As its season came to an end Tuesday night, the North County Christian girls basketball team didn’t dwell.
The Crusaders had just lost 69-38 to Central Valley Christian of Visalia at Atascadero High’s Ewing Gym in the opening round of the CIF Southern California Regional Division 5 playoffs.
Afterward, though, they stayed dry-eyed, smiling while embracing each other after receiving a standing ovation, choosing to remember the history they’d already made heading into the game.
North County Christian was coming off of a Friday win over Calvary Baptist of La Verne, 47-33, at Ontario’s Colony High in the Southern Section Division 6A final.
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That win marked the first divisional championship in Crusaders history, in any sport.
“Even though we lost tonight, it feels really good to have accomplished the whole CIF championship,” sophomore point guard Cristy Scarson said. “I don’t have any regrets.”
Last week’s milestone victory was the 15th win in a row for the Crusaders, who had capped the best campaign the program has ever enjoyed after winning the Coast Valley League title with an unblemished 8-0 mark.
“Coming into this game we just said, ‘You know what? We’re in a whole different playoff bracket. It’s going to be tough,’” North County Christian coach Alan Scarson said. “It was a very successful season for the girls; they’re all really happy.”
Ninth-seeded CVC (21-7) boasted a significant height advantage with five players standing at least 5-foot-10, compared to North County Christian’s two. That largely led to the Cavaliers’ 39-32 rebounding advantage despite shooting 31 of 70 from the floor, juxtaposed with the Crusaders’ 16-of-56 struggles.
“We knew coming into the game that they were going to be strong underneath,” Alan Scarson said.
Amy Weststeyn, a 6-2 junior center who came into the game posting 10.6 points a game to go with her team highs of 10.9 rebounds and 3.6 blocks, had 14 points, eight rebounds, six assists and five blocks Tuesday.
“It’s the first time we’ve come out against a team that tall,” Cristy Scarson said. “We were focusing more on the outside because of their height advantage.”
Eighth-seeded North County Christian (19-6) entered the game averaging 22.6 steals per contest, fourth in the Southern Section and seventh in the state. It forced only 11 turnovers and claimed four steals Tuesday.
Scarson led the Crusaders with 14 points, while Brianna Feld added 11 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. Kelsey Paulus pulled down eight rebounds in the loss. Those three entered as the Crusaders’ three leading scorers on the season, with Scarson at 16.6 points per game, Feld at 13.1 and Paulus at 9.3.
The Cavaliers, who led 29-12 at halftime and got 13 points from Kacie Van Hofwegen, advanced to visit idling top seed St. Anthony of Long Beach (22-9) in the second round at 7 p.m. Thursday.
North County Christian will graduate five seniors in Laura Tapanes, Anna Foster, Jessica Foldberg, Leanne Villalba and Paulus, a 5-11 post presence who came into the game grabbing a team-best 12.5 rebounds per outing.
“They’re going to be really missed,” Cristy Scarson said. “I know they’re going to look back on this (season as a whole) and feel accomplished.”
The core of the Crusaders’ scoring, however, will be in position to return, as Scarson and Feld should be back as juniors. After the sectional final, Scarson had team-best per-game averages of 4.9 assists and 6.3 steals, while the 5-11 Feld had 1.9 blocks a game.
“It will be pretty tough losing five seniors,” Alan Scarson said of repeating as the division champion. “We’ll go ahead and compete and try to match what we did this year.”