"We're very excited about Friday night's game,'' Menlo coach John Paye said. "Pinewood is a tough place to play. They're notorious for the way they come out in their gym and jump all over people right off the bat.''
The Panthers are also looking forward to the game.
"We're excited for the game,'' Pinewood coach Doc Scheppler said. "The girls love playing Friday night games at home. We're playing for first place. We'll be extremely motivated, not only to play Menlo.''
The additional motivation comes in the form of Pinewood assistant coach Miranda Seto, a former Pinewood player and 2011 graduate, being inducted into the Pinewood Hall of Fame in a ceremony at halftime.
"Miranda was a great player at Pinewood who went on to play at UC San Diego and is one of the great people you'll meet,'' Scheppler said.
Pinewood, a longtime small-schools power, has catapulted itself in recent years into the upper reaches of California girls basketball. In 2016 the Panthers advanced to the Northern California Open Division championship game after a stunning upset at nationally No. 1-ranked St. Mary's of Stockton. Last year the Panthers outlasted undefeated Mitty, again the top-ranked team in the nation, for an epic triple-overtime victory in the NorCal Open Division championship game.
"The kids followed the success Pinewood had in that remarkable season last year,'' Paye said. "I have followed what they've done for the league the last six to eight years.''
The teams know each other well. Two of Menlo's players -- Avery Lee and Coco Layton -- have played for the Fever, Scheppler's AAU team.
The last time Menlo beat Pinewood was in a sweep in the 2011-2012 season. That was the last time anybody beat Pinewood in a WBAL game. The Panthers have a 59-game WBAL winning streak. And there have been a notable lack of close games during that streak. Eastside went on to win state Division V championships in 2016 and 2017 after losing to Pinewood in WBAL regular-season play by 25 and 20 points in 2016 and by 35 and 16 in 2017.
After a 16-10 season a year ago, Menlo goes into Friday's game on a 13-game winning streak. It's the program's longest winning streak since the 1990 team won 18 in a row. That team, which Paye coached and his sister, Kate Paye, playing a starring role, went on to win a state championship.
Kate Paye, of course, then won a national championship as a player at Stanford and is currently an associate to longtime Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer.
The current Menlo team is led by Lee, a sophomore guard averaging 16.5 points per game, freshman center Sharon Nejad (11.5 points, 9.7 rebounds) and junior forward Maeia Makoni (10.6 ppg).
Pinewood beat Menlo 94-55 and 77-30 in two games last season. What does Menlo need to do to have success this time around?
"Hopefully Pinewood will have an off-shooting night,'' Paye said. "They usually shoot very well against Menlo. We can't get rattled. We're a young team, but with a lot of basketball experience. We've got to handle the ball and make some shots.''
Pinewood is led by Hannah Jump (16.3 points, 6.8 rebounds), who is headed to Stanford, and Yale-bound Klara Astrom (12.9 points, 8.0 rebounds). The Panthers have won four WBAL games by an average margin of more than 47 points per game. But Scheppler has not been pleased with his team's shooting.
"We're not playing at full capability,'' Scheppler said. "We shot 9 of 42 from 3 against Notre Dame-Belmont, 3 of 21 against Priory. I don't know if it's the way teams are playing us, giving us the drive to take away the 3, or what. We have yet to get a Pinewood rhythm going.''
Going 14-1 and winning in league by 47 points per outing without a "Pinewood rhythm going?" A scary thought for Menlo and other future Pinewood opponents.
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