When thinking of Saugus High School athletics, girls basketball typically isn’t the first sport to come to mind.
The Centurions, however, have been working silently and relentlessly to change that. And with a recently-earned ticket to the CIF-Southern Section Division 3A semifinals, that work is just starting to pay off.
“We’re kind of like the step child to Canyon and Valencia,” said coach Jason Conn. “We’re done with that reputation.”
Saugus beat Claremont on Wednesday night on the road 57-35. The CIF-SS quarterfinal win wasn’t a dream, but rather an expectation.
“I know a lot of people were doubting us, thinking we weren’t really going to win the first playoff game,” said Libbie McMahan, “and then we won and we won the next one and then we won last night.
“So it’s been a really good feeling knowing that we’ve made it this far and proved everyone wrong.”
In comparison to last year, the Centurions are almost a completely different team. In the 2016-17 season, they finished 13-16 overall with no playoff bid.
In the current season, they’re 22-7.
A team mentality has taken over, leading to more fluid passing and scoring depth. McMahan leads the team in points per game with 17.1, according to MaxPreps.
She’s followed by Monique Febles at 10.8 ppg, then five more Centurions that range between 3.9 and 5.7 ppg.
“Last year we mostly did depend on one person for all our points,” said senior Danny Diaz. “Now we kind of all contribute with the points. It’s not just one person.”
While the skill is evenly distributed, McMahan serves as the primary motor for the team. The forward is a dual-sport athlete who committed to UC Davis for softball in early December.
“She gets very motivated by herself,” Conn said. “She doesn’t get too emotional before the games and she’s very calm out on the court and the girls know that. So they’ll work for her.”
The roster features only two seniors, which allows a foundation of underclassmen to compete and develop against their tough Foothill League counterparts.
League games against teams in higher divisions like Canyon (Division 1), Valencia (Division 1) and Hart (Division 2A) has prepared the Cents for the postseason, too.
“I think it was good to play them because we got a good challenge out of it,” said Febles, “but playing these teams we haven’t experienced helps us, too, to just start off the game playing hard no matter what.”
Saugus will host Beverly Hills, which knocked Golden Valley out of the playoffs in the first round, tomorrow at 7 p.m.
A win would mean the program’s first-ever trip to a CIF final. It would also give the self-proclaimed step children another growth spurt.
“I’m so thankful to be playing with this team,” Febles said. “We’ve become family and like I said (Wednesday) night, we’re playing together as a team. Just playing our game our hardest.”