In early March, Jenna Dunbar had the flu, strep throat and a torn right calf muscle.
This all happened days before her Mission Prep girls basketball team was set to face Villanova Prep in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA championship. At that point, it was the Royals biggest game of the season.
Her competitive drive wouldnt allow her to sit out. Not at this juncture of her high school career. It all paid off, as she led the Royals past Villanova Prep for the schools 19th section title, setting up a historic state run.
Dunbar, a 5-foot-8 point guard, has been named the Jay Cowitz Award winner as The Tribunes San Luis Obispo County Player of the Year after taking Mission Prep to its seventh state championship appearance though the Royals ended up losing 70-64 to Brookside Christian of Stockton in the Division 5 championship game March 24 at Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento.
The thing is, she still has the same flu. Its mostly a sniffle now.
Why didnt Dunbar think about sitting out?
If I got a broken leg, I know I wouldnt be able to play, she said, but in my mind, Id still want to.
With Dunbar handling the ball, the Royals finished with a school-record 32 wins, their 19th division title and another trip to the state title game.
Dunbar was a member of what coach John Krossa called the big three of Mission Prep, along with guard Kaylee Williams and forward Bri Harvey. They all scored in double digits, with Dunbar averaging 14.4 points, 3.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 3.3 steals per game.
Since joining the Royals as a freshman, Dunbars role has evolved from pure passer or scorer to both. Krossa said her points went down this year, but she got her team involved. She sacrificed for her team.
And it didnt matter if she was sick.
Once you start playing, I didnt feel anything, Dunbar said. I know that might sound a little dumb. Its true. Once youre on the court and playing, any competitor would agree. Itd cancel everything out. Its your desire for the game, your will to win and everything.
How it all began
When she was about 4 years old, Dunbar followed her older brother to a Bob Cantus Basketball Camp event in San Luis Obispo. It was then that she first picked up a basketball and started dribbling. She said that experience was even captured on tape by a local television station. She was hooked.
Dunbar eventually grew into a standout at the junior high level. Harvey then a rival from another school later invited Dunbar to attend the Mission Prep state title game in 2008. Again, Dunbar was hooked.
She became the Royals starting freshman point guard. She was part of a senior-oriented team, learning from guard Jenna Caruso, who eventually became Dunbars mentor.
After that, the Royals entered a new era with Dunbar being one of the centerpieces.
Once the seniors left, we kind of reshaped our team, Dunbar said. So my role as a point guard, I needed to step up and score and assist. Throughout the years, I had to step up and do that. My junior year, I had a bigger role of scoring. She averaged a career-best 16.3 points that season. And this year, it evolved into passing and scoring.
Opponents knew the Royals werent easy to overcome this past season. They regularly blew out teams. They beat higher division teams. And they didnt get intimidated in facing Ridgeview of Bakersfield and national recruit Erica McCall, beating the Wolf Pack by 18 points.
The Royals even produced a few comebacks this past season, including overcoming a 12-point deficit to win 55-45 over Morro Bay. The opposing coach, Carey Nerelli, remembers Dunbar.
She was a spark plug, he said. When she gets her shot going, its very difficult to stop her. When she gets into a groove, she hits every shot that she throws up. We were up by 12 and I think those three seniors (Dunbar, Williams and Harvey) said, Were not going to lose. She was one of the sparks that got them back in the second half.
But Dunbar and the Royals werent done.
How it all ended
To make the playoffs as an independent, the Royals needed to win 80 percent of their games. They surpassed that expectation greatly, losing only once on Dec. 3 when the Royals fell 40-29 to Independence of Bakersfield without Williams, who was unavailable.
Mission Prep coasted through the section playoffs, beating the first three teams by a combined score of 204-96. The Royals ran into some trouble in the semifinals, where they were tested by Templeton and a hostile crowd but managed to win 58-46. That set up the championship game against Villanova Prep, one that Dunbar was close to not making because of her illness and a torn calf muscle.
But then she got medical clearance. Her illness, however, limited her to nine points in a 56-45 triumph over the Wildcats. After that, Dunbar got better. So did the Royals, who beat their first three opponents in the state tournament by 35, 36 and 21.
Then came the state title game against Brookside Christian.
Though they narrowed a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to five in the final minute, the Royals couldnt get past a young and talented opponent, coming up short on the states biggest stage for the seventh time in school history.
Ultimately, the Mission Prep players, coaches and supporters werent disappointed in their season.
Its hard to lose, especially being as competitive as I am, Dunbar said. Our whole team wanted it so bad. Its hard to lose but we realized how blessed we were to win (the section), to win state regionals and go to the state championship and almost win it. Were the second-best team in the state. Thats amazing.
Player of the Year: Jenna Dunbar, Mission Prep, G, Sr.
Heather Madrigal, Arroyo Grande, G, Sr.
Lindsey Wolf, Arroyo Grande, F, Sr.
Mary Kate Evans, Atascadero, F, Jr.
Bri Harvey, Mission Prep, F, Sr.
Hannah Gilbert, Morro Bay, C, Jr.
Lauren Stuedemann, Templeton, G., So.
Brianna Flood, Arroyo Grande, G, Sr.
Emma Weinreich, Arroyo Grande, F, Sr.
Casey Nero, Atascadero, G, Sr.
Kaylee Williams, Mission Prep, G, Sr.
Molly Donovan, Paso Robles, C, Jr.
Mari Stewart, Templeton, F, So.
Alexa Wetmore, Arroyo Grande, G, Sr.
Emilie Boege, Atascadero, G, Sr.
Morgan Liebscher, Mission Prep, G, Jr.
Connor Storlie, Mission Prep, F, So.
Sierra Schwellenbach, Morro Bay, G, So.
Brianna Feld, North County Christian, F, Sr.
Amani White, Paso Robles, F, Jr.
Erica Chandler, San Luis Obispo, F, Jr.
Autumn Russell, Templeton, G, So.