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Local grads aim for NCAA title

By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Kasey Riecks and Lauren Juric have made it to the big time, but their roots are right here in the Sierra foothills. Both play for the UC Davis women’s basketball team, which beat out Cal Poly San Luis Obispo last Saturday for the Big West Tournament Championship. UC Davis will make its debut in the first-round of NCAA Division I Championships against Stanford on Saturday. The No. 16 seeded Aggies (24-8) hope to upset the No. 1 seeded Cardinal (29-2) in their own Maples Pavilion. Juric, a Bear River graduate and valedictorian, remembers the excitement she felt making Sac-Joaquin Section championships as a Bruin. She said it was good to taste that again. “I think it was the same sort of excitement,” Juric said. “Then I had never been at the college level.” Juric also said that playing basketball at Bear River under Coach Jeff Bickmore was a big part of her development as a player. As an Aggie she averages 3.7 rebounds and 16.5 minutes per game. The reaction to the Big West win was equally as big around campus. “There was a lot of excitement, more than I was expecting,” Juric said. “Roommates, friends and even people I didn’t expect, like people at the grocery store came up and congratulated us.” UC Davis Coach Sandy Simpson will retire after this season. The team hopes it can send him off with an NCAA Division I title. “Especially with coach announcing his retirement we want to win,” Juric said. “He deserves it above all people.” Juniors, Juric and Riecks grew up playing AAU basketball for the local Pacific Pistols. Norm Schoenhoff of Auburn has been coaching Pistols teams for years. He said he has seen both of them play and sometimes tunes into NCAA women’s games with his daughter. “They are both really dedicated and talented players,” Schoenhoff said. “It’ll be an intense game for them.” Riecks started all 32 games last season and scores an average of 8.9 points per game. At Placer High, she was dubbed Pioneer Valley League MVP twice. Going into Saturday’s match-up, she said Davis has a couple of goals in mind. “The best-case scenario would be to have the biggest upset ever against Stanford,” Riecks said. “It is such an honor to play at Stanford and in the NCAA tournament. We are making a name for the program at Davis and it will be a stepping stone for years to come.” After a two-day break, the Aggies returned to the court for practice and to strategize with the coaching staff. It will partially involve their Princeton offense and Buzz defense. “Our team plays with a lot of energy,” Riecks said. “Our defense gives teams a lot of problems.” In the meantime, both players will be working equally as hard on their academics. Jurich, an exercise biology major and Riecks, a managerial finance major, have to reschedule their finals for before Saturday’s game. “Especially right now all you want to think about is being in the NCAA tournaments,” Riecks said. “We have all been getting dates changed. It’s been a crazy time.” That time may get a little crazier on the court against Stanford in the Spokane Regional. The Cardinal, who are on a 23-game winning streak, are seeded No. 1 for a reason. In December they stopped the No. 1 seeded team in the Philadelphia region dead in their tracks. The 12-point victory against the University of Connecticut ended an epic 90-game winning streak for the Huskies. They also have several Pac-10 powerhouse players. Nnemkadi Ogumike leads the Cardinal in scoring with 16.4 points per game. Pac-10 player of the year Jeanette Pohlen averages 33.1 minutes per game and is notorious for her 3-pointers. Riecks said that while the game will be a challenge for the Aggies many of their fans would be there to support them. The camaraderie on the team is something else she said is a secret weapon of theirs on the court. “It’s definitely a big deal,” Riecks said. “I enjoy being a part of this team and I get to share this with pretty much my best friends.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com