When Mary Gainey graduated from Mater Dei in 1985, she was one of the county's best point guards ever.
She went on to a successful career at Fresno State.
Mary Gainey Hauser is a success again at Mater Dei. As coach.
Under her direction, the Monarch girls have finally broken away from the long shadow of the boys' program.
Everyone knows the boys can play. They're ranked No. 1 in the nation.
The girls are ranked in the top 20.
Saturday at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, Hauser's team will try to win a State title against fifth-ranked Atherton Sacred Heart.
But win or lose, this Monarch team is a pioneer, having ushered Mater Dei (28-1) into big-time girls' athletics.
"Honestly, it's hard to hold back the tears," Hauser said after Saturday's victory that qualified Mater Dei for the State championship. "I can't say enough about these guys--I love them."
And she loves Mater Dei, from the time she was 5 watching her brother, Bill, play on the freshman team. She was a mascot at 6 and a ball girl at 8. She has grown up with Mater Dei, and the girls' basketball program has grown up with her.
The Monarchs had never advanced beyond the Southern Section quarterfinals. With Hauser as coach the last two years, they have been to the Southern Section finals twice, and now the State finals.
"Mater Dei shaped me as a person," Hauser said. "Once I finished college, I wanted to go back to Mater Dei to give back to the kids the experience that I had as a player, the things that I learned as a person. It was such a good experience for me, I wanted it to be a good experience for the kids."
The experiences have accumulated game by game.
"When we started out, all we wanted to do was get to (the Southern Section finals) and play (Ventura) Buena," forward Margaret Hollis said. "After we found out we could beat Buena, it was like, 'There's no stopping us now.' And every day it was like, 'We can't lose now, we can't lose now,' because we're competing with the boys for the last window in the gym to put up a championship banner."
But each victory brought new expectations.
"Each time we accomplished a goal, we set a new one," forward Michelle Meyers said. "We said, 'OK, now we got to CIF, now we want to win it,' because last year we got there (and lost). Now we've won CIF and we want to get to The Pond (in the Regional). Now we've won it. Now we want State. We just continue to build goals. We're not satisfied with the season yet.
"(Hauser's) first year here was the furthest we've ever gone, and in her second year we improved it."
Not even the boys' program was playing for the State title in Coach Gary McKnight's second season.
"When you can help kids and see them progress and grow and gain opportunities," Hauser said, "it feels good because I always remember that as a kid, someone looked out for me and gave me those experiences."
Hauser, an All-Southern Section player, was the first girl to participate in open gym at Mater Dei. Her sister Geri, who is her assistant coach and graduated in 1987, was the second.
Those hours paid off, and they apparently know what they're doing.
Hauser ran her undersized team into the ground to get ready for the season. Meyers said Saturday, "During preseason conditioning, I went, 'Look, why are we doing this?' But you could see that (payoff in the second half against Clovis West). We saw them slow down."
Mater Dei's plan is to play as fast a pace as possible. The conditioning was critical. The team wins because it plays defense from start to finish. No starter is taller than 5 feet 10 inches. Freshman Amy DeCinces is 6-1 and junior Kristy Prchal 6-2, but neither played in the Southern Section or regional championship game.
"I'm a little surprised at what we've accomplished," Hauser said. "I knew the kids had it in them, in terms of ability to play with anybody else, but to continually beat ranked teams this year is a compliment to them.
"If you asked me why we're 28-1, it's more than just us having more talent than other people. In many games, we've played against teams with as much or more talent in certain positions, but the kids never backed down from that."
Kind of like Hauser as a player.
"For being a young coaching staff, (going to the State final) gives you credibility," said McKnight, who has won 10 Section and two State titles. "I remember our first few years when we won CIF titles, people said, 'You haven't won any State titles.'
"Now they've gone from winning league to winning CIF to playing for a State championship. When people talk about their program, they have won the big games. They're at the level of a Brea or a Woodbridge. They're legitimate."