After a 2½-hour drive, the Ursuline girls basketball players unpacked themselves from the aging Ford school vans they had used to get to Placer High School in Auburn. And then the Bears saw their opponents. The girls from Colfax High had arrived in limousines. Young ladies were sticking their hands through the open sunroofs to flash the “We’re No. 1” sign.
The Ursuline girls stood there in silence. This was a CIF NorCal semifinal playoff game in 1992. The stakes were high, and the Bears were a little nervous to begin with. They didn’t know how to respond to this show of swagger. Then Brenna Nurmi spoke up.
Nurmi wasn’t even a full-fledged member of the team. Mark Rigby, Ursuline’s 35-year-old coach, had elevated the pint-sized cross-country runner from the JV basketball squad as an extra practice player for the postseason. Now, as the Colfax players styled their entrance, Nurmi broke the silence. “Let’s send ’em home in Pintos,” she said.
The Bears cracked up, breaking the tension. And then they did just what Nurmi suggested, sending Colfax and the next two opponents home in metaphorical lemons.
When the Cardinal Newman girls take the court at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento on Saturday morning, they will be attempting to capture the school’s first state championship in girls basketball. But it would be a stretch to call it the first title for the program. Because Ursuline High, the girls campus that shut its doors in 2011 and was absorbed by sibling school Cardinal Newman, won it all in ’92.
“Even if it’s not the same name, it’s the same sense of community and history and tradition,” said Jessica Mazeau, a junior and the starting point guard on the 1992 team. “Even though they’re not wearing the same name across the chest as we were, I still feel very connected to it. When I read about them or see a Facebook post, I get really excited for them.”
One big difference between 1992 and 2016: the gym.
“We had that janky little court, that not-full-size court,” recalled Shannon Crouse, a senior forward for the ’92 team. “That was my home court, where they played bingo. We’d show up 9 a.m. Saturday for practice and it’d be full of smoke.”
“We knew where the dead spots were on the floor, and we tried to force you that direction,” Rigby, now 59, said with a laugh. “It was very loud. It was very intimidating. We’d come out and we might half-court trap you with the short sidelines. … That stage came up on you really quickly if you were going for a driving layup.”
Ursuline’s state championship didn’t materialize out of thin air. The 1990 team had lost to Campolindo in the CIF NorCal championship game. The 1991 squad may have been the most talented of the era, but the chemistry was off. The team also moved up to Division 2 that year, adding another hurdle.
In ’92 Ursuline dropped back down to Division 4 and was primed for a deep run. By the time the Bears had finished the regular season that year, they had won 35 consecutive North Bay League games.
The hub of the team was forward Joy Durand, a spectacular athlete who also played soccer and threw the discus at Ursuline. Rigby, who has coached the Sonoma State women’s basketball team for 19 seasons, is highly attuned to the Redwood Empire girls basketball scene, and he calls Durand one of the four best ever to play here, along with Cheree Tappin (Healdsburg), Erin Buescher (Rincon Valley Christian) and Amanda Johnson (Maria Carrillo).