SportStars Magazine

Raiders’ Rise

The ascent of the River City-West Sacramento girls basketball program has been gradual; the arrival has been emphatic.

By Jim McCue | Contributor

 

The River City girls basketball program has been around for 35 years, never truly establishing itself as a contender. 

Despite the lack of past success on the court or an intimidating appearance, the 2012 Raiders have finally made their mark and hope to be in the early stages of becoming a perennial force on the court.

“If you look at our team, we are not the most athletic or gifted group,” said Isabella Gomez, a senior center and tri-captain on the team. “We just come out and surprise people with how hard we play and how good we play together as a team.”

The Raiders — who finished the regular season with a 25-2 record— are no longer a surprise as they entered the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs as the No. 7 seed. River City has served notice to the Sierra Valley Conference and the section that a new tradition and expectation of success is being established on the West Sacramento campus.

Head coach Jamie King is a River City graduate. He’s been coaching basketball at his alma mater for 20 years, spending time with both the boys and girls programs. King hopes that the successful 2012 season will serve as both an inspiration as well as an expectation for greatness.

“At first, there were no expectations for winning from anyone — the community, the school, the girls or anyone,” King said of the outlook when he took over the girls varsity program eight years ago. “It was a very slow transition, but I think that it can set up the expectations for the program — for young girls watching us play to say, ‘I want to be that.’ To establish that with the younger players at the school and in the area would be cool for us.”

King and the Raiders set goals before the season to earn the recognition and reputation as winners. The goals were 20 wins, a league title and reaching the second round of the section playoffs.

After losing to Kennedy-Sacramento in the second game of the season, River City rattled off 23 consecutive victories. That streak included a Jan. 20 victory over El Dorado-Placerville that halted the Cougars’ SVC winning streak at 40 games. They reached their 20-win goal five nights later with a win over Vista del Lago-Folsom.

The league title goal was more challenging. 

The Raiders needed every last bit of their 27-game regular season schedule to earn their first league championship. When El Dorado gained some revenge and a share of the league crown with a 48-45 victory over River City on Feb. 14, the Raiders were forced to win their final regular season game against Vista del Lago, three nights later. 

The Feb. 17 final? Raiders 55, Eagles 23. 

The first league title had an extra personal meaning for Jamie King and his daughter, Katie.

“I have seen my Dad coach this program since I was in the fifth grade,” said Katie King, a junior forward and tri-captain. “The goal for my Dad was always to get better each year. But this year, we have finally become what we always wanted to be. To play hard every night, and play our game to win the first league title. That means the most to me and my family.”

Coach, daughter and every Raiders player enjoyed every minute of that title-clinching victory —from the pregame anticipation to the final buzzer and well into the night. Gomez, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in River City’s earlier win over El Dorado, saw action—and even scored—in the game to provide her with a proud finish to a memorable season. After the game, the Raiders hoops family relished the moment and cut down the nets.

The family feel to the triumph is no cliché or fake rallying cry. The Raiders, led by captains King, Gomez, and senior guard Jordan Ligons, created a genuine sisterhood, complete with regular team bonding events, including movie nights and sleepovers.

“Being on the team since a freshman, I can see the difference that our bonding has made,” Ligons said. “Now that we are a family, it is finally paying off, and that is something real special.”

Ligons had a special senior season, averaging 13.8 points, 3.7 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.2 steals per game. She also had the opportunity to cap her high school basketball career by sharing the team’s accomplishments with her father, Jerold Ligons. He has been an assistant coach since their family moved to West Sacramento before Jordan’s freshman year. 

Coach Ligons and King both benefited from guiding their daughters on the court despite the challenges of being fathers and coaches.

“We talked before Jordan’s freshman season and made a pact that I would get out of the way if we could not differentiate between Dad and Coach,” Jerold Ligons said. “It’s been great to watch her grow as a person and a player up close. To spend extra time with her because I am a coach, that has been something special.”

River City’s special season has certainly been new in many ways, but the results are not sudden. 

Jamie King has long followed a coaching philosophy that he learned by observing Fresno City College coach Ed Madec. The Raiders run very physical practices with heavy medicine balls and football blocking pads followed by weightlifting. Players are encouraged and rewarded for physical plays, such as taking charges, and often end up with plenty of evidence of their physical play. The players take pride in sporting bruises, claiming the black and blue marks as “trophies.”

“We get hurt more in practice, but it is just how we are and how we play,” Jordan Ligons said. “It’s the only thing we know.”

What Ligons and the rest of the 2012 River City teams want future Raiders to know is success. Regardless of the fact that they reached their goals, the Raiders see the opportunity to aim higher and raise the bar.

“In my freshman year, the goal was to get a winning record,” Ligons said. “Then, it was getting to the playoffs. Now, we have hopes to go all the way to (Power Balance Pavilion for the section finals) because we know that we can do that.”

Coach King echoed the sentiment that accomplishing the goals is not an end point, but rather the continuation of a longer process to reach higher goals.

“Two years ago, some of the girls were part of being the first team to make the playoffs in 13 years, so that was one milestone,” King said. “I think, for them, this is a legacy thing that they can point out to girls who play after them and say, ‘This is what we started.’ We are enjoying the success and the recognition, but our long-term goal as a program is to not be just a flash in the pan.”

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