Girls basketball team perseveres despite drubbings

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 10:26 AM

Joe Davidson

SACRAMENTO, Calif -- The Johnson Warriors recently lost a high school girls basketball game 105-2 in one of those horrific, "Is that a typo?" outcomes.

The team's latest losses came this week, 71-3 and 72-8 to division opponents in Sacramento's Metro Conference.

The losses dropped Johnson's record to 0-6 and stretched its conference losing streak to 48 games. The Warriors are 1-64 over the past four seasons under three coaches.

None of the Johnson players truly comprehend these look-away numbers, nor do they particularly care. To them, it's about learning how to play, how to compete, how to box out, set a screen, dribble with one hand. For these players, wins are measured in learning the fundamentals.

When reached Jan. 5 after the 105-2 loss to Florin High School, Johnson coach Jeanie Huizar was full of cheer instead of fury and shame. She said her players didn't want to quit when it was 69-0 at the half and didn't want pity from their opponent. And they are eager for their next game.

Huizar, a second-year coach, said Florin didn't try to run up the score, but she said the game "was like an eighth-grade team taking on a great junior college team."

She added that Florin players and parents sought out her players to express admiration -- the lesson being that effort is always recognized and appreciated.

During a Jan. 6 practice, the Warriors hustled and showed no adverse effects from the loss. The Warriors, it turns out, handle defeat better than some teams handle victory.

Still, a season of lopsided losses (73-3; 70-14; 87-30) that included the Jan. 5 crusher can wear on even the most resilient team.

"It's tested me a lot, and I'm not used to losing," said Huizar, who played at McClatchy under Harvey Tahara and coached the McClatchy freshman team. "I'm sure people must see these scores and wonder if I even know how to coach, or if the kids care. They care. I care. We're doing our best to learn the game. I think the girls have been waiting for me to rip into them, but I cried instead. We all did."

Johnson High School, which opened in the 1950s, has had success in all sports except girls basketball. It has made the playoffs just once in 30 years, and most of the players on this year's team are taking up the sport for the first time.

"Some girls haven't dribbled before in their life until this season, but I know we have great heart, and we can live with that," said senior guard Shaina Hagan, the team's most skilled player who missed the Florin game because of a family medical emergency; she plans to enlist in the Army following graduation.

Another guard, 4-foot-11 Leticia Ceballos, dreams of attending Stanford.

All the players dream of making baskets -- and luring more players. Surely, more of the 1,800 students can dribble and shoot.

"We had 30 girls try out, so there is interest," Huizar said. "I kept the 12 who made grades. Now we're down to eight. One filled out paperwork and would've helped us, but we never saw her again. One girl had a 0.00 grade-point average. How can you not turn in a single homework assignment? We have to get these girls eligible."

Huizar, 28, is a full-time student at Sacramento State University who also works at Wells Fargo, in addition to her coaching duties. She reminds her players that basketball "is our reward, our payday."

The coach understands perspective. In the past two years, she lost both parents to heart disease. And she has players who wonder what they will eat for dinner.

"I . pray for these girls, that they're OK, that they're safe," Huizar said. "Family is everything to me, and these girls are family. I'm not their mom, but I'm their older sister."

Said Hagan: "We're lucky to have a coach who cares for us."

Huizar often is the only coach at practice, unlike other programs where assistants work stations drilling players. And the school doesn't have warm-ups or T-shirts with its logo -- nor does it have money to go to tournaments or travel.

The Warriors couldn't get shots off against Florin, a tall and talented team that features year-round players. Freshman forward Dajah Harris scored Johnson's only two points on free throws.

"It was like we won a championship, everyone was clapping, including the Florin players and coaches," Huizar said. "That was a win for us."

In emails to local media, Florin coach Larry Price was criticized about the 103-point margin of victory, with some calling for his firing. But Price has been on the opposite end of such routs. His Florin team was winless in 2007, and the climb to mediocrity and then success was arduous. In time, Price said Johnson can achieve, too.

"We've been there, run into the ground, lose by 80," Price said. "I applaud coach Huizar and her kids. You could see the joy in their faces for playing, for competing. . You have to have empathy."

Empathy, yes, Huizar said, but not pity.

More execution and made shots?

"I'll pray for that next time, too," she said.

Sign up for e-mail news updates.