigan.

Leading the Gauchos to the state playoffs, Harrigan enjoyed a stellar senior season after sitting out her junior campaign, earning Empire Large School Basketball Player of the Year.

“All of it was amazing. I think a lot of people will remember this season and not just us,” Harrigan said. “It was a journey I was glad to be a part of.”

Playing smarter off the ball helped Harrigan develop into an all-state player. Harrigan, bound for Chico State, was named to the ESPN California Division 2 Third Team.

Polished on both ends of the court, Harrigan could help Chico State as a freshman.

“Gretchen is a super competitor that runs the floor well and will bring toughness to our team,” said Chico State coach Brian Fogel.

A post player in high school, Harrigan expects to play more as a wing in college. Harrigan is working on sharpening her shot and improving her conditioning this summer to prepare for the college game.

“It just takes dedication,” she said.

A year ago, Harrigan was determined to make the most of her final high school season. “I knew I had a whole lot to make up for,” she said. “I realized how my actions affected everyone around me.”

After not playing an entire prep campaign due to a school suspension, Harrigan appreciated the opportunity to again wear the Casa Grande green and gold. While she stayed sharp with summer teams, Harrigan missed playing with the Gauchos girls. Many of the teammates had been on the same squads since sixth grade.

“That was a little rough. That was one of the hardest times of my life,” she said.

Playing on two AAU teams and more focused in workouts off the court last summer, she was even more of a handful to guard, tougher on defense, and a relentless rebounder with the Gauchos.

Casa Grande had been building a dominant team over several years. Having their anchor back helped make the Gauchos the Empire’s top team.

“Gretchen is an inside force for us. She’s very tenacious,” said Casa Grande coach Dan Sack. “I watched her set the standard this season on how to be a scoring leader.”

With only one loss in preseason play — to an undefeated team — and perfect in Sonoma County League action, Casa Grande played with balance and poise.

Harrigan’s effort reflected the Gauchos strengths. “Defend well and score as much as possible, I needed to be someone my coach could rely on to get whatever needed to be done, done,” Harrigan said.

Then came the deep playoff push against a formidable field.

North Coast Section Division 2 was so difficult that Casa Grande was only seeded third. The Gauchos reached the finals after upsetting Dougherty Valley — a highlight on the season for Harrigan. “We went back and forth and held on with defense. That was a fun game,” she said.

Pushing perennial power Carondelet in the section title contest kept Casa Grande confident for the NorCal half of the state playoffs. The Gauchos split a pair to cap their great season, 31-3 overall and ranked 13th in California Division 2. “We all had to be on our “A” game every game.

That was a big part of our success,” Harrigan said. “We had the ability to close games.”

Seeing the game and finding her way in the flow of a contest were ways Harrigan became a more complete player this past season.

“The mental part of my game grew. It helped highlight the skills I already had,” she said.

Chico State coaches look for Harrigan to add more scoring and rebounding punch to the Wildcats frontcourt. “I don’t look at it as pressure,” she said. “I need to continue to do my personal best.”

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com.

2012 PRESS DEMOCRAT ALL-EMPIRE LARGE-SCHOOL GIRLS BASKETBALL TEAM

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Gretchen Harrigan, Casa Grande, senior

FIRST TEAM
Madison Sowards, Maria Carrillo, senior
Hannah Sourek, Santa Rosa, senior
Stephanie Sack, Casa Grande, senior
Kelley Benck, Analy, senior
Annie Studdert, Sonoma Valley, senior

SECOND TEAM
Aaliyah Sowards, Maria Carrillo, junior
Claire Donnelly, Montgomery, junior
Katie Daly, Santa Rosa, sophomore
Lyndsey Murnin, Casa Grande, junior
Elisa Vargas, Cardinal Newman, senior

THIRD TEAM
Cassidy Jourdan, Healdsburg, senior
Kerianne Noonan, Windsor, sophomore
Chantal Evett, Montgomery, junior
Taylor Graham, Maria Carrillo, senior
Shayna Levine, El Molino, senior

COACH OF THE YEAR
Dan Sack, Casa Grande