As the Golden Valley High School girls basketball team prepares to take the court at Cougar Arena tonight against Elk Grove, there will be plenty of nerves in the locker room.
The seventh-seeded Cougars (23-3) are making their first postseason appearance since 2009.
Stephanie Moore is the one exception. The Golden Valley junior played 13 playoff games the past two years, including a 64-55 win over Santa Barbara in the CIF Division III state championship game last season while playing for Modesto Christian.
“It’s a big help,” Cougars coach Matt Thissen said. “Other girls can ask her what the playoffs are like. We have a couple who played in the volleyball playoffs, so they’ve got some aspect of what it’s like. You can’t play at a higher level in California than what Stephanie has. She played in a state championship game and won. We’re going to rely on her leadership on the court.”
Golden Valley hosts No. 10 Elk Grove (18-9) in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs at 7 o’clock.
Moore was a co-captain for the Crusaders last season, and she did a little of everything. She led the team with 5.5 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game and was second on the team in scoring at 11.4 and in assists with 1.9.
“I didn’t score that much, but I worked hard and played scrappy on defense,” Moore said. “Mostly, I brought energy. Here, I’m kind of like that one person if we don’t have something, if you get it to me, I’ll do my best to do something.”
After missing the first month because of the 30-day transfer rule, Moore has been versatile for the Cougars, averaging 14.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2 assists and 2.7 steals.
The addition of Moore, along with her freshman sister, Delia (10.7 points), and another transfer in sophomore Abbee Croninger (4.3 points and 6.7 rebounds) from Dos Palos helped Golden Valley win its first Central California Conference championship since 2006.
Leaving Modesto Christian wasn’t easy. Moore still follows the Crusaders to see how her friends are doing. When the section released the playoff schedule, Moore was relieved to see top-seeded Modesto Christian was on the other side of the Division II bracket.
“There were a lot of reasons that went into transferring to Golden Valley,” Moore said. “A lot of the teachers at (Modesto Christian) had left, more than half the faculty. It was an academic decision. So that and the commute. I miss the people dearly, but it’s been an easy adjustment to a new school.”
Thissen was leaving a summer game in Modesto when he got the call that the Moore sisters were officially coming to Golden Valley.
“Obviously, we were excited,” Thissen said. “First and foremost, they’re great young ladies who both happen to be great basketball players. Stephanie brings a lot of things, but two things that really stand out are her work ethic and her basketball IQ.”
Moore also brings self-confidence to a team that didn’t have much of it after a rough stretch of seasons. That attitude has rubbed off on other players, including senior Camille Flores, who is averaging 12.3 points.
“Stephanie doesn’t display her self-confidence in a cocky manor; she’s just herself,” Thissen said. “It’s helped Camille in that it’s taught her it’s OK to think you’re good.”
Moore didn’t know the Cougars struggled in recent years. Her goal right away was to win a league title. Now they want to go as far as they can in the playoffs.
She’s ready to take the lead.
“It was great getting to know the girls,” Moore said. “I kind of became a leader at practices. I’ve watched the team grow. When I got to play, I just came in and tried to help make everyone better.”
Sun-Star staff writer Shawn Jansen can be reached at (209) 385-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.