For the first time in five years the St. Francis High girls’ basketball team faced an opportunity to take home a league title.
Only this time they weren’t looking to share the pie.
In a back-and-forth game filled with eccentric plays from both sides, the Sharks sank North Monterey County High in a narrow 48-45 victory to capture the Pacific Coast Athletic League Cypress Division title on Feb. 9.
“We knew coming in it was going to be like that because their crowd is always loud,” Sharks head coach Jesse Yniguez said. “The game was exciting at the end, they made those big shots and the crowd got into it.”
St. Francis beat Pacific Collegiate School, 62-45, in Tuesday’s regular season finale to finish with a perfect 14-0 record in Cypress Division play.
Not only was it their first PCAL crown but it was the first outright title and undefeated league season ever in the program’s history.
The Sharks were co-champions in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League in 2008-09 and 2010-11 after winning the league tournament in those seasons, including a 57-56 buzzer-beating win against Soquel High in the 2010-11 championship game.
St. Francis recently shared a PCAL Cypress Division title with Carmel High in 2018-19 with both teams finishing 7-3 in league play that season.
They currently own a 21-2 overall record, winning more games than the past three years combined.
In the Sharks’ closest game of the season, both St. Francis and NMC started off sinking their shots.
From the get-go, last week’s meeting against the Condors (14-6, 9-3) was a playoff-like atmosphere with cardboard cutout faces littering the packed bleachers supporting the home team from Castroville.
The Sharks were riding the high of their 13-game win streak heading into Thursday night, including one win against the second place Condors.
St. Francis played to its strengths of 3-point shooting and transition offense initiated by suffocating defense, but the Condors used their size and quick passing to get open layups.
As the Sharks’ lead grew into the second half up to a 10 point lead halfway through the 4th quarter, every basket reverberated a wave of silence and contesting murmurs throughout the audience.
Leading the Sharks with a team-best 15 points was freshman Maya Calfee, who has been the difference maker for them this season.
“We’re really proud,” Calfee said of her team’s performance. “We put in all of our hard work and it’s really paying off. I think we’re doing really good.”
Last season was quite the opposite in terms of winning success for the Sharks, finishing with a 6-15 overall record and 1-9 in league play.
Calfee leads the team in nearly every statistical category with an average of 16.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game, according to the Max Preps website.
Calfee first began playing basketball at the age of four, and has shown that she has much left ahead of her.
From her first day at the varsity level, the coaches recognized her to be a starting level talent.
“Maya sees the floor, shares the ball really well, and can shoot,” Yniguez said. “We were talking about how we’re that much better as a team than last year, and it has to be Maya.”
The Sharks had just one player resting on the bench while the Condors had a whole nest of reserves. Fatigue seemed to play into NMC’s comeback late in the fourth quarter.
St. Francis’ 10-point lead seemed to dissipate to just one point within minutes of big shot after big shot from North Monterey County.
With just a minute remaining and one point in the way of a league championship, the breathless gym watched a free throw battle unfold between the two teams.
Finally, Calfee came up with a clutch steal that would conclude the game.
“It means everything to me as a senior playing for the last four years and not having much success,” Emily Raich said on her team coming away with the league title. “This is what I’ve been working for, so it means a lot.”
After finishing last season with a narrow 40-38 loss against these same Condors, the Sharks swept the Condors this season.
For St. Francis coaches and players alike, their success has been one of school history fueled by very strong team chemistry, and a collective goal to improve. Yet, the real challenge of the Central Coast Section playoffs has just started.
The Sharks earned the No. 3 seed in the Division V bracket and have a bye until the quarterfinals on Feb. 20 at 7pm.
With expectations limited to start the season, the Sharks hope to “just make a run”, Yniguez said. “We have a small group. Most of these girls played flag football before, so I’m going to attribute their endurance to that.”