The 2018-2019 Mary Star High girls basketball team got to experience both in a season besieged by injuries at the beginning, but ended with a sense of pride achieving something that no other team in school... or San Pedro history, has done.
On February 26, 2019 in front of packed gymnasium of raucous fans at Montclair High, the Stars pulled out a 34-31 victory in the first round of the CIF State Division 5 Southern California Regional playoffs. And to think that this moment in time would never come if this happened years ago for certain high schools who were unable make a CIF Section final.
“We bonded as a team when it was all said and done,” All-Santa Fe League junior guard Sarah Leyba said. “And it paid off when it counted the most to get this win.”
Mary Star started off the year 5-10 with key players out to injury, and impact transfer sophomore point guard Isabella Serrano on the 30-day sit-out period. Once Serrano became eligible, the Stars would make a strong run to the postseason after finishing third in the Santa Fe League, all the way to the CIF-Southern Section Division 5-AA semifinals at home against eventual champion Linfield Christian.
When Mary Star lost to the Lions, their apparent sadness of not being able to reach the final was quickly washed away when coach Victor Tuberosi gave them a startling announcement.
“When Vic said that we were going to (CIF) State we all started screaming,” All-Santa Fe League senior forward Lexi Quilliam said. “I felt so happy that we could still play and practice as a team because I had thought that the season was over.”
Several teams in the past (like the 2017 Port Of Los Angeles High girls soccer and 2018 San Pedro High girls volleyball teams for example) would only qualify for a CIF State Regional either by winning a Section championship or at least getting to a championship game. So the euphoria of the Stars was well documented.
Once the CIF State committee expanded the formats to multiple divisions for all the various sections, especially the CIF-Southern Section where semifinalists could potentially qualify, Mary Star would make the most of that opportunity at Montclair, the school who ended up in the CIF-SS Division 5-AA final where Linfield Christian became champions.
Even before the game, team harmony that the squad expressed with each other all year was emphasized with an act of kindness by senior reserve forward Titi Shodiya who let junior reserve forward Jenna Miloe borrow her game shoes.
“Titi was a lifesaver,” said Miloe, who in all the excitement of playing a Regional, accidentally left her game shoes on campus before boarding the team bus. “She sacrificed what could have been one of her last games of her career in order for me to have the ability to play. I will always be thankful for her. She is truly an angel.”
That kind of sacrifice off the court turned into an even bigger one on it with over six minutes to play when Serrano fouled out after scoring a team-high 11 points. Sophomore guard Kaitlyn Oasay then raised her game to new heights in the absence of the All-Santa Fe League & All-CIF Division 5 selection.
“It was a very crucial moment because we were up by six,” Serrano said. “I felt like that moment would’ve caused them to turn the ball over carelessly, but my teammates proved me wrong. They hustled and got rebounds, outlet passed the ball to Katie and she composed the team when we needed it the most.”
In fact it was Oasay’s layup off a backdoor feed from All-Santa Fe League sophomore forward Karla Rocha with 1:34 remaining that put Mary Star up 34-28 that was the most pivotal play of the night.
Leyba would seal the victory in the closing seconds by rebounding the missed free throw from senior center Lorraine Medina with 9 seconds left and ran out the clock when the Cavaliers were unable to foul her.
In any times of danger or despair, one thing always kept these Stars shining together.
“This team’s bond is like none other,” Oasay said.
Not even a 17-3 fourth quarter run by eventual Division 5 Southern California Regional champion Ramona of Riverside in a 40-31 quarterfinal loss on February 28 would dim the spirits of these Stars (16-16 overall), nor diminish their moment.
“Honestly, it was surreal,” Medina said. “I think the most satisfying part is that we were underdogs the whole season, even in playoffs. No one expected us at all to go as far as we did, so that feeling of being the first to accomplish a big feat like this is amazing.”