Her crowning achievement

For four years, Cassie Pappas honed her skills and increased her proficiency as a basketball player on the hardwood at Crescenta Valley High.

In her first three years with the Falcons program, Pappas showed flashes of brilliance, impressing coaches, frustrating opponents and thrilling fans with her inspired play.

But that was only a prelude for a senior season that helped lift the four-year starter into the upper echelon of girls’ players in the state.

Adapting to a switch to point guard this past season, Pappas was called upon to run the Crescenta Valley offense. She was essentially a coach on the floor, often dictating what plays the Falcons would run and where the ball would go.

“It was nice for [Coach Jason Perez] to have that much confidence in me to let me do that,” said the 5-foot-7 Pappas. “It really helped my confidence. If he would call a play and we thought that maybe something else might work out better, he gave us the opportunity to change the play.”

Perez said he had good reason to give Pappas that kind of leeway.

“She just has so much talent and she’s so smart that we wanted everything to go through her, because she would know what to do,” Perez said. “We wanted to let her offensive skills take place in a natural setting.”

The piece de resistance of her Crescenta Valley career came during the 2009-10 season, as she put up big numbers, lifted her team to a second-place finish in the Pacific League and helped the Falcons advance to the CIF Southern Section Division IA quarterfinals.

In addition, she was honored with an All-CIF first-team accolade and was named the Pacific League co-Player of the Year.

It is because of Pappas’ accomplishments that she has been named the 2010 All-Area Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year by the sports editors and writers of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun.

It seemed there was nothing Pappas couldn’t do during her senior campaign. She scored 755 points and averaged 25.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.1 steals a game.

Her numbers ranked her third in points scored and fifth in scoring average in the Southern Section, and they were good enough to rank her fifth in points scored and eighth in scoring average in the state.

Pappas said one of her main focuses heading into her senior year was to try and complement her talented inside game with better outside shooting.

“I just wanted to be better at shooting the three-pointer,” said Pappas, who sank 64 shots from beyond the arc. “I’ve always had a strong inside game, but I wanted to be able to hopefully hit the outside shot when I needed to.”

Said Perez: “She went to play with her club team, the Storm, and after that she became dangerous from three-point range. She really worked hard to develop that three-point shot. And what that did for her game was that teams couldn’t stop her because they would play off of her, and she would make them pay.”

Pappas’ improved outside game wasn’t lost on opposing coaches. Being a former Crescenta Valley coach, current Burbank Coach Bruce Breeden has known Pappas since she was a young girl.

“You could see the difference in her play this season,” Breeden said. “She’s always been a good player, but she seemed to really step it up during her senior year.”

It was that elevated play that helped propel Crescenta Valley to success this past season.

The Falcons soared to a 24-6 record and were 12-2 in the Pacific League, finishing one game behind champion Muir. Crescenta Valley even beat the Mustangs, 61-50, in a game in which Pappas scored 22 points — including five three-pointers.

Pappas seemed to step up in the biggest games. The best example of that occurred in a Beverly Hills Winter Festival Tournament game against powerhouse Harvard-Westlake, which went on to capture a state championship.

Against a Wolverines team that boasted three Division I players, Pappas poured in 28 points in a 74-51 losing effort. She didn’t even play the last five minutes of that contest.

During the season, Pappas scored in double figures in all 30 games, scored at least 20 in 28 contests and had at least 30 in six.

With that kind of a workload, Pappas said she often felt pressure to lead the team.

“I definitely felt the pressure if I didn’t score at least 20 points a game,” she said. “But every game that I was double- or triple-teamed, or I had different defenses thrown at me, it seemed one of our players would usually step up and come through for us.

“I am lucky that I had very good players playing with me. A lot of these girls I’ve known since the third or fourth grade. They were a great group.”

With Pappas leading the way, the talented squad made a run in the playoffs. The Falcons opened the postseason with a 53-48 win against Valencia, thanks to 24 points from Pappas. That was followed by a 30-point effort against Martin Luther King in a 60-52 victory.

That put Crescenta Valley in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2001. However, despite 32 points from Pappas, the Falcons were defeated by Ayala, 67-51.

“It would have been nice to go a little farther in the playoffs,” Pappas said. “But I think we still had a very good season.”

With her career at Crescenta Valley behind her, Pappas is ready to open a new chapter in her life on the court. The senior, who boasts a 3.9 grade-point average, has accepted an offer to attend college at the University of Pennsylvania, which plays in the Ivy League.

From what he has seen from Pappas over her four years at Crescenta Valley, especially during her senior season, Perez said he thinks his star player will fit in nicely with the Quakers.

“She can shoot the ball, she can score, she can play defense, she’s smart — I think that in the Ivy League she is going to be a very good player,” he said. “I can’t predict anything, but she could eventually become one of their premier players. She definitely has the skills.”

Perez, who said he has never coached a player who works harder than Pappas, knows the athlete will succeed because of her impeccable work ethic and her toughness.

“This is a kid that doesn’t come along very often,” Perez said. “There is no one who has a better work ethic than she does. Cassie is a person who is going to be successful in anything she will do in her life.”

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