Elk Grove High School
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Elk Grove Citizen
Elk Grove girls basketball keeps coach in their hearts with an eye on playoffs
By James Darnell, Citizen Sports Writer
February 1, 2019
It has been a season of transition for the Elk Grove Lady Herd varsity basketball program. Yet as they look ahead toward a trip to the CIF Sac Joaquin Section Division I playoffs, the team can't help but reflect on what has happened during the past year that has brought them to this point.
On March 12, 2018, beloved Lady Herd basketball coach Larry Price died due to complications of a ruptured artery in his lungs after a long fight with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Price, who affectionately referred to the team as "his girls," has been on the minds and hearts of the players he last coached at Elk Grove, who have taken the court this season with the goal in mind to make their former mentor proud.
If he could see them now, he would be.
Despite a hard-fought 63-61 overtime loss at St. Francis on Tuesday, Elk Grove (16-7 overall, 5-5 Delta League) finds itself in the driver's seat as it pertains to the fourth and final playoff spot awarded to Delta League teams. The Lady Herd are up two games in the league standings on fifth place St. Francis with two games remaining in the regular season, and can't help but think about Price with every achievement this year.
"We want to win everything for him," Lady Herd junior guard and team captain Rylie Hardin said about the team's mindset this year. Hardin, who played for Price the previous two seasons, also referenced how the team has embraced new head coach Trisha Campbell during her first year with the program. "We want to win for us too, and for Coach Campbell. She's been amazing. It all comes into play."
Against the Troubadours (11-14 overall, 3-6 Delta League) Tuesday, Elk Grove put forth an effort that would make any coach ecstatic. After not leading at any point during the first three quarters and trailing by as many as 11 points in the second half, the Lady Herd ultimately tied the game at 40 midway through the fourth quarter after a 7-0 run. Hardin scored 10 of her team-leading 20 points in the final minutes of regulation to help force overtime.
St. Francis also would help push the game into overtime, although not in the way they wanted. Trailing 55-54 with 3.4 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Troubadour sophomore guard Mackenzie Le stepped to the free throw line with a chance to potentially seal the game. After knocking down the first free throw, however, the second clanked off the right side of the rim and Hardin would snag the rebound, forcing the game into overtime as the clock expired.
Unfortunately for the Lady Herd, however, Le wouldn't pass up the opportunity to win the game for her team a second time. In overtime, Le scored all of St. Francis' eight points. Yet with 6.5 seconds remaining, Le stepped to the free throw line with her team up two points and a chance to put the game out of reach. Le would miss both free throws, with Hardin sprinting upcourt with the ball in her hands after a rebound. Hardin's three-pointer at the buzzer went off rim, however, giving St. Francis the victory.
Despite the close loss, Campbell couldn't have been more proud of how her team performed "There's no reason for them to beat themselves up over this tough loss," she said. "They worked their butts off and I'm proud of their effort."
Junior Maya Chelini came up big with 18 points for Elk Grove, and sophomore Amani Britton added 15. For St. Francis, Le led the Troubadours with 18 points, and senior guard Nika Bagatelos chipped in 12 points on four three-pointers.
In her first year at the helm, Campbell has had the unenviable task of filling the void left behind by the passing of Price, but has done a remarkable job given the adversity the team has faced.
"He meant a lot to the girls," Campbell said of Price. "He had a huge impact on them. I in no way wanted to come in and step on anybody's toes in that situation, and they absolutely play for him."
Campbell, who previously spent the past six years coaching at Dublin High School in the Bay Area, has also had to manage issues on the court.
"We've had injuries and that's really been a blow to us this season," she added. "But where we're at right now, I'm proud of where they are at. I'm proud of the work they're putting in. People are having to step up, and I like our odds right now headed into playoffs."
The Lady Herd have played well for Campbell this year, and will look to continue to do so as they close out the regular season and move toward the playoffs. But according to Hardin, the team still can feel the impact that Price made on the program.
"She (Coach Campbell) has been holding it down for us," Hardin said. "But he's still there every once in a while."