The Eastside College Prep girls basketball team is back in the Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs, a destination reserved for the area's premier squads. But anyone who follows Eastside knows that the Panthers are far from a typical elite squad.
They have only six players on their roster and play mostly with five.
The tiny East Palo Alto private school is well known for having few but talented girls basketball players. In fact, the team's small roster has become such the norm that nobody on the outside seems to notice or cares to bring it up -- sort of like the elephant in the room.
But the players know. They know that when each game starts, they will not get a breather. They know that they have to do their best to avoid foul trouble and hope not to get injured.
"You have to come in with the mindset that you don't think about that you only have five players," said guard Charmaine Bradford, whose team opens the CCS playoffs Friday against St. Ignatius at Christopher High in Gilroy. "You play in the moment. You play for each other. That's the main thing.
"You can't afford to give up on certain plays because you know your teammates are depending on you. It's that close-knitness, that tenaciousness that you've got to play for each other."
According to the latest figures used by the CCS, Eastside has a high school enrollment of 257. The school stresses academics first, noting on its website that 100 percent of its graduates have been admitted to four-year universities. But only a handful of Eastside's students are basketball players, so coach Donovan Blythe must get the most out of those who do come out.
Despite the small roster, Eastside has not had to play with fewer than five, which rules would allow.
"I'm not going to share my secrets, but in order for these young ladies to be able to play as many games and 32 minutes a game, it has to be something special going on as far as their whole conditioning," Blythe said. "A lot of high schools don't have weight programs and different things that the kids are doing besides the basketball. In order for us to maintain the level of play, there is a special workout program that I created a few years ago that we do throughout the whole season."
Blythe has guided the Panthers to three CCS Division V finals in his seven seasons, winning titles in 2008 and 2012. In the two seasons the CCS has had an Open Division, Eastside has been selected both times. "I told the girls yesterday that I am very proud of them, and they should be proud of themselves, too," said Blythe, whose team beat the another Open team, No. 4 seed Pinewood, in their league tournament final Saturday. "This is something 10 years from now they can look back, and they can talk about it. I think 10 years from now they'll really realize what they have accomplished."
The outright league championship the Independence girls soccer team thought it won this season turned out not to be an outright league championship. The Blossom Valley Athletic League ruled last month that one of the 76ers' matches against Oak Grove was a double forfeit because of a fight between the teams.
When the loss was added to Independence's season summary, Overfelt ended up being the automatic qualifier from BVAL's West Valley Division. Because the West Valley is a "C" league, Independence did not have enough points to qualify for the playoffs that began this week as an at-large team.
BVAL Commissioner Colette Kirk said that Independence was notified in writing and through phone calls of the double forfeit Jan. 24, a day after the game.
But that information did not reach Independence coach Stephen Stefanini, who showed up at the CCS seeding meeting Saturday not counting the Oak Grove game as a loss.
When the news reached the players after the seeding meeting, they also were caught off guard and disappointed that they would not be going to the playoffs.