Guards ready for challenge

BELLARMINE-JEFFERSON HIGH — There was a friendly exchange taking place throughout the CIF Southern Section Division VA girls’ basketball playoffs between Bellarmine-Jefferson High Coach Bryan Camacho and Montclair Prep Coach Bob Webb.

“He would text me the results after his games and I would text him our score, or we would just call one another to wish each other good luck,” Camacho said.

Although the coaches would probably not admit it, with Bell-Jeff the No. 1 seed in the division and the Mounties at No. 2, the men figured there was a good chance they would meet in the championship game.

That prospect would have made for an interesting matchup, as Montclair Prep defeated the Guards by one point in a nonleague game earlier in the season.

It is Bell-Jeff’s only loss of the year.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to the final. While the Guards won their semifinal game last week against Chadwick, 68-42, the Mounties weren’t able to get a win in their semifinal, falling to No. 3 Santa Clara, 59-39.

“After we won our semifinal game we went to Oxnard to watch the game between Montclair Prep and Santa Clara,” Camacho said. “That was definitely an upset. I didn’t figure that would happen.”

Although his squad is not taking on Montclair Prep, Camacho said his team should have a difficult task with the Saints (24-3).

The teams will play at 11:15 p.m. today in the championship game at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana.

“[Santa Clara] has a very similar style to us,” Camacho said. “They like to play a real up-tempo style and they play a hard-nosed, in-your-face type of game. They are also very well balanced. They can shoot the [three-pointer] and they have one player who’s a beast inside.

“It’s going to be a great matchup and we are looking forward to the challenge.”

While the Guards come into the game on a 15-game winning streak, the Saints have won 20 straight.

Santa Clara’s last loss came Dec. 13 against St. Bonaventure in the Nordhoff Tournament, 44-43. The team’s other two losses came against Channel Islands, a 63-56 defeat Dec. 4, and a 2-0 forfeit defeat Dec. 9.

The Saints are led by junior Dajyanah Vines, who averages 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.3 steals a game. She scored 16 points in the win against Montclair Prep.

The team also has a solid player in senior Shareene Dunham (12.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.1 steals).

Those are the only two players who score in double figures.

The Guards have received a fine effort this season from senior Shelley Gupilan (17.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals). The reigning All-Area player of the year had a game-high 25 points — including five three-pointers — to go along with eight rebounds and six steals against Chadwick.

Bell-Jeff also has fine players in juniors Margeaux Gupilan (14.2 points) and Julia Tani, senior Elizabeth Hawthorne (8.1 points) and freshmen Rishonda Napier (13.8 points) and Jasamine Smith.

“We are just happy to be in this situation, and we want to make the most of it,” Camacho said. “We are ready to go out there and give it our best effort.”

It is the second straight season, and third Camacho-coached team, to make it to the championship. In 2008, the Guards lost to Santa Cruz League foe St. Mary’s Academy, 70-38, at the Walter Pyramid on the campus of Long Beach State.

In 2003, Bell-Jeff was defeated by Oaks Christian, 53-44, at the Pyramid.

“I’m hoping the third time’s the charm,” Camacho said.

This year’s Guards’ team will be trying to win just the second CIF title in the 65-year history of Bell-Jeff. The only championship came in 1997 when a Jaclyn Johnson-led girls’ basketball team captured a Division IVA crown.

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