The Mission Prep girls basketball team is supposed to be here, underneath the spotlight of high expectations and a No. 1 state ranking. The Royals don’t mind the attention.
They’re never satisfied.
Mission Prep’s next assignment: No. 2 Villanova Prep (23-6) in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA championship game Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana.
The top-seeded Royals are chasing their 18th division title, which would spark a run in the state tournament. They hold a 0-6 record in state title games and are favored to make another return.
How about those expectations?
“I think we handle it pretty well,” said Mission Prep guard Kaylee Williams, who averages 11.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.5 steals a game. “It’s cool to know that this is what people have expected from us.
“We don’t let it get to our heads too much because people do expect this. We’re going to do what we want to do. We deserve to be here. We’re going to keep playing hard the way we’ve always played.”
The Royals’ toughest postseason test occurred Saturday night, when Mission Prep survived a hostile crowd and a young and talented Templeton team to win 57-48 in the semifinals of the division tournament. The game attracted a sellout Templeton High gym, with officials having to turn away fans.
That experience helped Mission Prep (28-1).
“They’ve been putting all this hard work throughout the whole year so that they can be here,” Royals coach John Krossa said. “The Templeton game was a great game because they really faced adversity because it was such a crazy environment.
“There were times that we faced adversity and we got through it.”
This week, they endured some more hardship. Two of Mission Prep’s top three players — point guard Jenna Dunbar (15.2 points, 3.3 assists, 3.4 steals) and forward Bri Harvey (14.4 points, 5.9 rebounds) — caught the flu. Dunbar missed Tuesday’s practice to rest, and Harvey was bundled up in a blanket after her team workout.
Krossa hopes his players will overcome this adversity, just like they’ve been doing all season.
They beat Templeton twice, with the first win in the regular season. They prevailed against higher division teams. They stopped Ridgeview of Bakersfield, which featured USA Women’s U-16 National team member Erica McCall. And they’ve lived up to a No. 1 ranking in Division 5 by Cal-Hi Sports.
“I feel like our team is approaching this game like we’d any game,” Harvey said.
“We need to try our hardest and we need to play. It’s not different than any other game that we’ve played this season because Krossa tells us to play every game like a championship game. We can’t go out expecting to win. We have to go out and play our hardest in every single game.”
In Saturday’s game, the Royals will go up against a Villanova Prep team led by Susanna Kolbeck, a 6-foot senior center who averages 16 points and 14 rebounds per gamed. Senior forward Natalie Miotti and sophomore guard Samantha Watson are also considered threats.
“It sure seems like we’ve played some really darn good teams,” Krossa said. “Look at our big victories. A lot of those teams are still playing in the playoffs in higher divisions.
“We’re handling this so well because we put ourselves in those tough situations.”