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CIF NORCAL BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

GIRLS

First-round schedule for Redwood Empire teams
Wednesday's games
(seedings in parentheses)

All tipoffs 7 p.m. unless noted

DIVISION II
(8) Montgomery vs. (9) Roseville

DIVISION IV
(14) Kelseyville at (3) Foothill

DIVISION V
(10) Clear Lake at (7) Capital Christian
(13) Upper Lake at (4) Argonaut, 6 p.m.

DIVISION VI
(2) Rincon Valley Christian vs.
(7) Victory Christian
(5) Mendocino at (4) Valley Christian

Friday’s game

OPEN DIVISION
(7) Cardinal Newman at (2) Carondelet

BOYS

First-round schedule for Redwood Empire teams
Wednesday's games
(seedings in parentheses)

All tipoffs 7 p.m. unless noted

DIVISION II
(10) Montgomery at (7) Serra
(15) Cardinal Newman at (2) Whitney

DIVISION III
(9) Analy at (8) Placer

DIVISION VI
(4) Rio Lindo Adventist vs.
(5) Sacramento Waldorf
(6) Laytonville at
(3) Sacramento Adventist
(8) Rincon Valley Christian at
(1) Fall River, 7:30 p.m.


“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.

CIF NORCAL BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

GIRLS

First-round schedule for Redwood Empire teams
Wednesday's games
(seedings in parentheses)

All tipoffs 7 p.m. unless noted

DIVISION II
(8) Montgomery vs. (9) Roseville

DIVISION IV
(14) Kelseyville at (3) Foothill

DIVISION V
(10) Clear Lake at (7) Capital Christian
(13) Upper Lake at (4) Argonaut, 6 p.m.

DIVISION VI
(2) Rincon Valley Christian vs.
(7) Victory Christian
(5) Mendocino at (4) Valley Christian

Friday’s game

OPEN DIVISION
(7) Cardinal Newman at (2) Carondelet

BOYS

First-round schedule for Redwood Empire teams
Wednesday's games
(seedings in parentheses)

All tipoffs 7 p.m. unless noted

DIVISION II
(10) Montgomery at (7) Serra
(15) Cardinal Newman at (2) Whitney

DIVISION III
(9) Analy at (8) Placer

DIVISION VI
(4) Rio Lindo Adventist vs.
(5) Sacramento Waldorf
(6) Laytonville at
(3) Sacramento Adventist
(8) Rincon Valley Christian at
(1) Fall River, 7:30 p.m.

A natural post player, Olson was slotted into the point guard role as a freshman by default. She was the best ball handler on the squad. It didn’t mean she liked it. Even as a sophomore, it didn’t feel like a natural fit.

“Last year, I’d tell you I’d much rather be a true post,” she said. “It was so frustrating because I was a sophomore and I didn’t have the ability.

“I have developed,” she added.

Has she ever. Olson is averaging 11 points and nearly 13 rebounds per game. She also gets an average of three assists, two steals and nearly two blocks per game.

The Chambers sisters are equally formidable.

Caroline Chambers is averaging nearly 19 points per game and almost 10 rebounds. She’s also grabbing two steals and dishing out two assists per game. Standing 6 feet tall, Elizabeth Chambers put up 23 points and 15 rebounds against Mendocino in the NCS championship game and is averaging nine points and nearly nine rebounds per game.

With that size and those stats, Higgenbottom decided to turn the Eagles’ offense on its head. He put his big three in the backcourt and went relatively small in the paint.

But nobody really stays where they start out.

“We have five kids on the floor who play all five positions,” Higgenbottom said. “We don’t pigeonhole players. If we have a good athlete, we are going to get to play all over the floor.”

If the Eagles have a soft spot, it might be their depth.

Higgenbottom had counted on three additional players this season, including two presumed starters. When, for varying reasons, they didn’t commit, the team had to reconfigure — both their expectations and what kind of game they play.

“The biggest change is we lost two really strong defenders,” Olson said. “I thought this would be a rebuilding year, but we’ve done a lot better than I thought.”

Caroline Chambers said she was initially unsure of what the Eagles could do without the players they had expected to have.

But then she looked at the talent that remained.

“I started to think positive,” she said. “This is what we still have and we have a great team.”

How great?

“I think we can go all the way,” she said.

Any butt-kickings from here on out will be given, not received.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”