Prep basketball preview: Harrigan's Irish again have look of a champion 

Watching Sacred Heart Cathedral girls’ basketball coach Brian Harrigan patrol the sideline is nearly as exhausting as being forced to suit up and face his team’s suffocating man-to-man defense.

He exhorts, stomps, screams and pleads — all animated displays of his passion for basketball.

Yet despite the dramatics, Harrigan takes little credit for Sacred Heart’s success — a sustained level of achievement that ranks among the best in the state.

"It’s all about the players," said Harrigan, who has a career coaching record of 546-172 in 27 years — the first nine at St. Rose — including a 10-0 mark this season as the Irish enter West Catholic Athletic League play at home today against Notre Dame of Belmont. "We set a foundation when I got here in 1990, aiming to find outstanding student-athletes. Once we found good kids to believe in the program, they’ve carried it on their backs."

Harrigan’s accomplishments over his 18-year career at Sacred Heart back uphis reputation as one of the finest coaching minds in the state. His teams have captured six league titles, eight straight Central Coast Section championships, four NorCal titles and three state championships — including the last two.

With a collection of great teams under his watch, Harrigan’s current unit is probably his most talented. The Irish loaded their nonconference schedule with power schools from up and down the West Coast, yet Sacred Heart escaped unscathed, wining all 10 games, including an impressive 74-58 win over Long Beach Poly, a team many considered the best in the country.

That lofty title now belongs to Sacred Heart — Poly beat USA Today’s No. 1 team, Notre Dame of Middleburg, Va., 58-54 since the last poll came out — and although Harrigan is quick to deflect any attention, his players say they wouldn’t be where they are now without him.

"He’s always so prepared and so focused," said senior Irish guard Lauren Bell, who will play next season at Pepperdine. "He never comes to a practice tired or without enthusiasm. He’s so passionate about what he does and that helps push us to where we need to go."

With talented athletes such as Bell, two-time Examiner Player of the YearJazmine Jackson and forward Tierra Rogers on his squad, Harrigan admits he has loosened the reins on his coaching outlook, allowing his players the opportunity to maximize their potential.

"Defensively, our philosophy has stayed the same," Harrigan said. "But with the teams I’ve had recently, I’ve really tried to keep it open and not run too many set plays or offenses, because great players have to go out and play and I don’t want to pen them in."

As a coach who has already eclipsed 500 career victories, the temptation could be to test the waters on the college level, but Harrigan says he has no such plans for change.

"I’m a high school coach," Harrigan said. "I’m a graduate of Sacred Heart. It’s a great institution for learning and I get the chance to work with great kids. It’s a perfect situation for me."

WEST CATHOLIC ATHLETIC LEAGUE » TEAM-BY-TEAM CAPSULES

Mitty Monarchs

» This season: 6-5

» Last season: 31-4 (beat Brea Olinda 54-49 to win CIF Division II title)

» Coach: Sue Phillips

» Scouting report: Replacing Danielle Robinson (Oklahoma), the WCAL Player of the Year who led the Monarchs to the state title last season, will not be easy. Senior Lindsay Leo, a second-team All-WCAL pick in 2006-07, will look to lead a young team that has already surpassed last season’s loss total.

Notre Dame (Belmont) Tigers

» This season: 9-3

» Last season: 11-19 (lost 73-38 to Sacred Heart Cathedral in CCS Division III semifinals)

» Coach: John Paye

» Scouting report: At 9-3, Notre Dame is one of the early surprises of the WCAL. Sonoma State signee Jaclyn Bisordi, a first-team All-WCAL performer last season, leads the team with a 13.8 points-per-game average. Six-foot center Margaret Dowling came through in the Tigers’ biggest win, putting up 15 points and 10 rebounds in a 55-54 win over previously unbeaten Monte Vista last week. The Tigers, who won just three league games in 2006-07, will get an early test today when they open WCAL play at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Presentation Panthers

» This season: 9-3

» Last season: 12-15

» Coach: Wade Nakamura

» Scouting report: The Panthers need just three more wins to match last season’s total of 12. Senior guard Erwina Kwan and senior forward Katie Reed form an impressive duo for Presentation, which enters league play with three straight wins. The Panthers will look to avoid last year’s late-season funk, in which they finished with 10 losses in their final 11 games.

Sacred Heart Prep Gators

» This season: 10-1

» Last season: 12-19

» Coach: Derek Kameda

» Scouting report: Sacred Heart Prep has bounced back from a frustrating campaign by opening this season with 10 wins in 11 games. Led by junior guard Gabby Micek’s 15.7 ppg, the Gators are outscoring their opponents by an average margin of 18 points.

Sacred Heart Cathedral Irish

» This season: 10-0

» Last season: 32-2 (beat Bishop Amat 60-54 to win CIF Division III title)

» Coach: Brian Harrigan

» Scouting report: There’s not much left to say about the two-time defending state champs. Led by versatile forwards Jazmine Jackson and Tierra Rogers and explosive guards Ki-Ki Moore and Lauren Bell, the Irish will look to repeat their unprecedented accomplishment (boys or girls) of going undefeated in WCAL play.

St. Francis Lancers

» This season: 5-3

» Last season: 14-17 (lost 55-47 to Pinole Valley in first round of NorCal Division II playoffs)

» Coach: Ashley Hill

» Scouting report: The Lancers face a tall task in their repeat bid for a spot in the NorCal playoffs. Coach Ashley Hill lost Kelsey Houlihan, her best player from last season’s team, but St. Francis does return seniors Kimberly Benedetti and Aly Geppert, who were both named honorable mention in the WCAL.

St. Ignatius Wildcats

» This season: 5-4

» Last season: 22-9 (lost 68-59 to Miramonte in first round of NorCal Division III playoffs)

» Coach: Mike Mulkerrins

» Scouting report: St. Ignatius struggled early in the season while adjusting to the loss of four-year starting center Nicole Canepa, now at Oregon. But the Wildcats, led by Rachel Hatch andMaggie McCarthy, enter WCAL play with momentum after capturing three straight wins to take its own Leo LaRocca Sand Dune Classic.

Valley Christian Warriors

» This season: 12-1

» Last season: 23-12 (lost 70-57 to St. Patrick-St. Vincent in NorCal Division IV final)

» Coach: Richard Harris

» Scouting report: The young Warriors surprised many by reaching the NorCal Division IV final last season and, at 12-1 this season, Valley Christian looks primed to build on its big year. Sophomore guard A.J. Newton was the only freshman to garner to first-team All-WCAL honors last season.

— Will Reisman

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