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Richardson motivates Brea Olinda in quest for 10th state title
BREA – Thirty-plus years of coaching experience in the books and Jeff Sink has never made a deal with a devil, until now.
The Brea Olinda girls basketball roster – loaded with players too young to even have a learner’s permit for driving – has agreed to the same pact, which was vocalized Saturday night by sophomore Jasmine Rachal minutes after the Ladycats earned a spot in the CIF State Division I championship game.
“All of us are underclassmen, but we want to send our captain out with a ring this year,” she announced. “And a banner too.”
To clarify, Sink, Rachal and the rest of the Ladycats are doing everything they can to help senior Reili Richardson, who next year will become an Arizona State Sun Devil.
To some degree, Brea Olinda’s entire season has been devoted to the lone senior on its roster. Teammates praise her, and Sink has referred to her as a “once-in-a-career” type talent, quite a compliment from the longtime coach of one of the most storied girls basketball programs in California.
Richardson will don her Ladycats jersey a final time Thursday night when Brea Olinda (28-4) takes on St. Francis of Sacramento (29-5) at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
“This has been a mission for all the kids, and we’ve emphasized that,” Sink said at the team’s practice Tuesday. “Reili is our only senior – and we only have one junior – so what we’d like to do is complete the quest if possible.
“That’s been our little slogan this year: complete the quest.”
The Ladycats came up short in their bid to win a state title last season, falling in the Division III championship game to Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland at Cal’s Haas Pavilion. That Brea team had three seniors on it.
Going strictly by age, this year’s roster is the youngest Sink has worked with in his 33 years of coaching. Brea is comprised of six freshmen, seven sophomores, one junior and one senior.
More than ever before, Sink said he has had an open line of communication with a player, Richardson, constantly talking strategy with the team’s captain before and during games.
“I keep the reins tight, the bar is high, but sometimes you have to grin and bear it because they are going to make mistakes,” Sink said of team’s young players. “Reili and I talk consistently and I’ll ask for her opinion all the time.
“At halftime on Saturday (in the CIF regional final), I looked right at her and said, ‘Coach me. What can you take advantage of that I’m not seeing as a coach?’ We dealt with each other that way all season long, and she’s always had real astute observations.”
Soft-spoken and mild-mannered off the court, Richardson has thrived in the role of closer, especially in the postseason. Brea’s past three games – against Alemany of Mission Hills, Troy and Vista Murrieta – have all been within a four-point margin entering the fourth quarter. Richardson notched her highest-scoring quarter in the final eight minutes of each of those games, utilizing her ballhandling skills to penetrate the lane.
The 5-foot-10 guard is shooting 88 percent from the free throw line in the state playoffs (38 of 43), and was a perfect 17 for 17 from the line in Saturday’s regional final victory over Vista Murrieta, 64-55.
“I’ve had to be the go-to person when we’ve been struggling,” Richardson said. “Lead on the floor, communicate, and just pick us up late.”
Her determination and grit haven’t gone unnoticed. Rachal and sophomore co-captain Tyiona Watkins stressed that the team’s performance in the state final needs to be an appropriate send-off for Richardson.
“I have so much respect for her,” Watkins said of Richardson. “She’s the best player I’ve seen play on this team. Her skill level is so high, and I’m just trying to get up there with her.”
Brea Olinda has won nine state championships, the most recent in 2009 in the same building the Ladycats play in Thursday night.
Richardson and her teammates have relished the final days and hours of their journey together.
All that’s left for the squad now is doing something it has flourished at of late: finishing.
“We’ve been here before so we know what to expect,” Richardson said. “I’m going to have more fight in me, and we expect to come out with a win.”
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