Three area girls’ basketball teams enjoyed historic treks through the CIF Southern Section playoffs this past season.
Burbank High and Providence both advanced past the quarterfinals for the first time and also earned their first trips to state competition.
Bellarmine-Jefferson made its fifth straight appearance in the division semifinals, something no other team in city history has been able to accomplish.
With the historic accomplishments came unparalleled recognition, as all three programs had players earn All-CIF accolades in their respective divisions.
Earning the award for the Bulldogs was senior Damarie Gonzalez, a four-year varsity player who earned Division I-A first-team honors.
The Pioneers had three players honored. Senior Catherine Saint was a first-team selection in Division V-AA, while junior Bea Benedicto and freshman Katia Dabbaghian were second-team picks.
The Guards had a familiar face on the Division IV-AA first-team list. Senior Rishonda Napier, a McDonald’s All-American candidate, made her third appearance on the first team.
Providence Coach Andrew Bencze said it is rewarding to see his players receive the award among their peers.
“It was an appreciation of the kind of season that we had,” he said. “It’s nice to know that the other coaches in the division thought highly of the players on our team this season. It’s really nice for our program and it’s great for the players as well.”
Burbank Coach Bruce Breeden said he can’t remember the last time a Bulldogs player earned All-CIF honors. But as much as Gonzalez meant to the team his season, he said the senior is definitely deserving.
“For her to get All-CIF is awesome,” Breeden said. “I figured with as competitive as our division was, it would probably be a long shot for her to make the list. But to make it on the first team is really something.”
Along with averaging 12.2 points a game, Gonzalez also averaged 4.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.4 steals a game.
“She is just such a wonderful girl,” Breeden said. “Just to see the progress she’s made the past four years is incredible. She meant a lot to this program, and she was just a steadying force for us. We will definitely miss her.”
Burbank (19-14) finished second in the Pacific League and advanced to the Division I-A playoffs as the No. 13 seed. The Bulldogs worked their way to the semifinals, losing to No. 1 Summit, 72-49. In the Southern California Regional of the CIF State Basketball Championships, Burbank was defeated in the first round by No. 1 Mater Dei, 77-35.
Providence (27-6) rolled to an undisputed Liberty League championship. However, Saint injured an ankle in the final regular season game and missed much of the playoffs.
Undaunted, the No. 3 Pioneers went on to the Division V-AA semifinals for the first time in program history, losing to No. 1 Villanova Prep, 48-35. Providence received an invitation to state play and defeated Rock Academy, 68-35, and Orangewood Academy, 44-34, to advance to the regional semifinal. In the game, Providence saw its season come to an end with a 64-28 loss to Mission Prep.
Saint averaged 9.8 points and 2.9 steals a game.
“It kind of gives you a perspective about how good our season really was when we were able to get to the CIF semifinals without an All-CIF first-team player,” Bencze said.
While Benedicto averaged 11.7 points and 5.6 rebounds a contest, Dabbaghian averaged 7.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.6 steals and three assists.
“Catherine was kind of the flash and dash of our team and Bea was the bring-your-lunch-pail and go-to-work-kind-of-player for us,” Bencze said. “She just worked so hard under the boards and if you didn’t come and prepare for her she would make you pay.
“The thing about Katia is that she really stepped up when Catherine went down. The last couple of weeks of the playoffs she really came up huge for us. She is just so talented and what a great way to start out a career at Providence.”
Benedicto was also named the Liberty League Player of the Year.
Bell-Jeff (24-6) captured its fifth straight Santa Cruz League title. The No. 6 Guards advanced to the Division IV-AA semifinals where they fell to No. 7 Gardena Serra, 71-54. The team also won a game in the Division IV state playoffs against Los Angeles Baptist, 70-60, before falling St. Bernard, 65-51.
Napier averaged 21.7 points a game to go along with nearly three assists and three steals a game.