In his 25th season coaching basketball at Rosary Academy, there might not have been a better way for Richard Yoon to celebrate such an enormous accomplishment than to bring the school their first state title.
The Royals defeated Campolindo of Moraga to capture the 2017 CIF State Division III girls basketball championship last month with a 62-45 win over the Cougars at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
The road to Sacramento was one Yoon and his team envisioned they could make. With most of the squad returning, along with the addition of a strong freshman class plus some transfer students that added significant depth, the Royals were poised to make a historic run.
“We knew this could be a special team this season,” said Rosary’s athletic director, Tom Tice.
Finishing third in Trinity League play behind Mater Dei and Orange Lutheran respectively, the Royals entered the CIF-SS Division 2AA playoffs as the number one seed. The Southern Section championship game found them facing the number two seed, Camarillo High School, at Azusa Pacific University. In a tense and tight game, the Royals came out on top with a 52-51 overtime victory over the Scorpions to secure the basketball program’s second CIF-SS title, the previous coming in 1999.
The thrilling contest came down to the final seconds, as Rosary was clinging to a 52-49 lead when the Royals’ Rebekah Obinma fouled Camarillo’s Alyssa Marin, sending her to the free throw line for three shots.
Marin made the first two, but missed the third, and the Royals exhaled and celebrated their championship.
“For the girls to play at APU (Azusa Pacific University) in an environment like that, it was just incredible,” said Yoon.
Rosary remained undefeated, winning their next four games by double digits to take the CIF Southern California Regional Division III championship, defeating Serra High School from San Diego 63-43.
Having finally secured a regional title after three previous unsuccessful attempts, the Royals were ready to take their stifling defensive play up north and finish the job.
“We’ve been taking it one day at a time, working hard, reviewing film and trying to prepare mentally,” said senior shooting guard, Alli Iannone.
And their classmates were behind them the whole way, as school spirit rose to a fever pitch, with many of the “Rowdy Royals” making the trip to NorCal to support their team.
“The student body has been on a high, all decked out in red and gold,” said Tice. “They go crazy, and it’s been a blast for them.”
In the state title game at Golden 1 Center, Rosary freshman standout Kate Goostrey looked at home in the Sacramento Kings’ home arena, sinking six 3-pointers and scoring a season-high 25 points. Obinma contributed with 10 blocked shots to help give the Royals their state championship.
After doing well in preseason tournaments, Yoon felt this squad had what was needed to make a serious run for the state title.
“We got better and better each game we played,” said Yoon. “I could see the cohesiveness, and the players started to find their roles.”
The Royals had only tallied one loss going into league play and had several close contests against their Trinity League opponents.
But they didn’t let their third place finish phase them, and approached the playoffs with the same determination that got them there.
“Relentless,” said Yoon when asked to describe the team’s style of play. “We never give up. We dictate the pace, and we involve everyone.”
In addition to the team’s success, the Royals were awarded a number of individual accolades, including First Team All-CIF honors for Obinma, Iannone and Camille Lira, as well as recognition for Goostrey, who was named Second Team All-SCIBCA. Yoon was named CIF Division 2AA Coach of the Year and Obinma was tapped as CIF Division 2AA Player of the Year, as well as being named a 2017 John R. Wooden High School Player of the Year recipient, as awarded by the Los Angeles Athletic Club, the first time the club has extended the awards to include outstanding Southern California high school girls’ basketball players.
Having changed the school name a few years ago with the goal of refocusing on their strengths, the history-making basketball season is a symbolic step in the right direction for Rosary.
“We wanted to be part of something bigger and represent the school, the basketball program and the city the best way we could,” said Iannone. “It’s been one of the best experiences, and to do it with these girls is amazing. And Coach Yoon doesn’t get enough credit. A lot of this is him.”
Yoon returned the sentiments.
“This is one of the best teams I’ve ever had,” said Yoon. “They always step up and do what’s needed. I can’t tell you how proud I am of these girls.”