In 2011, Bear River’s Kaitlyn Reina, then a freshman, led the Lady Bruin girls junior varsity basketball team to an undefeated season.
Reina was named MVP of the team and was on the fast track to joining a talented varsity squad in desperate need of an effective post player.
But after her breakout season, Reina found out the scoliosis in her upper back was so severe she would need surgery or face the reality that she could possibly be crippled by age 30, said her mother Michele Reina in an email.
In July of 2011, Reina had major spine surgery and has been working since then to get where her Lady Bruins are today — the Sac-Joaquin Section Section Division IV championship.
Reina and the rest of the top-seeded Lady Bruins take the court at 11:30 a.m. today under the bright lights of Sleep Train Arena to face No. 3 seed Bradshaw Christian in a matchup of girls basketball powerhouses.
The Lady Bruins are in search of their 11th section title and third under head coach Jeff Bickmore.
“It’s definitely different,” Bickmore said about his third trip to the section title game. “On the first two, I had Lauren Juric. I had a 6-2 post player, and a 6-1 post player, and that was a lot different team, a lot bigger. They were a really excellent defensive team but maybe not as a good all around offensively as this team. This team now has more kids that can score.”
Juric, who tallied championships with the Lady Bruins in 2006 and 2007, is an assistant coach with this year’s version of the Lady Bruins and provides a little insight into what players can expect.
“I know how excited they are because I’ve been there and know how important it is,” she said. “I am able to tell them from a player’s perspective what to prepare for because it’s different at Arco.”
Juric said one of the biggest distractions was the lighting.
“The lights are hard to shoot with,” she said. “They are in your face when you are shooting, it weird.”
Bradshaw Christian will enter the contest in search of its first Division IV title after being bumped up from Division V last season. The Lady Pride owned Division V since 2008, winning four straight titles before being moved to D-IV last season. They were bounced in the first round by Argonaut last year.
“They’re a very athletic team,” Bickmore said of Bradshaw Christian. “They are a gambling team. They go for the big steal and look for the big play with steals and transition. When we play teams like that, it’s really important that we take care of the ball.
“Colfax played extremely well against them, but what hurt them in the end was the turnovers. That’s our goal — is to keep the turnovers to a minimum and get decent shots. If they are going to trap, we are going to get open looks, we just have to find away to make those shots.”
Bradshaw Christian totes a potent offense to go with a press-happy defense. Offensively the Lady Pride boast four players who average 10 points or more per game.
Sophomore Erika Bean leads them with 15.2 points per game. The 5-foot, 7-inch guard also dishes out 4.5 assists per game and nabs 5.8 steals per game.
Bean will surely be a handful for the Lady Bruin guards, Cindy Solomon, Savannah Welz, Maddi Dunn and Sarah Hagar.
Solomon, the Lady Bruins’ senior point guard, is a sure-handed speedy guard who protects the ball well. On the season, Solomon averaged 7.3 points per game, 2.4 assists and 1.9 steals.
“I feel like as the point guard, I’m in control of keeping everyone’s attitude in check,” Solomon said of her role on the team. “I keep everyone’s spirits up. If we mess up, I’m always the one to pat them on the back and keep them going. But I feel like my main role is to get Kate (Reina) and Teryn (Rath) to score in the post.”
Reina and Rath have added a power post element to the Lady Bruin team — an element that was sorely missed last season.
Reina leads the Lady Bruins in points and rebounds, averaging 13.3 and 9.6 respectively. Reina also leads the team in steals with 3.4 per game.
“She doesn’t do anything particularly orthodox, but she is such a worker down there, and she just battles,” Bickmore said of Reina. “She is a very, very good athlete, and people don’t give her credit for what a good athlete she is. She is very fast and really strong and really competitive.”
As for Reina’s back, she hasn’t missed a game all season.
As for Reina, now a major cog in the Lady Bruin machine, she said she still feels it on the court sometimes.
“I’m on the floor a lot, and sometimes when I hit the ground hard, it hurts,” Reina said. But being the tough competitor she is, she always bounces back up and into the mix. “I just have to calm down, take a breath and get back into it.”
Rath showed just how valuable she can be Wednesday when Reina found herself in foul trouble for most the semifinal match against Argonaut. Rath pulled down 15 rebounds, blocked three shots and scored six critical points.
“She has become a much better defender and rebounder this year,” Bickmore said. “She is a lot more effective on the block than she was as a sophomore.”
Rath, now a junior, averages 7.9 points per game while pulling down 8.2 rebounds and blocking two shots.
Rath and Reina will likely see plenty of Bradshaw Christian’s other outstanding sophomore, 6-foot forward Jordyn Bell. The athletic post leads the Lady Pride in rebounds with 8.3 per game to go with 13.8 points per game.
The other two scorers for Bradshaw Christian are a pair of seniors.
Five-foot, 9-inch senior guard Ashlee Jones averages 14 points per game, and senior Briana Barnes averages 10.8 points per game, including a 28-point performance against Kennedy of Richmond earlier this season.
The Lady Bruins also have a pair of seniors who can put up points in Hagar and Welz. Hagar, a self-described defender and rebounder, also has 3-point range and despite her 5-foot, 6-inch frame isn’t afraid to go after a loose ball and win hustle plays for Bear River.
Welz is the Lady Bruins steadiest player. The 3-point artist leads the team in 3-pointers made with 48, three more than Solomon, and has a calming effect on the team.
“She doesn’t get rattled,” Bickmore said. “She is very calm. I think her influence keeps our team calm even when things aren’t going real well. She just stays so relaxed and focused, I think it carries over to the whole team.”
As for what it will take to get Bear River’s first section championship in six years, Bickmore said it will come down to simply hitting their shots.
“We’re going to play like we have all year,” Bickmore said. “Do the best job we can defensively, but it always comes down to making shots. You got to make shots. (Wednesday) we got lucky. We played as good a defense as we did because we didn’t shoot the ball well.”
Rath said the crux of the game will be which team can get past its nerves and play staunch defense.
“We’re going to need to play really good defense and stay focused,” Rath said. “We need to be really engaged and go at it 100 percent. If we do that I think we will get the win.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email email@example.com.