CONCORD, Calif. – Just 10 days ago, San Ramon Valley coach John Christiano recorded his 100th career victory, adding an entry to a ledger that already included the 2020 NCS Division I Championship and multiple league titles and playoff appearances.
Christiano suffered a heart attack this past weekend. Thankfully, he’s okay, and on Thursday night he was on hand at Carondelet to watch his son Joe take his seat and guide the Lady Wolves to a 56-48 victory in a battle of unbeaten teams that also wrapped up first place in the EBAL-Contra Costa County League.
“Anytime you step into Carondelet’s gymnasium - there’s something special about that,” Joe Christiano stated. “We’re just 12 girls from Danville that compete every single day. We kept things as normal as possible, but there’s no replacing my dad.”
Natalie Pasco, who’s been turning heads this season with her scoring and rebounding, had another outstanding effort, registering 16 points and 20 boards for San Ramon Valley (10-0, 7-0 EBAL). Allison Stern came up big with 11 points (3 treys), five rebounds, and four assists. She also sank a desperation three from beyond center court to close out the half and tie the game up at 29.
Nya Epps led Carondelet with 11 points, six assists, and five rebounds, while Jamie Kent had a neat double-double with 11 points and 11 boards and Megan Dickert tacked on nine points with seven rebounds.
“A good COVID basketball game, it was a lot of fun to be a part of,” Carondelet coach Kelly Sopak said. “We saw glimpses tonight of what we can be, but we also saw glimpses of what we have to work on. We did a good enough job defensively, now we just have to put the offensive piece in.”
The first half saw seven lead changes and five ties, with neither team amassing more than a three-point lead save for a brief span in the first quarter when Carondelet (9-1, 5-1 EBAL) had as much as a five-point advantage. The Wolves scored the first four points of the second half, and Sierra Chambers, who finished with 10 points, had a key three-point play which pushed the lead to seven. Pasco sank a three off a Chambers pass to kickstart the fourth, making it 47-39, and had back-to-back put backs by the time another 1:15 elapsed, the second of which made it 51-41.
The Cougars responded with a couple of buckets, and then Chambers, the plucky freshman point guard, had arguably the biggest play of the night. With 1:50 remaining, she sliced through the lane and netted a layup and was fouled. She made the free throw to extend the lead to nine. Carondelet missed their next two field goals, and with 11 seconds to go Sadie Carter put the finishing touches on the win thanks to a smart inbounds pass by Stearns.
“Her biggest strength is that she really simplifies the game,” Sopak said of Pasco, whom he’s coached in club. “Her fundamentals are spot on. Tonight she did a really good job of being patient. She puts a lot of stress on a defense. We have to account for her for 84 feet.”
“Going into this year we lost three seniors, all of whom started,” Stern said. “Sierra is an amazing basketball player and has been really able to change our game.”
It was the third victory in two seasons over Carondelet by San Ramon Valley, including a nearly identical result on the same floor about 16 months ago - a 54-48 win - and a crucial NCS Division I semifinal win, when the second-seeded Wolves downed the sixth-seeded Cougars 71-67. But tonight was more about one team playing their best in honor of their beloved coach’s setback, another team continuing to acclimate to a new coach’s system, and both teams savoring competition when many games and a postseason were swallowed by circumstances beyond anyone’s control.
After the game, an emotional San Ramon Valley squad and its supporters lingered as night began to fall, enjoying win number 10 in a truncated season hampered by the pandemic, and grateful that the elder Christiano could watch them notch the victory.
“It’s weird not having (John) on the bench,” Stern said. “We got the news...and Carondelet was completely out of our minds. First thing is his health and our love for him. John puts his heart and soul into our program. It really contributes to the winning culture of SRV that we have that strong coach and administration behind us.”
“There’s no words to explain how much these girls love my dad, and it felt really good to get a win for him because he deserves it,” Joe Christiano remarked. “A lot of things broke his way for him to even be here tonight. My dad said, ‘Don’t feel sorry for me, go out and do what you guys do.’ I’m just so damn proud of these girls. We were doing this for Pops tonight. That was the message from the start. We wish this season could go on forever.”