When the Central Section division playoff system reaches an extreme — and this is it — all those opposed can do nothing but scream.
Cathy Lauritzen resists.
And why not?
Her Sierra High girls basketball team, drawing from an enrollment of 457, is headed back to Selland Arena after winning 61-47 over Redwood before a typically faithful and feverish home crowd in the Central Section Division II semifinals Tuesday night.
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Redwood has more than 2,000 students.
This came five days after Sierra defeated Bakersfield (enrollment nearly 3,000) 52-49 in the quarterfinals.
Bring ’em on, says Lauritzen, the former Kerman, Hoover and Pacific star who is 284-146 in 15 years at Sierra — and with declining enrollment for years.
Regardless of how the 24-3 and second-seeded Chieftains fare against No. 1 and 25-2 Independence at Selland in the D-II championship at 6 p.m. Friday, Laurtizen — also the school’s athletic director — has grounds to petition for a return to D-III because of plunging enrollment and what will be the loss of an outstanding senior class.
But after winning titles in D-IV in 2011 and D-III last year, she won’t fight the section’s controversial system, which shapes divisions by recent performance as opposed to attendance.
“What these girls accomplished here tonight, why would you take that away from them?” she says. “It’s something they’ll remember forever. We’re putting Sierra on the map. People are going to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on up there?’ And, as an AD, also, that’s something you want to throw out there. It’s who we are: We’re blue-collar and we’re a great school.”
Bakersfield. Redwood. Independence (1,953).
And Whitney Naylor, Sierra’s four-year point guard, could give a darn.
She is 5-foot-3, fearless and undeniably tough — common attributes up the mountain here, where the district recreation basketball league is co-ed through eighth grade.
Play against the boys.
Play against schools four to six times larger.
And so what?
“It gives us more of a challenge,” she says. “We look forward to this. If you keep working for it, if you earn it, you keep going.”
Naylor delivered seven points and 10 assists against third-seeded and West Yosemite League co-champion Redwood (20-6).
Fellow seniors Grace Wilson (15 points, eight rebounds), Megan Stark (11 points) and Kendall Cardoza (eight points) showed their experience when the Rangers pressed the issue. Junior Claira Witham came off the bench with determined defense.
“They got loose balls. They got second chances. They attacked the offensive boards harder than any team we’ve played this year,” Redwood coach Jason Black said. “There wasn’t one kid on Sierra who didn’t play well. We tip our hats and move on.”
And then yet another aggressive force made her presence felt. Freshman Maesyn Rix (12 points, seven rebounds) dominated in the fourth quarter, pleasing the still imposing presence of father Zack Rix, Fresno State’s former four-year standout nose guard.
His daughter was just brought up from a junior varsity team that went 23-1 with nine freshmen.
Sierra doesn’t have a freshmen team. Not enough students, not with continued attrition for many reasons — notably the draw of fairly new schools Minarets, Clovis North and Liberty-Madera Ranchos, the scars of the recession and, not to be ignored, a new generation.
Largely gone are the days when you attended Sierra because mom and dad did.
But you might now to play girls basketball.
Hey, look at what’s happening up here.