ST. MONICA — St. Monica hoops just keeps making history.
First the girls’ basketball team won the CIF-Southern Section Division 4A title earlier this month and now the Mariners have learned that senior forward Briana Harris is the division’s Player of the Year.
If that isn’t enough, John Skinner was named Coach of the Year and senior center Melissa Maragnes, a UC Santa Barbara signee, was selected for the all-division first team, it was announced this week.
“A lot of hard work over the past couple of years was needed to build up the program,” said Skinner, who just completed his third season at the helm. “It was awesome that we took care of business.”
After winning the division title, the first in girls’ basketball in school history, the Mariners advanced to the third round of the state playoffs before being sent home by St. Bernard.
The run is the deepest into the postseason St. Monica has ever advanced.
The road to history began when Harris transferred to St. Monica from cross-town Santa Monica High after her sophomore season. In just two years, the senior being recruited by Hawaii and Jackson State helped transform the Mariners into a powerhouse.
Despite not winning the Camino Real League title this season, Harris was named league Most Valuable Player. The Mariners were able to get a measure of revenge against league champ St. Paul in the division title game. St. Paul dealt the Mariners their only two losses in league play.
Skinner was especially proud of his team’s ability to battle back form an 18-point deficit against St. Paul in the title game, calling it his team’s greatest accomplishment.
“It was really cool to be a part of that,” Skinner said of the comeback. “To provide that as an example of always believing was amazing.”
But, the comeback wouldn’t have come to pass if not for Harris’ heroics.
After sinking just one bucket in the first half, Harris erupted for 21 points in the second half, finishing the night with 23 points, 11 rebounds and four steals.
“It’s a testament to how valuable she is to our program,” Skinner said. “She is a great talent, but really started to grow up toward the end of her senior year. She learned how to fight through adversity.”
Skinner said that the turning point in the title game came just after half-time during a time out. Down big, he turned to Harris and simply asked her if this is the way she wants to end her high school career.
Harris shot him a look and went out and led her team to the title.
For Harris, the accolades are just part of the territory.
“My confidence is the same, it really hasn’t changed that,” Harris said. “But, it does feel good.”
What struck Harris this season was the fan support the Mariners received during their run. St. Monica grew accustomed to playing before a sold-out gym as the playoffs carried on, fulfilling something Skinner told Harris when she first transferred to the school.
“I said, ‘by the time you leave here we’re going to pack this place,'” he told the then-junior.