PREP BASKETBALL STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS : Three-Sport Standout Has Brought Winning to St. Francis

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sacramento St. Francis Girls' High School is celebrating its 50th anniversary in a big way--by playing for its first Division III girls' State basketball championship on Saturday.

But the school is no stranger to big games--the Troubadours just won their third consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section championship.

"We're serious," said the school's principal, Sister Catherine Sedgeman.

Before Camille Gutierrez stepped foot onto the Sacramento campus, St. Francis had never won much of anything in basketball. Or volleyball. But Gutierrez changed all that.

She's a fourth-year starter on the basketball team and won three section titles. She's a three-year starter on the volleyball team and won two titles. She has started on the soccer team since she was a freshman and reached the semifinals last year.

When it comes to sports, and to winning, Gutierrez is serious.

Five section titles have made space on her letter jacket scarce. It has also made Gutierrez a rarity.

When Gutierrez lines up at midcourt against Costa Mesa, she will be trying to cap a basketball career that hasn't always included the best statistical numbers, but has always included winning.

It began in elementary school when she wanted to just work out with the boys' team but won a spot on the squad. While in fifth and sixth grade, she was starting, waging on-court battles with some of Sacramento's best players.

In seventh and eighth grade, the boys wanted her to play on the girls' teams, even though Gutierrez preferred to remain with the boys, if only to play defense.

"They wanted to see how far they would get on their own," Gutierrez said.

They lost in the first round of Parochial Athletic League playoffs in seventh grade, and reached the semifinals in eighth. Gutierrez led the girls to the semifinals in seventh grade, the league title in eighth.

"She's a real smart player and has a real good knowledge of the game," first-year coach Dave Parsh said. "Her strength is her desire to win and the ability to make her teammates play better. She knows if a player's hot, she'll get that player the ball. She doesn't have to score points to make her feel successful. If we win, that's enough for her."

The Troubadors are 26-5 and, after bouncing between third and fifth in the Sacramento-area rankings, finished No. 1. They are ranked fifth in the state in Division III by Cal-Hi Sports, and beat No. 2 Oakland Bishop O'Dowd and No. 7 Chico Pleasant Valley on its way to the Northern California title.

Costa Mesa is No. 3 in those rankings.

Gutierrez, a 5-foot-8 forward, averages 10.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists. She is on the second team of the Sacramento Bee's all-county team.

And she's deadly in crunch time.

Against Sacramento's top teams, Gutierrez hit a three-point basket at the buzzer to force overtime against No. 9 Grant and finished with 15 in a 57-54 victory; she sparked an 18-2 run and scored 13 in the fourth quarter in a 56-47 upset of No. 2 Del Campo (ranked fourth statewide in Division II); and she scored 11 of her 17 points in the fourth quarter in a 53-47 upset of No. 3 El Camino (ranked eighth statewide in Division II).

"She has a demeanor about her that keeps everyone loose," Parsh said. "She's calm, collected--a really good influence on the other players."

That's an area where Gutierrez feels she can make a difference.

"I think I handle pressure very well," Gutierrez said. "I'm used to it. I've had a lot of experience in big games. My strength is my leadership--giving younger players advice and knowing what to do under pressure."

Her teammates at St. Francis are counting on her. Seriously.

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