Three games into the season, Fresno City College women’s basketball coach Brian Tessler had seen enough.
The Rams, ranked third in the North Region preseason poll, started 1-2 at the Merced Tournament, and Tessler figured he had to do something.
In his ninth year at the school, he gathered his players Nov. 16 and showed video of their 83-79 loss to Merced. The following day, Tessler told them to pick a video from his collection of past team highlights because he wanted them to compare their effort to what others had done before in the perennial state power program.
The footage was of his 2011-12 team.
“After he showed us the videos, we were all kind of taken aback a bit,” Fresno City guard Natalie Avadis said. “I mean, those girls never took a play off. They just kept going and going until they got a sub. I think some of us were kind of questioning his expectations for us. We had high expectations coming into our first tournament, and for it to end the way it did, we literally felt like we absolutely sucked.”
The current Rams responded, reeling off 10 straight wins before a 60-59 loss to Diablo Valley on Dec. 28. Fresno City then won its next 18 and hopes to cap it at 20 this weekend.
The Rams (29-3) face Mt. San Antonio (32-1) at 7 p.m. Friday in a state championship semifinal at Las Positas College in Livermore. City College of San Francisco (28-3) faces East Los Angeles (23-9) at 5 p.m. in the other game.
Tessler recalls keeping a close eye on his players as they watched the old footage. He got the reaction he was hoping to see.
“For the first time,” Tessler said, “the sophomores, they understood what they were doing and how much harder they can play just by watching our previous teams. I know some of them were concerned they couldn’t play that hard.
“I was kind of concerned we were going to kind of revert to last year.”
The 2014-15 team finished 22-10 and was bounced out of the NorCal Regional in the third round.
That 2011-2012 team? It won at San Francisco to reach the state final four, losing to eventual champion Mt. San Antonio 71-63 in a semifinal.
“I really made them almost watch the entire tape and they never said anything,” Tessler said. “We played 10 minutes of it and as soon as I got done with it I said, ‘What do you think?’ Their eyes were pretty big because I don’t think they realized just how hard previous teams had played.
“That’s the year where I actually had five sophomores that got us to the final four. We had Sarina Sayama, Nicole Chapple, along with others, but they picked a team that was really hungry. That team played hard the entire year … and epitomized what a Fresno City team is about.”
The players took notice.
“I thought I was going hard until I saw those tapes,” guard Toni Edwards said.
Said forward Heaven Lee: “There wasn’t even a comparison.”
Avadis said players had a long talk about Tessler’s message.
“When he recruits people, he lets them know that he doesn’t take 50 percent,” she said. “He doesn’t take 70 percent or 99 percent. He wants 100 percent of your effort all the time, and we understood that, but it was much different when we actually watched it. Like, wow, he really means all 100, all the time. So we were all asked the question whether we were willing to do that or not. And if you weren’t, then he was just going to ask you to leave. It was that simple.”
Tessler admitted to some doubts.
“I didn’t know if they were going to buy in to just how hard I expected them to play,” he said. “(Showing the video) probably was the smartest thing I did. I should’ve done it last year.”
State final four
Friday-Sunday at Las Positas College in Livermore.
- Saturday: No. 1 South Saddleback vs. No. 2 North Fresno City, 7 p.m.; No. 1 North City College of San Francisco vs. No. 2 South Chaffey, 5 p.m.
- Friday: No. 1 South Mt. San Antonio vs. No. 2 North Fresno City, 7 p.m.; No. 1 North City College of San Francisco vs. No. 2 South East Los Angeles, 5 p.m.