Canepa’s dream: A title 

Over the past four years, no San Francisco prep basketball player has been as visible — both literally and figuratively — than St. Ignatius’ Nicole Canepa.

The daunting 6-foot-5 center has cast an imposing shadow over the competition during her time as a four-year starter for the Wildcats. Canepa has been selected as a first-team West Catholic Athletic League performer in all but one of her four seasons (she was a second-teamer as a sophomore) and has led SI to the brink of a NorCal Division III championship and a trip to state.

The Wildcats came close to grabbing that elusive shot at a state title a season ago, but they suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss to Sacramento in the NorCal championship game.

As a senior, Canepa will have one last shot at leading her team back to the NorCal championship game starting tonight at 7, when the sixth-seeded Wildcats (22-8) travel to Orinda to face third-seeded Miramonte (23-6) in the quarterfinals.

"It would be amazing to get the title in my last year here," said Canepa, who has already committed to play for Oregon next season. "Losing in overtime last season was definitely an upset for us. The seniors on this team know how important this is and we just want to really put forth the extra effort over the next two weeks for the team."

Canepa entered SI as a talented post player already blessed with physical gifts,but it has been her mental maturation over the past four seasons that have been the most beneficial for the Wildcats.

"I remember seeing Nicole as a freshman and sophomore get a little frustrated with all double- and triple-teams she would get," said first-year Wildcats coach Mike Mulkerrins, an assistant coach when Canepa arrived. "Now, she doesn’t get rattled and she knows how to find her teammates and get them involved when she’s getting all the focus defensively."

This season, Canepa is averaging 12.8 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game and has shot 53 percent from the field, all while contributing a steady voice for the Wildcats.

"Nicole is the perfect senior leader," Mulkerrins said. "You really know where she stands — she is a leader both on and off the court and you can tell she just loves playing basketball. She has made my first year here as the head coach very easy."

With a victory over Miramonte, which has won 20 of its past 21 games, the Wildcats will be one step closer to their ultimate goal of a NorCal championship and a possible rematch with WCAL rival Sacred Heart Cathedral.

The defending state champion Irish have been the thorn in the side of SI this season, defeating the Wildcats three times, including a 48-43 victory in the Central Coast Section Division III championship game Saturday. But Canepa and her teammates have not let their lack of success against Sacred Heart dissuade their confidence.

"We know we’re a good team," Canepa said. "We’ve come so close against SH the past few games, so we know we can play with them. We’ve been going up a hill all season, and we feel we’re just starting to peak now."

NORCAL TOURNAMENT (Games involving city teams)

BOYS: TODAY’S QUARTERFINALS

Division I

» No. 6 De La Salle (27-2) vs. No. 4 Lowell (27-4)at Kezar Pavilion, 7 p.m.

Division III

» No. 8 West Valley (24-4) at No. 1 St. Ignatius (23-7), 7 p.m.

» No. 6 Riordan (28-4) at No. 3 Sacramento (25-5), 7:30 p.m.

Division V

» No. 5 Hamilton (22-5) vs. No. 4 Bridgemont (17-2) at Holy Trinity Church, 7 p.m.

GIRLS: TODAY’S QUARTERFINALS

Division I

» No. 5 Kennedy (27-4) vs. No. 4 Lowell (29-2) at Kezar Pavilion, 6 p.m.

» No. 7 Carlmont (21-10) at No. 2 McClatchy (24-7), 7 p.m.

Division III

» No. 8 Enterprise (17-11) at No. 1 Sacred Heart Cathedral (28-2), 7 p.m.

» No. 6 St. Ignatius (22-8) at No. 3 Miramonte (23-6), 7 p.m.

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Will Reisman

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