The Coronado High School Dons girls basketball team fell 89-19 Tuesday, Feb. 13 against the Seton Catholic Preparatory Sentinels in the first round of the 4A state playoffs in Chandler.
The No. 16 Dons faced the disadvantage of being on the road against the No. 1 Sentinels with nine-time state champion head coach Karen Self.
“I don’t know if we struggled much,” Dons head coach Jamie Fellows said after the game. “That’s just an amazing team.”
First-year Coach Fellows said the legacy of Seton Catholic dates back to her high school career. She played at Thunderbird High School in Phoenix where her team lost to the Sentinels in the postseason as well.
Coach Self said she hopes to bring home a tenth state championship, putting her one title away from being the most accomplished basketball coach in Arizona history. But the Dons also made history this year with their first playoff berth in more than 20 years.
“We had a great journey. We had team bonding. It’s a great opportunity to be here on the court going against the state champion,” senior guard Stefani Roybal said after the game.
The Dons came back from an 81-game losing streak, which ended in 2015, to become Black Canyon Region champions and make their first playoff berth since the 1990s.
Coach Fellows, who knew little of the basketball program before joining the staff, said the culture at Coronado has amazed her during the team’s battle for the playoffs this year.
Former Coronado head coach Jim Ferrando, who coached the team to three consecutive championships in the 1990s, reached out to Coach Fellows with advice and encouragement, she said.
One of the players from the 1992 championship team even wrote this year’s team a handwritten letter congratulating them on their success.
Despite the historical significance of the Dons’ return to the playoffs, tears were shed in Tuesday night’s blowout loss. After trailing 34 points at halftime, the Dons only put up two more points in the fourth quarter — both on free throws.
“We struggled just getting down the court and having that shot open,” Roybal said.
Senior captain Zhira Cephas was the only player to make two field goals in the game. Other senior captain Taeler Jones led the team in scoring with a field goal and four free throws for six points. In total, nine of the team’s 19 points came from the free throw line.
Cephas said what was difficult in the game was getting back on defense.
“They beat us down the court a lot. We didn’t hustle our fastest,” she said after the game.
Coach Self said her team did a great job of defensively closing the driving lanes in the second half. Offensively, she said it was all about overall team performance.
“We got out and transitioned really well. We looked for each other and shared the ball really well,” Self said.
Ten of the 13 Sentinels put points on the board. Junior Sara Pfeiffer led the team with 31 points including two 3-pointers.
With such a strong Sentinels offense, Coach Fellows said she couldn’t enjoy the full-court press her team loves doing. Despite having fast kids, she said she was focused on getting back on defense.
The Dons played man-to-man throughout the game.
“We did really good at defense,” Roybal said. “I felt like we could have been faster, but otherwise we had our hands up. We were getting in their faces, showing what we got on the court and how we could get out there and push them.”
And in all 32 minutes of game time, the Dons came in with what Roybal described as “an attitude and a bang”.
“We played to the end our hardest,” Cephas said. “We didn’t give up. They’re number one, so we just knew we needed to come up playing our best and our hardest.”