Sir Isaac Newton surely didn’t have sports in mind when he theorized ‘what goes up must come down,’ but that phrase could just as easily apply to high school basketball.
Talent often arrives on campuses in waves. A group of skilled players step into the gymnasium as wide-eyed freshmen, build chemistry during their early years and eventually lift their team to a championship level. That brings attention to the program, interest in the school and ultimately reels in another round of talented athletes.
However, the intervals between fluctuations in talent often force a program to take a step back, regroup and then set its sights high again.
The JSerra girls’ team is experiencing that phenomenon this season. The Lions advanced to the CIF-SS Division IV-AA finals the last two seasons and into the Southern California Regionals, playing a combined 14 postseason games.
But they’ll face an uphill climb just to make the playoffs this season. With just one returning player with varsity experience, JSerra got off to a 3-15 start, including 0-3 in the Trinity League.
The Lions just didn’t lose a stack of players to graduation, they lost two of the school’s all-time best in Coco Miller and Megan House. Both were four-year starters who gave JSerra a dominant inside-outside presence on both ends of the floor. Miller, the school’s all-time leading scorer, now plays for UC Santa Barbara and House plays for Pepperdine.
Making the Lions’ postseason chances even slimmer was their placement this season in Division I-AA, the top division in the section. With 47 teams in the division, JSerra would need to finish in the top three in Trinity League play to automatically qualify, or secure an at-large berth.
JSerra coach Mary Rossignol, in her ninth season coaching the Lions, won’t call it a “rebuilding” stage for the program, but rather a “transition year.”
“We have a great tradition, a great legacy and, this year, these kids are fighting,” Rossignol says. “That’s all we can do.”
Perhaps the biggest adjustment has come from junior guard Julia Ackerman, who was instrumental in JSerra’s success the last two seasons.
Among her highlights during that span was a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Orange Lutheran as a freshman two years ago, and scoring a team-high 18 points – all on 3-pointers – in the 10-point loss to Bishop Montgomery in last season’s Division IV-AA final.
Ackerman earned first-team all-CIF-SS in Division IV-AA last season, joining Miller and House, and got off to a memorable start this season, breaking the school record with eight 3-pointers in a 74-18 win Nov. 27 against St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy.
But the added responsibility of being the team’s main ball handler this season has forced Ackerman to make sacrifices on the offensive end.
“She’s having to do a lot more,” Rossignol says of Ackerman. “She has to handle the ball as point guard and we’re running her off screens to get shots. It’s building a lot of character for her, which is going to make her an even better player.”
It’s also forcing Ackerman to take on more of a leadership role, another huge adjustment after playing in the shadows of Miller and House the last two seasons.
“She does show a lot of signs of leadership,” Rossignol says.