Tom Petty may have said it best: the waiting is the hardest part. For the 2012 Calaveras High School girls’ basketball team, waiting to start the season may have been the hardest part of the entire year.
In 2011, Calaveras reached the section championship game for the first time since 1986, and hoped to be the first Calaveras team to wear the crown since 1975. Unfortunately, Calaveras ran into Modesto Christian, who previously beat Mother Lode League members Linden and Argonaut in the title game. Calaveras became the third straight MLL team to fall to Modesto Christian with the championship on the line.
For the returning Calaveras players, the offseason between 2011 and 2012 may as well have been years. They couldn’t wait to return to the floor and try to get redemption.
“The previous year’s loss was hard,” R.B. Pebley (née Ruhl) said. “We had a great team and that loss was rough. We played a very quick and well-rounded team (Modesto Christian) the previous year. We knew since we got there once, we could do it again. We were motivated and ... our ultimate goal was to play at Arco Arena again and bring home that blue banner.”
Co-captain Nikki Gleason added, “The loss of the section championship game definitely motivated us as a team. Having the experience of being at the show, really allowed us to have a good mental stance on how we should train and prepare for the coming year.”
If Calaveras was to make another run for the section title, it would be done without longtime coach John Franeschi. After the 2011 season, Franeschi left the Calaveras bench and Mike Lewis, along with Rick Soracco, took over. Lewis and Soracco knew how to win and how to win in the Mother Lode League. However, the majority of their victories came while coaching at Bret Harte. The duo of Lewis and Soracco guided Bret Harte to 10 Mother Lode League titles in 11 seasons from 1995 to 2005.
“I thought that having new coaches come in and take over would be hard, but it was not,” Gleason said. “Coach Lewis and Soracco came in and did an amazing job. They fit into our team culture perfectly and they really got to know us. I trusted John Franceschi when he said that these guys are the real deal, and they were.”
With fresh coaches and a chip on their shoulder, Calaveras started winning and didn’t stop. Calaveras went 11-1 in preseason play, with the only loss being 1-point against Weston Ranch. Each preseason win gave the team more and more confidence to not only win the Mother Lode League for the second year in a row, but that a long postseason run was in their future.
“The goal of the season was to take league and to make it back to the section championship game and bring it home,” Pebley said.
Calaveras began league play with a solid 62-33 home victory over Argonaut. Senior guard Savannah Duncan scored a game-high 15 points in the win. Gleason scored 15 points, pulled down seven rebounds and had five assists in a 65-39 road win a few days later over Summerville in Tuolumne. Senior Madison Cox and Duncan also each added 10 points in the win over the Bears.
After beating Linden 55-47, which was highlighted by 16 points and seven rebounds by junior Brianna McGinness, Calaveras was set to take on Bret Harte with first place on the line. It was also the return to Angels Camp for the former Bullfrog coaches. The county clash was tight, but Calaveras had a little more firepower and knocked off Bret Harte 35-31 to stay perfect.
After the win over Bret Harte, Calaveras strung together seven more league victories. Even though Calaveras had already knocked off Argonaut twice, Pebley felt that was a team who was always going to be an issue.
“Every year we worried about Argonaut,” Pebley said. “They were our biggest, toughest and hardest competition each and every year. They were strong, they were big and they were quick. And they’ve always had a great program.”
The fears of Argonaut were valid, as that’s the squad who handed Calaveras its only league loss of the year. Gleason led Calaveras with 11 points and Ruhl was right behind with 10, but a slow second quarter proved to be the difference in a 49-41 defeat.
“That loss against Argonaut stung and it actually made us all mad,” Pebley said. “We beat them two out of three times in league and that third loss was rough. But, I think if we went undefeated in league, we would’ve had a lot bigger heads going into the section championship game. I think the loss at the end of the season to Argonaut really motivated us and reminded us that anyone could beat us at any point in time.”
The league season ended with Calaveras posting a 14-1 record and claiming the league championship. Cox was named as the Most Valuable Player of the Mother Lode League, while Gleason was the co-Most Outstanding Player. Duncan and McGinness were all-league players.
When the postseason brackets were released, Calaveras got the No. 1 seed in division IV. With only three games separating Calaveras from a return trip to the section championship game, the veteran squad was focused and ready to roll.
“The feeling heading into the playoffs is overall very exciting,” Pebley said. “I don’t think we were as nervous as the previous year because we knew what to expect. The game is a lot quicker, the girls are a lot faster, and we knew we had to play tough. We were focused due to the loss at the end of the season against Argonaut.”
Calaveras opened up at home against Mariposa and beat the Grizzlies 58-43. Brianna McGinness led Calaveras with 17 points and nine rebounds, while Gleason scored 13 and Cox added nine. Calaveras then took on eighth-seeded Liberty Ranch in the quarterfinals and won 53-35. The lead was only 31-26 heading into the fourth quarter, but Calaveras outscored Liberty Ranch 22-9 in the final eight minutes. Duncan scored 18 points to lead the home squad, while Cox added 10 and Gleason scored six.
The playoffs then moved to Tokay High School, which was a neutral site with a trip to the section championship on the line. Gleason scored 17 points, while McGinness and Cox each added 15 in a 61-46 win over Bear River. For the second year in a row, Calaveras was headed to the section championship game.
“Returning to the championship game felt more exciting to me in 2012,” Pebley said. “We were seniors. I had played with those girls since elementary school and some in middle school. We had a special bond on and off the court. So, playing in that championship game was a lot more personal and exciting.”
As for Gleason, heading back to Arco Arena was just part of the overall plan that began the year prior, when she walked off the same floor after losing to Modesto Christian.
“Honestly, returning to the section championship game was exciting, but it kind of just felt like part of the process,” Gleason said. “We had been there and seen it all before, so we were just ready to play our style of basketball and get the win.”
West Campus, of Sacramento, was the team standing between Calaveras and the coveted blue banner. And after 37 years, Calaveras could once again be called section champs. Behind 19 points from Duncan and 11 points and 16 rebounds from Cox, Calaveras beat West Campus 56-45 at Arco Arena in Sacramento.
“The feeling of winning a championship game really is indescribable,” Pebley said. “I knew we could do it, but to actually do it was pretty unreal. And we had a great support system who drove down. We had a great cheering crowd and even a couple years after I graduated, I had people come up to me saying, ‘You were on the section championship basketball girls’ team.’ So even after winning that game, the excitement and thrill continued years later.”
With a section championship already captured, Calaveras figured it would take a run for a state title. Calaveras was awarded a first-round bye and then beat Marin Catholic 33-31. The season came to an end with a 62-38 loss to Saint Mary’s. Calaveras finished the 2012 season with an overall record of 29-4.
“What made the 2012 team so special was that we had grown up together, and we had played ball together for years,” Gleason said. “So, not only did we grow together in skill set or fundamentals, but also being able to read each other and just know when to help one another out. We all pushed each other to be better and train harder, and that is what made us play so great as a team. We did not just have one all-star player; we had a whole starting five and then some of great players. We were definitely hard to guard as a team.”
The 2012 Calaveras girls’ basketball team was: R.B. Ruhl; Brianna McGinness; Paulina Mejia; Nikki Gleason; Madison Cox; Amber Davis; Savannah Duncan; Courtney Tarbat; Raylene Bonham; Bridgette McGinness; and Megan Coleman.
“That team means everything to me,” Pebley said. “We had a great bond. We knew we could count on each other. We trusted each other. And we are great friends on and off the court. I still hold all those girls near and dear to my heart.”