One look up to the rafters inside the Cabrillo High gym is enough to give Erin Jenkins and the Conquistadores their motivation for Saturday.
Hovering above the Conquistadores are a mix of gold and black banners – gold indicating CIF Southern Section runner-up finishes and black representing CIF section champions.
The four-year varsity letter winner already knows which banner she wants to see get hoisted up right underneath the basketball floor.
“Coming into my freshman year, I always looked at the banners on our ceiling and I thought ‘It would be really cool to have one.’ And now we want the championship one instead of the runner-up,” Jenkins said.
The Conquistadores girls basketball team, for the first time at a school that opened its doors in 1965, will be shooting for its first ever section title on Saturday evening – as the Conqs head to Ontario’s Colony High School to take on Downey Warren for the CIF-SS Division 3AA title.
Jenkins isn’t the only one hoping to see a new banner inside the Conqs’ home floor. So are fellow teammates Alyssa Stewart, Valerie Monzon and Amani Childres – all in their final go-round with CHS as seniors.
“Ever since our league season ended, we said that every day was going to be our best practice, then the next day would be our best practice and then every game would be the best game we’ll ever play,” Stewart said.
Added Monzon: “To have a banner that says CIF champions…that would be amazing.”
Concluded Childres: “There are people asking us about the CIF state playoffs and I’m like ‘I don’t care about state right now’ because I’m focused on winning this championship.”
The journey to the CIF-SS championship game was one that involved obstacles in the form of season-ending injuries and two four-hour bus rides to Orange County.
First, top post presence Britney McCune went down with an ACL tear, wiping away most of her senior season. Then, key defender Kiki Dial was the next to be hit by the season-ending injury bug by going down with a similar injury at the season's midway point.
But the Conqs chose a next-player-up mentality over self pity – riding with the remaining roster and blowing past San Clemente in the quarterfinals and then skating by Fullerton Sunny Hills in the semis.
Head coach Jared McCune has been pleased with the way the Conqs responded to the injuries and other challenges.
“It’s been kind of a surreal season,” McCune said. “With the key injuries we had, that made it harder. I wasn’t sure if we had what it took to get to this point. But the girls have proved me wrong. Now that we’re here, we’ve said the last few weeks, ‘Why not us? Somebody has to win it. Why not us?’”
But now the newest challenge involves two more items on the Conqs’ to do list: Embark on an even longer journey to the Inland Empire and contend with a Warren team that’s well-rounded, McCune says.
And this is also a Bears team that just two seasons ago, endured a 4-22 campaign before playing for their chance at a CIF title.
Cabrillo High and the Vandenberg Village community have been abuzz about the girls’ CIF run. Players have said fellow students and CHS faculty members have walked up and congratulated the Conqs. Others have said they will hop inside the rooter bus on Saturday and fill the “Conq Crazies” student section at the Colony High gym.
McCune says he’s had excited patients at his own dentistry office on Constellation Road.
“It’s ironic – more people address me as coach than they do doctor in my office. And that’s a compliment,” McCune said, laughing. “It’s just neat to see everyone supporting us and telling us what a great job we’re doing.”
And McCune is sharing this thought with his players: He wants to see a new banner inside the CHS gym – one that has CHS girls basketball written all over it.
“Oh sure,” McCune said. “They keep talking about how they want to hang a black one instead of the gold one – because black means we won.”