Expectations soar in Loomis

Five starters return as Takayama leads perhaps his best team in 25 seasons
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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LOOMIS — Crystal Sewell is one of five returning starters on a Del Oro High girls basketball team that won 26 games last season, won a sixth straight Sierra Foothill League title and nearly knocked off Valley Christian in the second round of the CIF Northern California playoffs. So she and the Golden Eagles aren’t backing down from the expectations surrounding the Loomis squad this season. “Our first expectation is to win the section and then hopefully NorCals,” said Sewell, one of 11 talented seniors on the team. “We’re shooting for the moon.” Coach Mike Takayama said he might have the best team he’s had in 25 years at Del Oro. The Eagles return nine of their top 10 players from last season and added size and depth to the roster. “We’re excited, but at the same time we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” Takayama said. “We’ve set our goals a lot higher.” Sharp-shooting senior Madeline Campbell leads the Eagles, who won the Sonora Kiwanis Invitational last weekend for a sixth straight year. The 5-10 shooting guard is bound for UC Santa Barbara on a basketball scholarship. Senior Belle Obert will play college volleyball at Butler University. But she’s a tremendous basketball talent as well. At 6-1, she’s a defensive force. Obert’s offensive game has come along nicely in her three seasons as a varsity player. “I’ve always told people, in my 25 years of coaching she’s probably in the top three in terms of basketball IQ and understanding the attention to detail that makes the team better,” Takayama said of Obert. “She does all the little things and allows everyone else on the court to use their strengths. She’s one of those ultimate team players.” Obert is balancing basketball with her club volleyball season. She refused to cut her hoops career short despite her decision to play volleyball in college. “I love basketball. I’ve played it longer than volleyball and I couldn’t give it up,” Obert said. Point guard Becky Duncan is a capable scorer, but she usually defers to her teammates. A standout soccer player, Duncan’s speed and slick ball handling make her dangerous in the open court. “I’m comfortable with whoever’s out there on the court,” Duncan said “I have confidence in everybody on the team and it’s nice because you don’t have to think about who you’re passing to.” Sewell is a versatile forward with great athleticism and an aggressive mentality. “She really gives us the opportunity to score quick,” Takayama said. “If people want to press us, we get here the ball in a one-on-one situation and she’s a tremendous offensive weapon. She’s fun to watch.” Sophomore Briana Ruiz was impressive last season as a freshman and she’s only gotten better. Ruiz adds athleticism and poise at small forward. Seniors Taylor Donnot and Bailey Humes are experienced guards off the bench for the Eagles while Stephanie Geyer, a 6-1 sophomore, gives Del Oro another presence in the paint. It’s tough to find a weakness on the Eagles’ roster. “We perfectly fell into place this year,” said Sewell, who played with Campbell, Obert and Duncan on the Pacific Pistols AAU team in sixth grade. “We all played together before high school but (Takayama) has really made us come together as a team.” Del Oro is riding an incredible 50-game win streak in the Sierra Foothill League, where competition has been tough to find in recent seasons. But the non-league schedule will certainly provide challenges. The Eagles will host a talented Clovis West team on Monday before hosting the Del Oro Invitational next weekend. Then it’s off to the West Coast Jamboree in Antioch, where they could meet up with state powers Berkeley, Long Beach Poly or Sacramento. The Dragons have knocked the Eagles out of the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. “That’s something I want to do before I graduate is beat Sac High,” Obert said. The Eagles will be playing in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs in the spring after competing in Division III the past decade. Stockton power St. Mary’s – the three-time defending Div. III champion — will join Del Oro in the Div. II playoffs. Takayama is hoping the tough early schedule would prepare his team for what could be a long playoff run. The Eagles haven’t won a section crown since 1999. “We’ve bolstered our non-league schedule a little bit,” Takayama said. “We’ve set ourselves up to really have a learning experience.”