PREP BASKETBALL: Lady Falcons excited, confident ahead of D-VI title game with Ripon Christian
KNOW & GO
What: Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI Championship Game
Who: No. 1 Forest Lake Christian (20-5) vs. No. 3 Ripon Christian (16-12)
When: 10 a.m., Friday
Where: University of Pacific, Stockton
Follow along: On Twitter @WalterLFordIII
The Lady Falcons took flight several months ago and have now reached the pinnacle of their journey — the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI Championship Game.
“We are very excited,” said Forest Lake Christian girls basketball head coach Valerie Horner. “The girls are feeling confident and anxious to get there and get going. The overall enthusiasm is high and we’re ready to go.”
Forest Lake Christian (20-5) hasn’t lost since mid December, soaring through their competition with 18 straight wins, including a 10-0 run in Central Valley California League play and victory over the defending D-VI champs Valley Christian in the semifinals.
Making the run to the title game more impressive was the doubt that the Lady Falcons would even have a team this season, said Horner.
“Coming into the season we weren’t even sure we were going to have a team,” she said, noting there was questions about who would coach this season and if there would be enough interested girls to field a team.
Amid chaos and confusion, the team managed to come together and what followed will go down in Forest Lake Christian lore.
Horner, an FLC grad and former player, moved from assistant coach into the head coach role. Longtime head coach Tom Ritchart and longtime assistant Marty Pearce both stayed on as assistants to help Horner with the transition. Returning players from last year’s team recruited classmates to help build a nine person roster and the 2017-18 Lady Falcons were formed. Now they are on the precipice of winning their first section title since 2005.
“They chose to come out in the midst of a lot of chaos and not knowing and that choice I think brought them closer, they were already close, but when you have to rise up against the odds it’s almost like the underdog type story,” Horner said. “All of us did it together, it was a big step of faith for me this year to take over as head coach, it was a big step of faith for the girls to come out when people were saying there wouldn’t be a team this year and now look what’s happened. It’s a huge blessing that has come our way and that has fostered unity in this team.”
Unity is this team’s defining quality.
“The trust they have for each other and their relationship with each other has made the basketball skill amongst them stronger,” Horner said. “They trust each other.”
A big reason for FLC’s success this season has been the potent post play of the Dreschler sisters. Senior Johnna Dreschler is averaging 15 points per game to go with her section leading 17.4 rebounds per game. Sophomore Jessi Dreschler pulls down 10.1 rebounds per game to go with 6.1 points and 4.4 steals.
“The two of them are the dynamic duo,” Horner said. “The way that they play off each other is phenomenal… They just have that instinct on the court. Jessi will grab the ball, drive up the court, a quick pass to Johnna, she passes it right back to Jessi for the layup. It’s a trust thing. It’s knowing that they can rely on each other.”
Johnna Dreschler, who had her junior season cut short by injury, said this year’s run to the title game has been “unreal” and made all the sweeter to be able to do it with her sister.
“My sister is my best friend,” she said. “The fact that she is here makes my senior year that much better.”
The Lady Falcons have a knack for flustering their opponents and it shows on the scoreboard. For the season, FLC has allowed an average of just 33 points per game. The high pressure defense often leads to easy buckets for the Lady Falcons, who have averaged 48.8 points per game this season.
Leading the Lady Falcons’ defense is a trio of talented guards in sophomore Amber Jackson, freshman Ellie Wood and senior Bella Horner.
Jackson leads the defense with her athleticism and determination. She leads the team in steals with 4.5 per game and is second in scoring with 11.1 points per game.
“She’s such a phenomenal athlete, and an athlete I’ve never really seen before at this school,” Horner said. “She is a game changer. She’s effortless and phenomenal.”
Wood has grown into her role with the team and provides another talented guard that opposing teams have to contend with for the length of the floor. She averages 2.9 steals per game and tallies 7.7 points per game.
“She is fearless,” Valerie Horner said. “Her confidence level on the court as a freshman at the varsity level is amazing.”
Bella Horner is a tenacious guard and senior captain, along with Johnna Dreschler. She is averaging 3.7 steals per game and adds 5.8 points per game as well.
“As a basketball player, she has grown leaps and bounds,” Valerie Horner, Bella’s mother, said. “Bella and Johnna as the captains really fostered the family aspect of the team and it really helped us rise through tough situations.”
The Lady Bruins aren’t without talent off the bench either as Erin Johnson and Breezy Adams have come through with strong play in critical moments throughout the season and playoffs.
FACING THE KNIGHTS
Looking to knock off the No. 1 seed Lady Falcons will be the No. 3 seed Knights from Ripon Christian. The Knights boast a balanced attack led by sophomore Morgan Van Elderen (11.7 points per game, junior Renae Heida (10.2 points per game) and Kelly Engel (9.4 points per game).
“They are very strong outside shooters, they have some good ball handlers and are pretty aggressive on the drive,” Valerie Horner said.
The Knights are 16-12 and have won three straight to reach the title game.
Forest Lake Christian has found its way to section titles before, but hasn’t reached a section championship game since 2006, when it lost to Modesto Christian. The last time the Lady Falcons won a section title was in 2005, capping a run of three straight D-V championships. Ripon Christian and Forest Lake Christian did meet up in a title game once before with the Lady Falcons winning 57-54 in 2003. Ripon Christian played for the D-V title in 2015, but lost to Capital Christian.
The D-VI championship bout between FLC and Ripon Christian tips off at 10 a.m. Friday at The University of Pacific in Stockton.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email email@example.com.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.