Saturday, March 23, 2013

STATE CHAMPIONS! Pleasant Grove Made History

No one probably knows the magnitude of Pleasant Grove’s win in the CIF Division I boys’ basketball championship game Friday night more than school principal Hank Meyers.

Cole Nordquist models his new T-shirt moments
after Pleasant Grove won the D-I basketball
championship Friday
He coached the Jesuit basketball teams in 1993 and 1994 that finished second those years. Those squads and last year’s Sheldon boys are the only other Sacramento-area teams to make it this far in the large school division since the CIF began a state championship in basketball in 1981. 

“Fantastic, absolutely fantastic,” Meyer exclaimed. “I couldn’t be more pleased and happy.”

The 73-57 win over Santa Monica contains a list of firsts by the 2013 Eagles: the first state championship for the school in any sport, the first basketball state championship in the Elk Grove Unified School District, the first basketball state championship in Division I in the Sac-Joaquin Section and, perhaps, the first state championship by a team that didn’t win its league title nor its Section championship.

Those facts didn’t get by team co-captain and senior Matthew Smrekar.

“It is really amazing considering all the great basketball players that have come through Sacramento to be the team to actually win a state championship,” he said. “It’s really fulfilling to know we did it. It’s a fairytale ending to a senior year. We’ve all been together since freshmen. We’ve worked hard for this moment.”

The Eagles finished second in the Delta River League to eventual Division I Section winner Sheldon. The Huskies were then placed in the CIF’s new “Open” Division for the NorCal Regional Tournament, but lost to Archbishop Mitty in the championship game.

Meyer was all grins as he walked off the floor of Sleep Train Arena after being presented with the CIF State Championship trophy. He, of course, handed it off to his head coach John DePonte and the team for them to coddle, hug and use as the key object in hundreds of photos over the next couple hours.

“Historic in many ways,” Meyer said of the Friday win. “It says a lot about the resiliency and the perseverance of this group. They never gave up and just kept fighting and in the end it paid off.”

His Jesuit teams lost in ’93 and ’94 to a very good Crenshaw High School squad from Los Angeles at the Oakland Coliseum both years. Meyer claimed he didn’t really share from those experiences as the Eagles were preparing for Friday’s game.

“I didn’t think that was necessary, they didn’t need my advice,” he said. “They got it all down. I was here just to support.”

Though he was personally attached to the Pleasant Grove accomplishment, EGUSD athletic director Jim Smrekar, Matthew’s father, knows this title means much to the school district as a whole.

“I think it’s an incredible achievement,” Smrekar said. “It’s a tribute to the coaching staff and the kids. Everybody is just so proud for what they’ve accomplished.”

The state title won the Eagles will likely rank near the top of feats accomplished by an EGUSD team, no matter the sport.

“You’d have to go back to Bill Cartwright (in the 1970s at Elk Grove) earning any national renown, that was the impetus for the state playoffs,” Smrekar said. “I can’t think of anything else that would be on par with this.”

Smrekar, who is in his 13th year as EGUSD’s athletic director and a former basketball coach at Valley and Florin, acknowledged the six state wrestling champions at Elk Grove for their individual accomplishments. But, Pleasant Grove’s win is unique from a team perspective.

“We’ve had teams who didn’t have the avenue to a state championship,” he said. “I think back to (the 1997 and 1998) Elk Grove football team. The (State football) bowl didn’t exist back then. It would have been interesting to see what a team like that would have done.”

“I think it is important to note that this was done by a group of kids who have been together for a long time and they did it without any quote-unquote ‘superstars,’” Smrekar added. “Nobody at this point of time has a scholarship offer yet they’ve beat others who had a player who had an offer. This is exceptional.”

The CIF Basketball Championship has been won primarily by schools in southern California. Most of the northern California winners have been Bay Area teams.

Very few Sacramento-area schools have ever made it this far. In modern history, only Oak Ridge (Div-II, 2005), Folsom (Div-III 1985) and Foothill (Div-III 1994 and 2003) have won boys’ championships.

In the girls, state titles have been won by Grant (Div-II in 1988 and 1989), El Camino (Div-II in 1994) and St. Francis (Div-III 1993).

St. Mary’s of Stockton (Div-II in 2002 and 2011, Div-III in 2004, 2009 and 2010, Div-IV in 2000 and 2003) has frequently won state championships.

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