Even when her team struggled with injuries and adversity — at one point losing six straight games in January — International High School coach Charlene Murphy maintained confidence that her squad could make this season special.
Murphy’s faith in her squad paid dividends, as her Jaguars rallied to claim the North Coast Section Division V girls’ title on Saturday, running the table as the No. 4 seed by defeating St. Vincent de Paul 51-41 in the finals.
“We had made it to the NCS finals two years in a row and came up short both times,” Murphy said. “I just had a feeling that we would be able to go a little further in our journey this year.”
With their NCS title secured, the Jaguars enter the CIF Northern California Division V playoffs as the No. 3 seed, where they host 14th-seeded Weed High School today. The two teams played in the first round of last year’s Division V NorCal tournament, with International prevailing 61-32.
For most of this season, it looked highly unlikely that International would reach the same stage as last year’s team, which won 30 games in advancing to the NorCal regional semifinals. Struggling offensively, the Jaguars’ record stood at just 8-6 following an ugly 29-24 loss to San Domenico on Jan. 20. However, things started to turn around in the middle of the February, when the Jaguars’ core group of girls finally got healthy enough to play together consistently.
“We dealt with injuries early in the season, so we never got a chance to get that chemistry going,” Murphy said. “It was hard to be consistent when our lineup kept changing. But over the last eight games, we’ve had everyone essentially healthy, and I think we’ve shown what we’re capable of when we have a full squad.”
Murphy credited extra attention to defense — the Jaguars cede just 42.5 points per game — and the emergence of 6-foot-1 sophomore post Jasmine Sorrels as key factors in her team’s late-season turnaround.
And now, riding a four-game winning streak and with the painful struggles of January in the past, Murphy’s team is exuding a special confidence as it enters NorCal play.
“We weathered the storm and we’re playing really good basketball right now,” Murphy said. “After what we’ve been through, I think the girls believe that anything is possible for this team.”
CIF NorCal playoffs
A look at today’s first-round games involving San Francisco teams:
BOYS’ DIVISION I
No. 7 De La Salle (Concord) vs. No. 10 Lincoln at Kezar Pavilion, 7:30 p.m.
BOYS’ DIVISION II
No. 9 Washington (Fremont) at No. 8 St. Ignatius, 7 p.m.
BOYS’ DIVISION IV
No. 14 Marshall at No. 3 Half Moon Bay, 7 p.m.
BOYS’ DIVISION V
No. 9 Woodside Priory vs. No. 8 University at Kezar Pavilioin, 6 p.m.
No. 11 Mt. Shasta vs. No. 6 Stuart Hall at Lowell High School, 6 p.m.
GIRLS’ DIVISION I
No. 7 Monte Vista (Danville) at No. 10 Lowell, 7:30 p.m.
No. 14 Galileo at No. 3 Wilcox (Santa Clara), 7 p.m.
GIRLS’ DIVISION V
No. 14 Weed at No. 3 International, 7 p.m.