The Arroyo Grande High girls basketball team could forfeit today’s game and still be the most accomplished group of players in school history.
But the Eagles won’t do that.
They’d give up too much.
Arroyo Grande, with more than 100 years of existence, has never had a girls basketball team make it this deep into the playoffs.
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The third-seeded Eagles (24-5) are prepared to face No. 4 Rio Mesa (25-5) today at 7 p.m. in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AAA championship game at Anaheim Convention Center. The Spartans, who edged top-seeded West Torrance 49-47 in overtime last week, will also make their first section final appearance.
“We’ve played together for so long,” Arroyo Grande senior guard Alexa Wetmore said. “We knew we wanted this goal since freshman year. We’ve always wanted to make it this far, no matter what. We weren’t focused on this until after we went through the season. We just made it one game at a time. Doing that, it’s much easier to know that you can make it to the next game.”
With an all-senior starting lineup, the Eagles entered the PAC 7 season knowing that St. Joseph would lose its state champion glow after Stanford-bound center Aly Beebe succumbed to a season-ending injury. They also welcomed back such key returners as North Dakota-bound forward Emma Weinreich. It didn’t hurt that guard Heather Madrigal, who was part of St. Joseph’s state title run last season, transferred to Arroyo Grande in the summer.
The Eagles smashed through the PAC 7 with a 12-0 record and the program’s 12th league title despite losing Weinreich in the final three games because of a sprained ankle. And during the playoffs, they’ve been unstoppable — beating opponents by a combined score of 223-145. Their smallest margin of victory was in the semifinals against No. 2 Bonita last week, winning by 14 points.
“We’re playing well right now. We’ve beaten some really good teams. We’re confident that we can compete (tonight),” said Dwight MacDonald, who’s in his third year of his second stint as the Arroyo Grande head coach. “Just keeping them focused and making sure they understand that, basically, it is a final but it’s just another game.”
“They’ve played a lot of games, especially the seniors,” he added. “They’ve played in big games and have gone to some big tournaments. Obviously, this is going to be a much bigger stage.
“Hopefully, we’ll keep things in perspective and get rid of the jitters quick and play.”
Both schools will have some nerves, considering they’re first-time section final participants.
Rio Mesa of Oxnard has made it this far with the leadership of Riley Abraham, a 6-foot-1 senior who averages 14 points and 17.2 rebounds a game. She was, however, slowed in last week’s semifinal game against West Torrance, which gave her a bloody nose and held her to just four points.
The Spartans also have another threat in junior guards Ashley Ontiveros (13.7 points) and Ashley Rodriguez, who averages single digits in points but stepped up with 22 points against West Torrance.
“We know that Rio Mesa is a very good team and they’re disciplined and they’re going to have scouted us, so we’ll have to be ready for that,” Arroyo Grande senior guard Brianna Flood said.
“But I also have a lot of confidence in our team. We just work hard and every day at practice we’re so focused and ready to play. And we have a lot of heart and intensity.”