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Eagles reaching rarified air

Del Oro girls brace for postseason run as they steamroll through SFL play
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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“Ubuntu,” or all for one. It’s an African word and the motto of the Del Oro High girls basketball team this year. The Golden Eagles prove their talent, coupled with unity on the court, make them every bit as good as their reputation. Ranked No. 1 in Sac-Joaquin Section Division II power ratings and riding a 55-game winning streak in the Sierra Foothill League, they can almost see the lights of Arco Arena and a section championship banner in their gym. “There are no weak spots for other teams to prepare for,” Del Oro coach Mike Takayama said of his squad. “From an all-around standpoint this is the best team I have ever coached. It’s a very cerebral group and they are great competitors.” Six Del Oro players maintain a 4.0 GPA or higher, while others have gained notoriety beyond Loomis. Senior Madeline Campbell was recently nominated for the prestigious McDonald’s All-American team and will be playing for UC Santa Barbara next year. She leads the team in scoring with an average of 14.5 points per game. With nine players returning from last year’s top 10, Takayama said his team has had the chance to grow together. “We are looking towards our longer-term goals,” Takayama said. “We would love to be able to get back to Arco Arena. We had a taste of where we want to be last year at semifinals.” The Golden Eagles are more equipped than ever to reach the final. They have held every team under their scoring average and they also have the versatility they need on offense. On defense, senior Belle Obert averages six blocks per game. “Belle is probably the best defender in Sacramento,” Takayama said. “She is also one of the smartest basketball players I have coached in 25 years.” Players like Campbell and Obert have built a legacy of winning that they will pass on to up-and-coming players. Takayama said sophomore Brianna Ruiz is one player who will carry it on when the seniors graduate. “She has a chance to become the best player to come out of Del Oro and even the SFL,” Takayama said. “There is such excitement every time you get out and watch Brianna play. She does something special every time she plays.” Ruiz averages 11.1 points per game and leads the Golden Eagles in assists with 2.7 per game. Takayama said that she is probably the best underclassman in the area, but playing with such high-caliber players may lower her statistics. Colfax leads the Pioneer Valley League with a 5-0 record, but the Falcons lost to Del Oro in the title game of the Lady Eagle Invitational last month. Coach Dave Campbell said preparing to play against a team like Del Oro takes a good deal of scouting. “They have all the pieces to make a great basketball team,” Campbell said. “And they’re probably one of the strongest teams that I have ever coached against. I truly believe they have what it takes to make it to Arco Arena if they stay focused and healthy.” With all that raw talent, Takayama’s players said a huge portion of their success is attributed to his coaching. Not only does he make a ritual of fueling his team with pre-game Jamba Juice and food, he also reassures them when they are on the court. “His stance is so confident and relaxed. We know we can look for him on how to play,” Madeline Campbell said. That level of confidence is something the Golden Eagles will need heading into difficult match-ups. Their hopes of making it to Arco Arena ended last year when they lost to St. Mary’s of Stockton, which was one of the top-ranked teams in the country. This year St. Mary’s is looming again as a favorite in the Division II playoff bracket. The Rams are 13-2 overall. The Del Oro girls are determined to see their hard work and spirit of “ubuntu” pay off and take them to Arco. “Every year we go right to it and it is a heartbreak when it doesn’t happen,” Campbell said. “We are a lot more connected on the court and we are all older so we have gotten better.” That connectedness was evident in their game against Woodcreek Jan. 26, when senior Crystal Sewell returned to the court. Sewell, who had been out with a torn ligament in her thumb since Christmas, was greeted with a frenzy of cheering from fans and teammates. Her skills on offense and defense, averaging 11.9 points and 1.9 steals per game, were sorely missed. Obert said that Del Oro’s height and speed, along with everyone taking their play to the next level, have also factored into their unprecedented success this season. “We have been working on our swagger this year,” Obert said. As far as where they are headed in the future, Ruiz said she has a couple of ideas in mind. “I want to continue the legacy,” Ruiz said. “And not break the winning streak.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com