For four straight seasons, the Cabrillo High girls basketball team has seen this location before in the playoffs – the quarterfinals.
But this time, the Conquistadores are looking to keep their foot on the gas pedal…and travel to a new area: The CIF Southern Section Semifinals, which would be a first in program history according to the school’s athletic website.
The 24-2 Conquistadores – who haven’t lost a game since Dec. 28 against PAC 8 League champion Righetti – are hoping to keep their momentum train steaming along as they will now trek to South Orange County for this new mission: End their third-and-done status and advance on in these CIF-SS Division 3AA playoffs.
“That’s a big goal of ours,” head coach Jared McCune said by phone on Monday. “The quarterfinals seem to be our Achilles' heel. But I feel confident about this team. Plus I think this year, playing the two playoff games instead of the bye last year really helps the girls’ confidence.”
But standing in the way this Wednesday night at the city that separates the O.C. from the San Diego County line? That would be the San Clemente Tritons – a school with a girls basketball program enriched in round ball history on the girls side.
This is a Tritons program that features six seasons of 19 victories or more since the 2004-05 season, a program that went 70-34 under their previous head coach Lacey Burns from 2011 to 2015 and now, is being energized by former Cal basketball star and ex-UCLA associate strength and conditioning coach Kerri Husbands.
Additionally, this is a Tritons team that – while beginning the year 3-7 – withstood the rough O.C. gauntlet and is currently riding their own winning streak of five straight games.
“They’ve got hot late,” McCune said. “They’re tall, plus their guards are long too. They’ve got a lot of girls competing.”
There are two things the Conqs and Tritons have in common – One: Both teams feature six seniors on their roster and two: Their top senior leaders (Erin Jenkins of Cabrillo and Shae Waters of San Clemente) are 5-foot-10 and versatile.
But the Tritons will also aim to counter with rising sophomore Ella Gardiner. The 6-foot-1 Class of 2020 prospect is the Tritons’ double-double presence as the team’s top scorer (11.4 points per game) and rebounder (11.8 RPG) according to Max Preps.
Cabrillo recently had to contend with top post presence Iasia Bailey during the 58-32 rout on Saturday in Vandenberg Village. Despite the 26-point trouncing, Bailey still led her team with 15 points and 10 rebounds. McCune knows his team has no choice but draw up plans to counter Gardiner.
“We’re concerned and always mindful of bigs,” McCune said. “I’ve seen her a few times on film but not much. But we’ve got to attack the boards.”
One aspect that McCune is seeing more of from his team is their cerebral side. McCune said that his players are now making their own adjustments against defenses during games.
“We’re recognizing quicker what defenses now throw at us,” McCune said.
While the 219-mile commute to SCHS is capable of being a challenging one for these Conquistadores, McCune said that he’s got a focused and confident group of girls who are ready for this near five-hour trek – as CHS aims to finally end its quarterfinals woes.
“I think coming up short, especially last year, inspires and motivates these girls,” McCune said.