MOUNTAIN VIEW -- After winning only one-third of its games in the six seasons before coach Brian Harrigan's arrival, the St. Francis girls basketball team has made a swift turnaround in the two years under his guidance.
Harrigan spent last season implementing his system, which helped Sacred Heart Cathedral win four state championships and a mythical national title in 2008, and this season watching the Lancers exceed even his expectations.
Saturday, St. Francis will appear in its first state championship game when it plays Lynwood for the Division II title at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
"If you asked me on Nov. 1 if we would be in the state final, I don't know if I would have said that," Harrigan said.
The Lancers, the third-place finisher in the West Catholic Athletic League and Central Coast Section Open Division finalist, got there collectively.
They built their team around defense, and their defense stole the show last week when the Lancers beat Lynbrook 44-19 to win the Northern California Regional Division II championship. The 19 points were the fewest allowed in a regional final.
"The kids have continued to play hard," Harrigan said. "We've put our hat on the defensive end, which has been our strength all year, being able to guard people and play hard defensively. They believe in themselves, and they believe in the system that we're running."
But will the system be enough to defeat Lynwood? The Southern
The Knights (28-5) have a balanced scoring attack as five players average between 9.1 and 11.7 points per game, led by junior Prescilla Lopez.
"They're very athletic," Harrigan said. "They have size and length. They have some girls who are tall but also long, which makes it even harder as you prepare for them because you know their game is up-tempo. I know we're going to have to keep our turnovers down and take care of the basketball, try to keep them out of runs."
Lynwood's average of 52.8 points per game is about 10 more than St. Francis (24-8) averages. Jennifer Lucian leads St. Francis at 10.1 points per game. Teammate Shelbi Aimonetti averages 9.7.
"Everybody has to be doing their role in order for us to be successful," Harrigan said. "We're certainly not a team that's based on one or two players."