Dublin girls hoops is on the other side of the door to the championship party — and its tired of knocking.
By NICK HASTINGS | SportStars
As the clock wound down in the third quarter of Dublin High’s 81-65 loss to Miramonte on Jan. 23 in Orinda, the Gaels had a hard time holding back their frustration.
Despite 37 points from senior guard Milan Moses (a season high), Dublin’s girls were unable to stay with the fast-paced Matadors, led by highly-recruited guard Sabrina Ionescu — ranked 5th in the national class of 2016 by ESPN — and her triple-double of 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 steals.
“We did everything you can do to prepare for a game like this,” said Dublin coach Trisha Campbell following the loss. “It just comes down to your mental toughness. I’m a big proponent of not letting yourself get down on (officiating) calls or things you can’t control.”
During a stretch in the second half where Dublin’s shooting went cold, Miramonte amped up its half-court trapping defense, and the Gaels fell behind. “Miramonte, I think, kept a very level head. We want it so bad, and I think sometimes we can be our own biggest enemies,” said Campbell.
Dublin’s frustration during the game, though, might be symptomatic of something else: pride, and a bolstered sense of self-confidence.
Despite the loss on Friday, the Gaels record was an impressive 16-2, with the only other slip-up coming early in the season against Fairfax-Los Angeles. Dublin’s girls were mad at themselves simply because they know they’re good enough to beat the Matadors, an annual staple within NorCal basketball’s upper echelon.
The ‘next level’ that Milan referred to? A North Coast Section championship. Possibly even a CIF state title. At the very least, though, they’d like a win their next matchup with Miramonte on Feb. 12 in Dublin.
“In the past, (Miramonte) always slaughtered us,” Moses remembers. “It was such a good feeling to show that we can keep up with them.”
It’s not just Milan who feels ready to rise up and take down the Matadors. Coach Campbell herself is a Dublin graduate, and remembers facing Miramonte in her playing days.
“I was probably more nervous than the girls,” Campbell said with a laugh. “It’s always a great game (against Miramonte). I know that in order to be a great team and really get to that next level, this is our competition. And it’s really a test for us.”
Added senior forward Julyana Amante, “That night there was a lot of tension. It was really important for us to win that game, but in the big picture, we just want to get them next time.”
As bad as Dublin would like to vanquish its Miramonte demons, the Matadors won’t be standing in their path come March when the Gaels look to win the program’s first NCS title since hanging its first and only section banner in 1988. Miramonte will be attempting to repeat as Division III champions while Dublin will be in the Division II bracket hoping to unseat three-time defending champs Carondelet.
The Gaels may appear to have come out of nowhere as contenders, but their evolution happened gradually, through familiarity and continuity. Moses, Amante and senior post JoJuan Carrington are all four-year varsity players and have come together through thick and thin.
“I’m really close with Milan and Julyana,” Carrington said. “The amount of time we’ve spent together really forged a strong bond. We can talk to each other honestly, without judgment.”
Adds Amante, “We’ve really grown to know each other on the court and off the court. The way we hang out impacts the way we play together.”
Although the Gaels lean on their three lettermen for on-court production and vocal leadership, the players maintain that the team isn’t over-reliant on any one person in particular. “We don’t have set leaders,” said Carrington. “Everyone’s a leader. The younger players look up to the seniors, but we all try to support each other. Everyone has a voice.”
The all-for-one attitude extends past the players, too. Campbell exhibits a laid-back attitude, allowing her players the freedom to lead themselves to success — and failure.
“I try to let my players pick themselves back up after a turnover or a bad call, to help them grow. The girls feed off me (during games) so I need to stay calm and composed because I expect them to stay calm and composed and play smart.”
The players appreciate the freedom Campbell affords them.
“She’s is really good,” Moses said. “She’s really different from (previous coach Mark Wainwright, who stepped down in 2013). She won’t be up off the bench as much during games. She lets us dictate our own flow.”
Amante agreed. “It’s a different perspective (from Wainwright), coaching-wise. She gives us a little more freedom to run what we want to run because she knows that we have experience. She’s a good coach, and she knows how we play.”
And how do the Dublin girls play, exactly? Fast and furious.
Of Moses’ 37 points against Miramonte, nearly 20 came off fast-break layups. The Gaels rely on their stifling zone defense and rebounding from Carrington and Amante to spring Moses open for outlet passes and fast-break buckets.
Dublin’s dream scenario began to play out in the first quarter against Miramonte, as Moses scored the first 14 points for the Gaels on a dizzying array of layups, floaters and rainbow 3-pointers. The Matadors pushed back, though, tightening their grip defensively with Ionescu flying through the passing lanes, stealing everything in sight.
“We just got a little sloppy,” recalls Carrington. “When a team is coming back on you, you can’t let up. You have to go even harder to keep your lead. I don’t think we did that very well.”
Moses’ scoring barrage slowed down some, as the Gaels’ offense began to turn the ball over more. “I was so frustrated. My dad said ‘keep your composure, stay calm’, and I just tried to avoid getting a (technical foul).”
Although the Gaels entered (and left) the Miramonte game as an underdog, they’re quickly shedding their cocoon and emerging as one of the best teams in the Bay Area. “There’s definitely a lot of pressure that comes with being successful,” Amante admits. “But it’s also very rewarding. We worked very hard to get to where we are today, and it should raise expectations.”
Carrington says she, too, feels the target on Dublin’s back.
“Other teams think we’re the team to beat and they’re going to come after us hard,” she said. “We have to play with the same intensity every night. To me, I feel like I have a lot left to prove. I don’t give in to the pressure. You have to take it game by game, and you have to work. Nothing is given.”
The Gaels’ success this season isn’t surprising anyone within the program, and Campbell’s “mental toughness” mantra has been infectious.
“Things aren’t always going to go your way,” Amante said. “You just have to stay strong, and if things turn out your way, great. If not, move on and keep your head up.”
Campbell knows that the best is yet to come from her team. “When you’re tired and have to dig deep to find that second wind, that second gear… That’s when great things happen.”
When asked about the team’s goals for the remainder of the season, Carrington laughed. “Don’t let up. Don’t let any rankings or the politics of basketball get into your head. Leave it all on the floor. Be ourselves.”
Not surprisingly, that’s how they got here in the first place.
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