The other day, Bri Harvey found herself staring at a banner hanging from one of the walls at Mission Prep’s Cowitz Court, admiring all the names of past players who were part of a Royals girls basketball state final team.
“To have one of those,” she said, “would mean a lot to me.”
Harvey can’t be blamed for looking.
The glances are more frequent these days, now that the regular season is over. The Royals, along with other county teams, will find out about their postseason destination today when the CIF-Southern Section announces the brackets for each division.
After the division playoffs, it’s onto regionals. And regionals leads to the state championship.
“If you ask every single person on the team,” said Harvey, Mission Prep’s power forward, “our goal is to go to state. We want to get a banner. That’s our goal right now. So in practice, we’re going to give 100 percent, because that’s the goal we’re looking at right now.”
The Royals, who are in Division 5AA, have a realistic chance at going all the way. They finished their independent run with a 24-1 record, well surpassing the 80 percent win mark to qualify for the playoffs and having more than enough victories to be named the top team in Division 5 in the Cal-Hi Sports state rankings for the second week in a row. Their last state final trip in 2008 ended with a 51-39 loss to Branson of Ross, marking a state-record sixth appearance without winning a title.
This year’s state championship games aren’t until March 23-24 at Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento. The Royals are keeping those dates in the back of their minds while concentrating on the next opponent, which they won’t know until today.
So far, they’ve proven they don’t overlook teams, evident by the fact that they’ve only experienced one loss this season — a 40-29 heartbreaker to Independence of Bakersfield on Dec. 3, a game that was played without one of Mission Prep’s “big three.”
Since then, the Royals have won 21 straight. One of their standout wins came Feb. 4, when they earned a 54-40 home triumph over a Ridgeview-Bakersfield team that had Erica McCall, who competed with the USA Women’s U-16 national team last year.
“Whoever we’re playing, that’s the most important game,” said Mission Prep coach John Krossa, who guided the 2008 team to the state final in his second year. “A couple weeks ago, were they looking forward to the Ridgeview game? Yeah, they were really looking forward to the Ridgeview game, but they didn’t look past Nipomo the night before. They went out and took care of business and they didn’t look past that team. And that’s the same attitude we have heading into the playoffs.”
What has helped the Royals get this far?
Krossa has called them “the big three,” as in point guard Jenna Dunbar (15.4 points, 3.2 assists per game), guard/forward Kaylee Williams (11.5 points, 4.9 rebounds) and Harvey (14.7 points, 6.0 rebounds). They’re all seniors and big reasons why the Royals have beaten teams such as Ridgeview (19-6), Garces of Bakersfield (19-6), Morro Bay (19-3) and Templeton (19-7).
“We know that whatever we strive for, we can achieve,” said Williams, who has collected 790 points, 437 rebounds and 213 steals after transferring from San Luis Obispo two seasons ago. She did not play in the Independence game. “We’re looking forward to practicing as hard as we can, knowing that we’re going for it wholeheartedly.”
Dunbar and Harvey have 1,391 and 1,104 career points, respectively — the first two Mission Prep players to reach the 1,000-point mark since Leigh Yetter, who won The Jay Cowitz Tribune County Player of the Year award after leading the 2008 team to the state final. That year’s team also captured the last of the Royals’ 16th consecutive division titles, which remains the state’s longest such streak, completed mostly under the watch of the late Jay Cowitz.
“We’ve beaten some really good teams and we backed it up that way,” Dunbar said. “We need to keep working toward our goal and that’s taking it each game at a time and working on what we need to get better at.”
Mission Prep isn’t limited to “the big three.” For example, starters Connor Storlie and Morgan Liebscher played strong defense to hold McCall, the Ridgeview standout, to just six first-half points.
“It’s been a team effort. It’s everyone. Even the bench players have contributed. We wouldn’t be where we are without them,” Storlie said. “Our goal is to get (to state) and do everything we can to get a banner.”