The Calaveras High School 1985-86 girls’ basketball team began the season with winning a second consecutive Mother Lode League championship as the main goal but ended the year as one of the top teams in California.
The historic 1986 Calaveras team went perfect in league play, was two points away from being section champions, and won the CIF Division III State Championship. Now, 34 years later, former head coach Barbara Bicocca still has a soft spot and fond memories of that championship team.
“The 1985-86 season was so special,” Bicocca said. “It culminated in a state championship, but the parental support, family support – my husband, Vince, took care of our 3-year-old and 8-month-old sons – helped make it possible for me to concentrate on basketball. It truly took a village to make the season possible. Every one of the players made my job easy. If you don’t have the talent, you have an uphill battle. I was lucky, I had the talent.”
Although the season ended in celebration, the beginning of the year took a while to get started. Many members of the team had a long volleyball season. Calaveras’ volleyball squad shared the league championship with Linden (9-1) and then went on to capture the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title with a 3-0 (15-6, 15-6, 15-9) sweep of Justin-Siena. The season did not end there, as Calaveras advanced all the way to the state championship, only to come up on the losing end.
Because of the long playoff run, Calaveras was without many players, including the 1985 Mother Lode League’s Most Outstanding Volleyball Player, Laura Taylor. Not having a lot of time to get acclimated to basketball and perhaps not having a full tank worried Bicocca early in the season.
“I was a little concerned about the volleyball players being tired, as they had a long, exciting and successful season,” Bicocca said. “Once we got into league play, I noticed the players were fresh and excited about the basketball season. A late start helped us peak at the end of the season instead of middle, which happens at times with long seasons.”
After only one practice of having the full team together, Calaveras exploded for an 88-23 win over Folsom. Fresh off the long volleyball season, Taylor scored 26 points and volleyball player Kris Wimberly added 20. Becky Johnson scored 11 points and Michele Anberg finished with 10 points in the blowout.
The team, which was made up of Anberg, Taylor, Johnson, Nicki Erving, Amy Hess, Lynette Pisano, Julie Range, Dawn Robertson, Anne Van Brocklin, Jill Wibiral and Wimberly, didn’t start the season thinking about a state title, rather, just defending their league championship from the previous season.
“The goal was definitely a league championship, as we had our entire starting lineup returning,” said Jill DeMasters (née Wibiral). “But we all had a run at sections in mind as well. Personally, state was not on my mind. I was playing one game at a time. When we made it all the way to the state championship, we were all pretty excited. It had been a very long season, and we worked hard with a lot of early morning and late evening practices. At a certain point, we all just decided to commit 100% and see how far we could get.”
Calaveras’ Mother Lode League season ended with a perfect 10-0 record. In the final game of league play, Calaveras knocked off Bret Harte 70-45. In the regular season finale, Wibiral scored 21, Taylor had 17, Anberg and Van Brocklin each scored 14. Calaveras was 15-3 overall and then went on to win the MLL tournament.
Taylor and Anberg were named as co-Most Valuable Players of the Mother Lode League, while Wibiral and Van Brocklin earned all-league honors. Bicocca was the coach of the year.
Calaveras began the section playoffs with a 72-61 home victory over Mariposa. Taylor scored 29 points, followed by Anberg’s 15, and Van Brocklin added 11. Wimberly and Wibiral took care of rebounding, hauling in 15 and 12 boards, respectively. Up next, Calaveras topped Ripon Christian 53-48, which set up a clash with JustinSiena with a trip to the section championship game on the line. Calaveras walked away victorious with a 59-56 overtime victory and looked to knock off Hughson and bring home a blue banner.
With the section title on the line, Calaveras put up a fight against Hughson, but lost by one-point 42-41. While Calaveras was unable to be crowned section champions, it did get a spot in the state playoffs being voted in over the other Division III second-place teams, which were Willows and Mendocino. Bicocca wasn’t overly concerned with the loss to Hughson derailing her squad’s focus.
“The loss to Hughson in the section title game was a definite disappointment, but also a motivation to achieve the goal we set out to accomplish,” Bicocca said.
DeMasters added, “I have to say, our coach, Barbara Bicocca, was the best at keeping us levelheaded. She kept us focused on the next game, then the next, never really allowing us to think past the next immediate game. So, our confidence was high. We knew we worked hard to prepare for each and every game. And we all played each game like it was going to be our last, playing all-in.”
In the opening round of the Northern California State Playoffs, Calaveras beat undefeated Burney 49-38 in Redding. Even though Calaveras entered the state playoffs as a wild card team, the players felt they could hold their own against any team, even if they weren’t viewed as the favorites.
“During the state run, we knew we were the underdogs the whole way, right down to the championship game,” DeMasters said. “As a team, it motivated us. We knew that we were as good, if not better, than the other teams; we just had to prove it. And, yes, we had something to lose. We might have been the underdogs, but we knew we had the potential to win every single game. If you know you are good enough to win, then you should win. That is the mentality we took into every game.”
Calaveras was able to get revenge against Hughson with a come-from-behind victory to capture the Northern California Championship in Sacramento’s Arco Arena. Calaveras beat Hughson 61-36. Taylor scored 22 points and Van Brocklin added 11. Both players were named to the all-tournament team.
With all the hardwood success, the Calaveras players could feel how much support they were getting from the local community.
“The school and community support was incredible,” said Anberg-Espinosa (née Anberg). “Our fans followed us everywhere we played, and the community really got behind us.”
With a NorCal championship to its name, the idea that Calaveras could be crowned state champs became more of a reality and Bicocca knew it. And perhaps more importantly, her players knew it.
“After winning NorCal – even though we did not play particularly well – we knew a state championship was in our grasp,” Bicocca said. “We had a mature, senior-strong team with one goal in mind, which was to win the state.”
In the CIF State Division III Championship game, Calaveras took on Woodlake High School in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. A full rooters’ bus left Calaveras High School at 8 a.m. that Saturday morning to cheer on the future state champs. An estimated 500 people, including parents, friends, teachers, alumni and fans made the journey to watch Calaveras beat Woodlake 53-47.
In the biggest game of the year, Calaveras jumped out to a 16-8 lead after the first eight minutes and led 30-20 at halftime. Calaveras outscored Woodlake 12-11 in the third quarter and was able to hold on for the six-point win. Wibiral led all scorers with 18 points, while Van Brocklin had eight points and nine rebounds and Anberg netted 13 points and four assists.
That was the first, and only, state championship the Calaveras girls’ basketball program has collected. In 1987, Calaveras finished in a three-way tie for second place in the league standings (6-4), as Bret Harte won what would be its first of 18 future titles over the next 21 years.
Calaveras won a section title in 2012, but that team could not replicate what the 1986 squad was able to accomplish in the state playoffs. So, until another Calaveras team can hoist a state championship trophy high into the air, the 1986 team will remain unmatched and untouched.
“We were a small team in numbers, and some didn’t see as much playing time as others,” DeMasters said. “But we were a tight team and we counted on each other. Being a part of such a great athletic team of amazing girls was one of the best times of my life.”