By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
If you’re looking for an easy answer, you have come to the wrong place. The Santa Rosa JC women’s basketball team won’t give it to you. You would think the Bear Cubs would. A team that’s 25-6, just four games from winning the state junior college championship and ranked first in Northern California, you should be able to read this team like a book.
Except when you open up the book, you see blank pages. Huh? Where are the answers? That’s so annoying. Imagine how their opponents feel.
“We have a target on us,” coach Lacey Campbell said, “because no one wants to lose to a team that doesn’t look like it should win. ‘How can they be this good?’ people say. ‘Why can’t we beat them?’ No one wants to get beat by a team with lesser talent.”
Her players will run down the court, sometimes near the opposing bench, and “we’ll hear them bicker,” guard Madison Sowards said, not feeling too terribly sad about it.
The Bear Cubs have just entered the hearts and minds of the opponent. Like a Hummer entering a chicken coop. A lot of fluttering going around.
“My players love to hear that bickering,” Campbell said.
Certainly, from a distance, SRJC does not provoke a rooting interest. The Bear Cubs don’t even lead their own conference in scoring. They are just fourth. SRJC’s top scorer, Whitney Edens, isn’t among the top 50 scorers in the state, and the 50th scorer is at 13.8 points a game. Heck, Whitney is not even among in the top 10 scorers in the Big Eight. She’s 14th. Averaging 10.5 points does not attract a lot of glamour shots. And, oh, by the way, Edens is the only player in double figures.
“When teams face us,” Campbell said, “where do they put their shut-down defender? On someone who averages 10.5 points a game?”
It’s not as if SRJC has an aircraft carrier in the middle. The Bear Cubs don’t have a player who is even 6 feet tall.
It’s not as if SRJC glides over the court. “I try not watch the warm-ups,” Campbell said. “We don’t pass the eye test.”
It’s not as if SRJC can match talent for talent. “So many teams we play,” Campbell said, “each individual talent is better than ours.”
It’s not as if SRJC has been playing with a full deck all season. Of the team’s 31 games, Campbell has had a full roster in only four of them.
So, yes, the Bear Cubs do irritate, confuse and baffle. Especially when they finally determine why SRJC has won 81 percent of its games.
“Everybody swallows their pride,” forward Anandi Jimenez said.
No wonder SRJC is so irritating. The Bear Cubs are practicing what coaches preach: teamwork. How boring that reads to a player who dreams of starring in his or her own highlights film. Basketball has become a star game more than a team game. So whether it’s the NBA or all the way down to CYO, a basketball coach’s biggest challenge is to get his or her players to share one basketball. When it happens, it almost feels like a magic trick, it happens so rarely.
Consider the challenge facing Campbell entering this season.
Freshman guard Stephanie Sack was All-Empire First Team her last two years at Casa Grande. Sophomore forward Arianna Hansen was All-Empire First Team her last year at Rincon Valley Christian. Sophomore forward Jade Hudson of Fortuna was a player on Campbell’s state championship team in 2011 and signed a letter-of-intent to play at Cal State Dominquez Hills next fall. Freshman guard Madison Sowards of Maria Carrillo was the NBL’s MVP last season as well as All-Empire First Team.
Freshman guard Taylor Graham of Maria Carrillo was NBL Second-Team in 2012 as well as All-Empire First-Team. Jimenez was All-Empire her last year at Montgomery. Sophomore guard Edens was All-Empire and Small School Player of the Year at Cloverdale in 2011.
“We were all stars in high school,” Jimenez said.
“But our egos go out the door,” Sowards said.
Out goes the dysfunctional, prideful gluttony and in comes Perry’s from across the street and that deli’s turkey sandwiches. That what most of the players eat. Some take avocado. Some take the pesto.
“We eat and we dance,” Sowards said.
“We see each other more than we see our family,” Edens said.
“We have sleepovers,” Jimenez said.
“And we don’t have secrets,” Sowards said.
And they don’t let drama get out of hand. They govern themselves in a unique way. When a discussion starts to become heated or teasing morphs into a budding contentiousness, one of the players will shout either “Pineapple!” or “Lumberjack!” This is their way of instant messaging. Either of those words carries the same meaning to every player. Dial it down. Knock it off. Ain’t worth it, girl. And the volume and the energy and the vitriol immediately are reduced. Civilization is restored. The players get back to true bubble.
So when the young women hear — “we won because we were lucky (Jimenez)” or “we don’t deserve it (Edens)” — they shrug.
They sigh. Whatever. Their strength is their unselfishness, their anonymity, their unity. This team thing, yes it sounds like a cliché, but this cliché is 19 games above .500. All clichés should turn out so well.
For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky’s blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.