Sacred Heart seniors riding wave of emotion

Rosslyn Beard was working up a sweat and savoring the moment Thursday afternoon.

The Sacred Heart Cathedral girls’ basketball team had just finished practice and the guard was putting up extra jumpers, hitting several midrange shots in a row and smiling before shifting to the perimeter.

“It’s one of the last times I’ll ever wear this practice jersey,” Beard said afterward. “I’m trying not to think about it too much, but this is definitely going to be an emotional couple of days.”

Beard and fellow seniors Lauren Bell, Jazmine Jackson and Melissa Koike have stretched their final season to the limit now, and will suit up for Sacred Heart today for the final time. The Irish (32-0), rankedNo. 1 in the nation by USA Today, face Magnolia of Anaheim

(27-6) in the Division III state final today at 1 p.m. at Arco Arena. On the line for the Irish are a third straight state championship and a possible mythical national title.

“I’ve definitely been thinking about how far we’ve come,” said Bell, who will watch the final from the bench after injuring her ACL last month. “I can still remember the anticipation of that first practice, wondering how coach [Brian] Harrigan would be.”

Beard, Bell and Jackson all played on the varsity as freshmen before Koike was called up the next year as a sophomore. They joined an established team that had already won five Central Coast Section titles in a row and have helped lift Sacred Heart to among the nation’s elite. The Irish have won 55 games in a row and are 125-8 in the quartet’s four-year tenure at the school. They have earned victories in 20 consecutive playoff elimination games over the past three years.

“I don’t think we’ve ever really thought about the next step or the national level or anything like that,” Koike said. “We just work as hard as we can every day and trust our preparation.”

Koike has proven to be a valuable reserve while Beard (Cal Poly Pomona) and Bell and Jackson (Pepperdine) will move on to play college ball next year. And when they walked into the gym as freshman Harrigan knew they had a chance to be a memorable group.

“We had a feeling they’d be pretty good,” Harrigan said. “But they still had to prove themselves in this program. Everybody has to earn their stripes.”

They have, in abundance. And now, as they prepare to take the court for the final time in green and white, they are hoping to exit the way they have so many times in their young careers — with a win.

“I think all eighth-graders dream of coming here and playing for coach Harrigan,” Beard said. “It’s been an honor to be a part of this program and hopefully we can finish up strong.”

melliser@examiner.com

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