It takes a special team to reach the Northern California finals and Oak Ridge High’s varsity girls’ basketball team is just that … special.
The team isn’t made up of superstar players, but yet won 28 games and lost only five all season. There are no selfish players on the team, seeking any personal statistics or headlines, just a group of girls molded together to be the best basketball team they can be.
Most teams still playing in early March have star players leading the way, players who by themselves can win many games. Not Oak Ridge. Every team has team leaders and top scorers, like Haley Anderson and Ali Bettencourt for Oak Ridge, but everyone contributed to the team’s success. As coach Steve White has said more than once, every player has their niche, their role on the team, and they filled it.
At the start of the season, Oak Ridge had seven healthy players and White, at least publicly, wasn’t even discussing any postseason goals. Knowing the team had a tough preseason schedule, not to mention several strong opponents waiting for them in the Delta River League, White said things like, ‘we have to make the playoffs first and then anything can happen.’ There was no public comment about winning a section title or making a deep run in Nor-Cals.
Needless to say, White only had good thoughts about his team after losing to Berkeley Saturday in the Nor-Cal championship game.
“The way the girls battled in the second half, that’s really what they’ve been doing all year,” White said. “They battled through adversity and stayed in this game and it’s a tribute to the girls and their work ethic. This group has tremendous team chemistry and that’s immeasurable. It makes a big difference.
“They trusted in each other and played team basketball. Ali was our leading scorer in the playoffs, but she needed her teammates to help her.”
Oak Ridge loses four seniors to graduation in Anderson, Nikki Dow, Jenna Ford and Lauren Liebert and those players will be missed for different reasons. That leaves nine players returning, not including the four players called up from the junior varsity team for the postseason run.
Bettencourt and Hoffman return as starters in the backcourt that will have great depth with Grace Derksen, Yumi Drossos, Gabby Flores and Sydney Stigerts also coming back. Michelle Barkley, Shelby Peters and Celeste Vitolas return in the frontcourt. Almost all of these players saw plenty of minutes this season to acclimate themselves to varsity basketball. With the addition of some of the junior varsity players such as Isamar Conde, Jessica Maglietta, Saraya Smith and Lauren Gaddis, Oak Ridge should again be one of the top teams in the area next season.
“We’ve got 13 girls returning if you include the JV players called up and a lot of those younger players got a lot of playing time and played key minutes,” White said.