Patience and Practice : Sacred Heart Girls Always Had the Talent, but It Took a New, Untested Coach to Bring Out Their Brilliance

The girls basketball team at Flintridge Sacred Heart High School is winning big, thanks to Bill Sanchez, who didn't coach either girls or basketball until this season.

Sanchez arrived at the small, private Catholic school for girls in the fall after two seasons as the volleyball coach at Loyola High School. What he found was a group of girls who could play basketball but were unaware of the nuances of the game.

"They've always had the talent here, but the girls were not taught the fundamentals," he explained. "The first day when I walked out there I said there's no way we can ever play, because they just lacked the skills."

At first, the 26-year-old Sanchez concentrated on such basics as moving the ball up court, looking for the open player and taking the high-percentage shot. He eased his players into his system.

"It was kind of chaotic because it's his first year and they were used to last year," recalled Betsy Sauer, the athletic director.

'Had to Be Patient'

Said Sanchez: "I think I intruded on them in the beginning. Every week I had to be patient and not try to do too much at once. In about the sixth or seventh week, they started coming together."

By the end of the regular season the injury-plagued Tologs (the name is an acronym for "To Our Lady of Great Success") were down to six players from their eight-girl roster. Yet they had compiled an 18-3 record and a 10-0 mark in Horizon League play, and are seeded second behind Westridge High for the upcoming CIF Small Schools Southern Section playoff tournament.

The 32-team field begins play on Feb. 23, with the first-round opponents to be determined Monday. The only way Sanchez's team could meet Westridge would be in the championship game.

"I can't foresee our being blown out by anyone," said Sanchez, who inherited a team that went 10-2 last season and finished second in the league under Coach Jesse Quiroz before losing in the third round of the playoffs to Twentynine Palms.

Sanchez was weaned on the game by his father, Bill Sanchez Sr., who was an All-American at St. Mary's College in Moraga and a draft choice of the old St. Louis Hawks. The senior Sanchez also coached at Loyola High for 17 years.

Also Won Spiker Title

"Bill's background in basketball is excellent and it's really shown through because of how he works with the girls," Sauer said of Sanchez, who also guided this season's varsity volleyball squad to the Horizon League title with a 10-0 record and a 19-4 overall mark. "He's done an excellent job here and he's really professional."

Sanchez categorizes himself as a motivator and positive thinker. He realized that he could not address his girls team with the same forceful tone he used with the boys. Still, he has got his point across.

"The girls want someone to discipline them," he theorized. " . . . It helped because they weren't getting that before."

One reason for the team's success, according to the Sanchez, is "their ability to come down the floor and be very patient. They will pass up a mediocre shot to get a layup. We're not a great fast-break team. Our game is a more finesse, slowdown type. We're also capable of pounding it out inside the paint."

Seniors Debbie Shaw, the point guard, and Janice Miller, the leading scorer, described their coach as "tough" and playfully grumbled that he stresses running in practice. But Sauer doesn't feel that Sanchez has been unduly hard on players.

A 'Special Team'

"His expectations are high, but they seem to rise to it," said Sauer, who attends games when she isn't coaching the swimming team or working toward her master's degree in physical education at Cal State Northridge. "You can just see the development of the team from the beginning of the season. They work hard and put in a lot of time. Every team does, but that team's been special. I couldn't be more pleased."

The other players are Sandi Shaw, Whitney Karm, Katie Ruck, Michelle Molina, Mara Konrad and Sarah Banales, daughter of JV Coach Joe Banales, whose team went 8-0 in league and 15-1 overall. So the future looks promising.

"The program is definitely on the upswing," Sanchez said.

The program has enjoyed steady growth since Sauer, the mother of two pre-teen daughters, arrived in Flintridge from Cleveland 12 years ago as a one-person coaching staff.

Basketball, tennis, volleyball, swimming and softball teams at Sacred Heart have been successful over the past four years and a track team is in the planning stages, so Sanchez doesn't feel his coaching of a girls team is a step down.

Studies Come First

"There are a lot of good opportunities (for male coaches) with girls athletics taking off," he said. "The administration has been 100% behind me in everything I've done. They're very easy to work for."

Flintridge Sacred Heart is an independent school that receives no funding from the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese. The campus, which houses 90 of its 320 students, has been situated atop a hill in Flintridge since 1931. The administration prides itself more on scholastics than sweat. The average tuition for one year is $2,850 and about 95% of graduating seniors matriculate at college.

Athletes are required to maintain a C average and a good-conduct grade. The two grades determine the number of extracurricular activities in which a student can be involved.

"It's an academically oriented school," Sauer said. "The athletes are recognized and the program is supported, but I don't think it's overemphasized."

Sauer's athletic department is funded through the school budget, which has allocated $6,300 this year. The money buys equipment, pays referees and rents places to play. Eight of the home games this season were played at St. Francis High, but twice the team played at Rosemont Junior High in La Crescenta and Ramona Convent High in Alhambra because St. Francis was booked. The rental fee for the two alternative sites was $75 each. St. Francis charges $25.

Booster Club Helps

"They've been good as far as letting us use their facilities," Sauer said.

There also is a booster club that helps subsidize the teams. This year it donated a backboard and rim for the practice court in the school's auditorium. It allows the team to practice on the parquet floor instead of on the asphalt outdoors.

The booster club also is in the process of donating a $6,000 trophy case to house the 33 trophies, five plaques and one loving cup that are sitting in the school library.

As successful as the basketball team is, however, the girls don't draw much support from students, according to Sauer.

"We've been trying all kinds of things to generate interest," she said. "Volleyball is popular and it's always packed when we play in our auditorium, which is smaller than St. Francis gym. With basketball, the enthusiasm kind of dies."

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