Photo: Thien-An Truong
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The Christopher High girls basketball team reached unprecedented heights this spring, earning a Central Coast Section championship game appearance and NorCal playoff berth for the second consecutive season. 

Previous Cougar teams had never advanced to a CCS final and now they’ve done it two years in a row.

Graduations from last year’s squad made a second journey appear very challenging. But the Cougars navigated big hurdles in an amazing run to the CCS Division II championship game and NorCal participation. After an immaculate 14-0 pre-season season with two tourney titles and then a fierce league schedule, Christopher put together a playoff performance for the ages. 

Christopher High’s Alyssa Lopez goes in for a layup in traffic in a recent game. Photo: Thien-An Truong

The Cougars shut down a red-hot San Mateo team by a 51-29 score. Then, facing a Pioneer squad that had edged them twice in league play, CHS fashioned a thrilling fourth-quarter rally for a dramatic 43-33 win. That gave them a slot in the finals.

“I’m on cloud nine,” said Cougars’ forward Frenchy Falvey, after the win over Pioneer. “I can’t stop smiling.”

In the CCS final, a tall and talented Monta Vista team beat Christopher 53-47. The game featured an amazing effort by the Cougars. Trailing by 18 points with about five minutes to play, they forced turnovers and sank five three-pointers in a 17-3 run that closed them within four points in the final seconds, but they ran out of time.

“I’m so proud of them,” Christopher coach Jim Falvey said. “We’re a tiny public school. Getting to back-to-back CCS finals is off the charts. I thought last year might be our peak. We graduated two girls with length and we had more depth. This team is shorter and has less depth. Making it again is way over the top.”

Christopher’s season-long formula included a fierce full-court press and tight defense including doubling down on an opponent’s best players. They coupled that with a high-speed fast-break offense with three-point sharpshooting and energetic rebounding. 

Nat Javier, Alyssa Lopez and Kaycee Carrasco provided the ball-handling, perimeter play and most of the scoring, along with leading the full-court press defense. Frenchy Falvey and Shiloh Vallejos led the inside attack and rebounding. Brooklyn Sax, Ember Navarro, Cassandra Durand and Maddy Tamone contributed off the bench.

All season long, Christopher players and staff noted the team’s culture was crucial to their fabric and helped them succeed on the court.

“It’s clear that for us, basketball is more than a game,” said Francesca (Frenchy) Falvey, daughter of the coach. “Our dynamic on the team is close to a family, and I think that is what makes us so successful on the court. Everyone on the team wants the other to succeed, and it makes our game play extremely cohesive.”

In NorCal Division III play, a tough draw brought an underseeded Caruthers team to town and the visiting Blue Raiders broke a tight game open in the second half to win 85-52. Caruthers continued on to win the NorCal title with three more upsets and then won the CIF State title in Sacramento over Granada Hills Charter.

Back in December, Christopher won the Watsonville Tournament and the Del Mar Tournament. In the incredibly tough Blossom Valley Athletic League, Mt. Hamilton Division, they finished 4-6. Of note, the league’s top two teams, Evergreen Valley and Branham, both reached the CCS Division I final. Those two and third-place Pioneer all advanced into NorCal Division II play.

Christopher High’s Frenchy Falvey goes up for a shot in a recent game. Photo: Thien-An Truong

“We don’t lose, we learn,” Frenchy Falvey said.

On Feb. 20, the Cougars began the playoff roll by facing San Mateo, which was riding a 20-game win streak. Christopher led 18-10 after one period, 31-16 at halftime and 49-21 after three quarters, on the way to 51-29 win. Oh but how they did it—that defense.

For the game, they forced 26 turnovers, nearly as many as the total number of Bearcat shots at 33. San Mateo had 55 possessions and on 29, they got a shot, whereas on the other 26, CHS forced a turnover before a shot was taken.

Carrasco led the way with 16 points, including three 3-pointers. Lopez scored 12, also with three treys. Javier scored eight, Vallejos added six and Falvey scored five points.

“Our hustle played a big part,” Javier said. “We were working hard, scrapping. Every loose ball was ours.”

During league play, Pioneer had edged CHS in overtime at home and 40-39 back in Gilroy. Pioneer led 15-14 at halftime and 25-16 midway through the third quarter. After a timeout, Carrasco began the comeback with a right-wing three-ball and followed with a triple from the top on the next possession. Javier forced a turnover and took it coast-to-coast for a layup. The tally was 25-24 and the CHS crowd was roaring.

The avalanche resumed in the final quarter. Vallejos drained a 3-pointer from the right wing and Lopez matched it with one from the left wing. Later, Javier nailed a left baseline trey. After starting the contest shooting just 7-for-35, CHS finished with an 8-of-13 run, which included five 3-pointers.

“It’s surreal,” said Cougars’ guard Nat Javier, who cited the “trust of our coaches in us” to describe how they kept shooting and that the shots were finally falling. “That game was crazy.”

Javier finished with 12 points, and Carrasco, Lopez and Vallejos each scored nine.

“I told the girls to keep shooting, keep shooting,” coach Falvey said. “Kaycee hit two threes and they started to believe. It’s about energy, effort and wanting it more. I tell them to play hard, have fun and have no regrets. Do that and I’ll be cool.”

Against Monta Vista, Lopez led the way with 15 points on five three-pointers. Frenchy Falvey added eight points and Carrasco had seven.

“It was a super intense game,” Javier said. “We started slow. We had momentum late. We left it all out there. There was nothing to lose.”

In the Caruthers game, the Cougars hung tough for a half and led 24-23 in the second quarter before falling behind. Javier led the point parade with 17, Lopez had 15 and Carrasco scored 12 points.

The season’s highlights were the CCS finals appearance and NorCal participation. The Cougars also set school records for most wins (20), longest win streak (14), most points in a season (1,594), most games over 70 points (7) and highest-scoring game (92).

“I love my teammates,” Frenchy Falvey said, after the Caruthers game. “It’s more than a game. It’s about the relationships we built. No tears.”

As it says on the team’s t-shirts, it’s all about “Family” and that means everything in this program. As a season with history-making accomplishments comes to a close, there might be no more basketball practices or games, but the Christopher family feeling will live on forever.

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