“This is the best story I can tell you about this season,” coach Richard Higgenbottom said.
The story is about his Rincon Valley Christian girls basketball team, the team that won the North Central II league championship, the team that won the Division 6 North Coast Section title, the team that earned the No. 2 seed and a home game Wednesday night against Victory Christian in the first round of the CIF NorCal tournament.
With that intro, the story starts out with a surprising first line.
“We got our butts kicked,” Higgenbottom said.
It was the Jan. 10 game against perennial league powerhouse Sonoma Academy and the Coyotes had the Eagles on the ropes early. It was 25-2 after one quarter. Higgenbottom said Sonoma Academy coach Kevin Christensen was a gentleman and eased up on the Eagles. The final score was 52-29.
After the game, the visitors’ locker room was a somber place. It wasn’t just the loss, it was the effort.
“This is what the girls said,” Higgenbottom remembered this week. “‘We got our butts kicked.’ And Caroline (Chambers) said, ‘What do we have to do to get better, coach?’ Nobody said anything about the referee, nobody complained, it was, ‘What do we have to do to get better?’”
Chambers, a 6-foot sophomore, remembers crying after that game.
“I had a really, really bad game,” she said. “I knew something needed to change. We played so bad, especially me. I went home and I was in tears.”
The something that needed to change were tactics. Higgenbottom decided to play more man-to-man and to become a press-heavy team. That meant increasing the team’s overall conditioning — and fast.
“It takes a tremendous amount of work, a tremendous amount of conditioning,” he said.
The team bought in.
The Eagles are 15-1 since Jan. 10 and 23-7 overall.
“If you take the right kids, and they are the right kids, they are like sponges,” Higgenbottom said. “They aren’t anywhere near burned out. These girls ask me to run them harder.”
Many of the Eagles do not have a ton of basketball experience. Remarkably, Higgenbottom, now in his third year as coach, did not cut anyone from the team. Any kid at RVC who wanted to play basketball is on this team. There is no junior varsity squad.
“We took all comers,” Higgenbottom said. “We had 13 come out and we kept them all.
“We have to spend a lot of our early-season practices just on skills,” he said. “We almost always have one girl on the floor who it’s their first year of basketball.”
Thankfully, Higgenbottom has a triumvirate of talent in Chambers, her freshman sister, Elizabeth, and junior Kylie Olson.
They are names likely to be etched in the RVC record books by the end of their careers.
Olson is already there. Midway through her junior campaign, Olson toppled RVC’s 23-year-old career rebounds record of 1,010. Olson, who is 5-feet-10 and handles the point, has 1,145 boards and counting.
“We haven’t played anyone all year who is as strong as Kylie,” Higgenbottom said. “I’ve never seen anyone take the ball out of her hands. She’s a very strong, very tenacious girl.”
Olson had to be. She’s been playing out of position for years.