PREP BASKETBALL: Battle tested Lady Falcons head north for NorCal Championship Game | TheUnion.com

PREP BASKETBALL: Battle tested Lady Falcons head north for NorCal Championship Game

AT A Glance

Forest Lake Christian

Overall record: 24-6

MaxPreps rank (California D-VI): 6

Points per game: 50.6

Points allowed per game: 37.7

Points leader: Amber Jackson - 16.3 per game

Rebound leader: Lily Sween - 8.9 per game

Assist leader: Ali McDaniel- 4.6 per game

Steal leader: Amber Jackson - 5 per game

Etna

Overall record: 24-6

MaxPreps rank (California D-VI): 1

Points per game: 55.4

Points allowed per game: 38.9

Points leader: Jessica Dean - 10.8 per game

Rebound leader: Megan Bennett - 9.6 per game

Assist leader: Megan Bennett - 3.7 per game

Steal leader: Halliday Hubbard - 3.6 per game

The journey has been a long and arduous one, but after more than three months and 30 games, there’s just one more team standing in the way of the Forest Lake Christian girls basketball team and a NorCal Division VI Championship.

“It’s kind of indescribable,” FLC head coach John McDaniel said of his team’s postseason run. “We’ve had so many close games. Never had a blowout the entire time, so the girls are battle tested and have come out on top more than not. It’s been super exciting.”

After knocking off No. 4 seed California School for the Deaf (Fremont), 52-50, in the first round and No. 1 Redding Christian, 48-47, in the semifinals, the No. 5 Lady Falcons (24-6) will now fly north to face the No. 2 Etna Lions on their court with the D-VI title on the line.

The Lady Falcons have landed in the championship thanks in large part to their defense, which has allowed 37.7 points per game this season.

“We just have to play defense like we have been,” McDaniel said. “That’s our calling card and that’s what we pride ourselves on. We just hope to outscore them by one or two.”

FLC has been on the road for all of its NorCal games and today’s contest, which is more than a four hour drive away, will be no different.

McDaniel said his team has enjoyed the extra time together, and he’s been impressed by the FLC fan base’s dedication and support.

“You don’t expect to see any of your fans at games that far away, but we had a bunch of people down in the Bay Area, we had a bunch of people show up again in Redding, and from what I hear, it will be less people, but I know there are still some people who will be making the trek to Etna,” he said.

The reigning Central Valley California League champs, and Sac-Joaquin Section runner ups are a balanced group led by junior guards Amber Jackson and Ali McDaniel as well as senior forward Lily Sween.

Jackson, the CVCL MVP, is a lockdown defender who averages five steals per game. She also leads the team in scoring with 16.3 points per game. Ali McDaniel is a steady hand at point guard and leads the team in assists with 4.6 per game. She also scores at a 10.3 points per game clip and pulls down 6.6 rebounds per game. Sween is the team’s top post player, averaging 15.2 points and grabbing a team-best 8.9 rebounds per game.

The Lady Falcons also have key contributors in sophomore guard Ellie Wood, junior guard Bella O’Neill, sophomore forward Sonja Sween and senior forward Breezy Adams.

It’s the team’s balance along with a commitment to defense and hard work that has been the key to success, according to John McDaniel.

“They just put their heads down and go to work,” he said. “They know what they do well, they love to play defense, they love the challenge to having to stop someone and play defense over a long period of time, and they pride themselves on working hard.”

The Lions (24-6) grabbed the No. 2 seed in the D-VI NorCal bracket after earning a runner-up finish to Redding Christian in the Northern Section championship. They are in the NorCal title game after besting Credo (Rohnert Park) in the first round and Sac-Joaquin Section D-VI champ Valley Christian in the semis.

“I just know they are relentless,” McDaniel said of Etna. “I’ve talked to a couple of coaches about what they do and it sounds like they just don’t back down. They’re like a wave in the ocean, they just keep coming and coming and that is kind of what we pride ourselves on.”

Etna boasts three players who average 10 points per game or more, including 5-foot, 11-inch Jessica Dean (10.8), 5-10 Cailey Rizzardo (10.5) and 5-7 Halliday Hubbard (10.4).

“They are incredibly well rounded,” said John McDaniel. “If you look at their scoring, everyone scores 8-10 and that’s what you need to make a deep run.”

The title game is set to tip off at 6 p.m. today at Etna High School.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email wford@theunion.com.


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