It was just 15 years ago that Doc Scheppler took his Pinewood girls basketball team to ARCO Arena in Sacramento and the Panthers returned home with the program's first CIF Division V State Championship. The year was 1999.
Lauren Smith-Hams scored a then-state championship game record (for Division V) of 31 points for Pinewood, a record surpassed by future Stanford All-American Candice Wiggins in 2002. Other Pinewood starters that season included Sebnem Kimyacioglu, Antoinette McLean, Katie Collins and Sarah Feely. Only Smith-Hams and McLean were seniors that season.
Today, Kimyacioglu resides in Turkey after graduating from Stanford. Smith-Hams lives in Marin with two children and works in the business world after graduating from USC and receiving an MBA from Stanford. McLean lives in Sacramento and, among other things, teaches yoga. Collins is a physician and Feely is involved in work management recruiting for the restaurant business and lives in Santa Monica.
So, where did the time go?
"Times does fly," said Scheppler. "It doesn't feel like 15 years has gone by, that's for sure."
Despite the passage of time, some things don't change. Scheppler and his Pinewood girls will be back in Sacramento again on Friday playing in the same building -- now called Sleep Train Arena -- while playing for another Division V state title.
The NorCal champion Panthers (29-3) will be facing SoCal champion La Jolla Country Day (20-11). A victory will give Pinewood its sixth state crown, the most ever for Division V girls.
A win also will give the Panthers their fourth 30-win season in Scheppler's 19 years at the Los Altos Hills school. In addition to the '99 squad, Pinewood went 30-3 in '07 and 31-5 in '09.
Scheppler is 493-108 at Pinewood, averaging nearly 26 wins a season.
Scheppler feels pretty good about his team's chances on Friday morning.
"We were there last year," he said of the experience factor. In fact, this will be the Panthers' fifth appearance in the finals since 2009.
Pinewood lost to Sierra Canyon in last year's Division V state finals, but La Jolla Country Club doesn't come close to matching up in size, talent or depth as Sierra Canyon's front line went 6-3, 6-1, 6-1.
"La Jolla Country Day is a solid team but, not overwhelming," said Scheppler. "Solid program. (But) This team has no depth. We should be fine."
The Torreys, who boast a nine-player roster, have three players averaging in double figures. Two of those -- Mai-loni Henson (15.2 ppg) and Sabrina Callahan (13.5 ppg) -- stand 6-feet tall. Pinewood most often faces taller teams, but cuts them down to size with an aggressive defense and potent offense.
"I think this (Pinewood) group is as athletically and skilled as any team we've had," Scheppler said.
The Panthers rank No. 2 in the state for 3-point shots made (289) and rarely are denied their go-to shot.
"It isn't a matter of them taking away our shot," explained Scheppler. "It takes a great defensive effort to do that. The thing I'm concerned about most in this game is are we going to get quality shots?"
Pinewood was 9-for-33 on its treys in last Saturday's NorCal championship game against top-seeded Brookside Christian, including a 3-for14 effort in the first half. After intermission, the Panthers were 6-for-19.
"In game like this where the scores are going to be a little lower," said Scheppler, "nine threes in a game -- that's huge."
Pinewood also did a great job on defense by holding the Knights (28-5) to only 22 percent field-goal shooting. Brookside Christian's top scorer, junior Ra'Kyra Gabriel (averaging 14.6 points per game), was shackled and managed only seven points.
"They had some good shooters. I think we did a really good job at minimizing their game," said Scheppler, who improved to 8-5 all-time in NorCal title games -- including an 8-2 mark at Division V.
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