Blood, sweat and tears: San Ramon Valley girls fall just short in intense NCS Open title game

DUBLIN  –  San Ramon Valley forward Avery Knapp was exhausted, bruised and bitterly disappointed after Cardinal Newman outlasted the Wolves 61-55 in a thrilling North Coast Section Open Division championship game at Dublin High. 

But she also left the locker room proud of her team, who pushed the Cardinals to the limit over 32 minutes of gritty defense and tough shotmaking. 

“We were up to the challenge and matched their physicality,” Knapp said.

The Wolves led 50-46 with four minutes left in the game, and appeared to have everything going for them.  

Cardinals forward Taissa Queiroz, who the Wolves had held in check by sending double and triple-teams at every time she touched the ball, was on the bench holding a towel to her lip after hard contact drew blood. 

She returned a few possessions later, and instead of being tentative, the Brazilian sensation broke a 50-50 tie by drawing contact to earn two free throws and then power through SRV defenders for another layup and a 54-50 lead. 

“When I got hit in the lip, it was like ‘Now, I need to go hard,’” said Queiroz, who scored 13 points. “I can’t take it easy.”

San Ramon Valley watches as Cardinal Newman receives their first place medals after their NCS Open Division Championship game at Dublin High School in Dublin, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. Cardinal Newman defeats San Ramon Valley 61-55. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Sofia Bowes answered by going right at Cardinal Newman’s superstar junior, playing through an injured ankle to make a layup against Queiroz and draw the foul. Bowes led the team with 16 points.  

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Janelle Pena shut down any ideas of a Wolves rally with under two minutes when she scored on a fastbreak layup and then drove in for a hook shot to put the Cardinals back up by five. 

Bowes scored one more layup with a minute remaining to cut the lead to three, but Queiroz powered in a putback layup and hit a free throw to keep the game out of reach. 

“We knew it would be a one- or two-possession game, and that’s what it was,” SRV coach John Cristiano said. “We were hoping we’d be the ones on top at the end, but theat was a good team. I’m very proud of our girls.”

San Ramon Valley head coach John Cristiano watches his team play Cardinal Newman in the first quarter of their NCS Open Division Championship game at Dublin High School in Dublin, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

The loss stung for SRV’s players, some of who shed tears during the trophy ceremony, but it may end up a blessing in disguise. Had the Wolves won the game, they would have been a lock to play in the NorCal Open bracket, which includes the unstoppable Archbishop Mitty juggernaut. 

Instead of having to compete against the best girls basketball team in America with two five-star college prospects, San Ramon Valley may end up in Division I. 

Winning that wouldn’t be a cakewalk by any means, but it wouldn’t be impossible. SRV’s coach wouldn’t complain if that’s how things shake out for the Wolves. 

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“I think they should go with five teams (in the Open), bring Clovis West up and push us down into the No. 1 (seed) in Division I,” Cristiano said. 

Cardinal Newman jumped out to a 32-23 halftime lead, as both Pena and Kate Schat drilled multiple 3-pointers. A couple of Knapp threes and a flurry of layups by 13-point scorer Tera Chen kept SRV around. 

SRV’s offense came alive in the third quarter, scoring 19 points as the Wolves flew around screens and ran in transition to get open looks. Cardinal Newman took a 46-42 lead into the fourth. 

San Ramon Valley completed the comeback with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, taking a 48-46 lead after Chen cut into space and finished the play with a layup. 

San Ramon Valley’s Sofia Bowes (42) drives past Cardinal Newman’s Janelle Pena (24) in the second quarter of their NCS Open Division Championship game at Dublin High School in Dublin, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

But once re-energized Quieroz re-entered the game, SRV had no answer for Cardinal Newman’s unstoppable post. Even when they cut off her drives, Quieroz fired accurate bullet passes to open teammates like an oversized point guard. 

Quieroz’s Cardinal Newman (28-2) and Knapp’s San Ramon Valley (28-2) will both learn where they’re seeded in NorCal on Sunday. 

“I’m ready for anything,” Knapp said. “We can’t control where we’re going to be placed, but we’re going to put up a fight either way.”

San Ramon Valley’s Sofia Bowes (42) shoots past Cardinal Newman’s Leah Mauritson (21) in the second quarter of their NCS Open Division Championship game at Dublin High School in Dublin, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
Cardinal Newman players celebrate with the first place plaque after defeating San Ramon Valley during their NCS Open Division Championship game at Dublin High School in Dublin, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. Cardinal Newman defeats San Ramon Valley 61-55. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
Cardinal Newman head coach Monica Mertle hugs Taissa Queiroz (12) after defeating San Ramon Valley during their NCS Open Division Championship game at Dublin High School in Dublin, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. Cardinal Newman defeats San Ramon Valley 61-55. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
Cardinal Newman head coach Monica Mertle holds up the first place plaque as her players celebrate after defeating San Ramon Valley during their NCS Open Division Championship game at Dublin High School in Dublin, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. Cardinal Newman defeats San Ramon Valley 61-55. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

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