Bellarmine-Jefferson High has garnered a reputation as a successful girls’ basketball school — and for good reason.
For the last few years, the Guards have not only been considered one of the top teams in their CIF Southern Section Division, but have also been mentioned among the premier programs in Southern California.
Starting with former coaches Jim Couch, Jeff Rodriguez and Bryan Camacho, to current Coach Jaclyn Johnson, the girls’ hoops program at Bell-Jeff has a rich history of success.
The team has captured four straight Santa Cruz League championships, won two CIF titles (1997 and 2009), secured a state crown in 2009 and traditionally has deep runs in the postseason.
However, with the success of this season’s Bell-Jeff softball team, the girls’ basketball team might have a battle when it comes to school supremacy.
It has indeed been a breakthrough campaign for the softball team. The Guards won their second consecutive Santa Cruz League title and enjoyed a historic match in the Division VII playoffs, advancing to their first-ever CIF championship game.
Unfortunately, the Guards fell short of the title, losing, 7-6, Friday against Pomona Catholic at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine.
Since his arrival two seasons ago, Coach John Castaneda and his staff have been able to transform the Bell-Jeff into a winner in very little time. The coach took over a program that hadn’t won a league crown in more than a decade and a half and hadn’t got past the second round of the playoffs.
The year before Castaneda began his tenure in 2009, the Guards went 5-11 and fell in the first round of the playoffs to Connelly, 12-0.
There was an immediate impact in his first season. Bell-Jeff rolled to a 15-5 record in 2010 and won its first league championship in 17 years.
Although they enjoyed success during the regular season, the Guards weren’t able to translate that success into a deep postseason run. After winning their opening Division VII game against North County Christian, 19-7, the Guards exited the playoffs in the second with a 14-4 loss against Academy for Academy Excellence.
To try and stave off another early exit in the playoffs, Castaneda ratcheted up the Guards’ competition this season. He wanted his squad to go against programs that were successful, or were bigger than tiny Bell-Jeff. That led to contests against Village Christian, Harvard-Westlake, Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and Canyon Country Canyon.
That competition helped pave the way to a fine run by the Guards in this year’s postseason. The team rolled through its first three playoff games, getting victories against Public Safety Academy, 11-1, Bloomington Christian, 23-4, and Crossroads, 17-3.
However, the Guards had to pull out a comeback in the semifinals, pushing across the winning run in the seventh inning to defeat Rolling Hills Prep, 5-4.
Bell-Jeff will probably be able to continue its winning ways next season. Despite losing five seniors to graduation, the team will have 10 returning players, including seven freshmen.
It was definitely a fine run for this year’s Guards’ team. And if the squad continues the success it has enjoyed the last two seasons, Bell-Jeff might just earn a new reputation as a softball school.