Multiple NCAA Division I signees, a high preseason national ranking and a goal of a California Interscholastic Federation Open Division state championship.
That description fit the Bishop O'Dowd High girls basketball team at the beginning of last season, and the St. Mary's High girls squad entered this season with those credentials also. The Panthers are led by three NCAA Division I signees -- Gabby Green and Mikayla Cowling, who are both headed to Cal, and Taylor Berry (Santa Clara). St. Mary's was also ranked 15th in the MaxPreps.com preseason Top 25 national rankings.
Bishop O'Dowd wrapped up its season last year with a CIF Open Division state championship title, and St. Mary's would like to do the same.
"We want to win (the Tri-County Athletic League) and win our section. Our ultimate goal is to win state," St. Mary's coach Nate Fripp said.
Fripp said that "if you really look at (last season's O'Dowd team), at the end of the day, they will have at least eight Division I players." O'Dowd had four players who received NCAA Division I scholarships in 2012. "We have a Big Four, and the rest are still defining their roles. We are still a work in progress," Fripp said.
St. Mary's Big Four are Green, Cowling, Berry and junior Ma'Ane Mosley, Fripp said. He considers them all guards.
"It's really a good thing," said the 6-foot-2 Green about all four players being guards. "You have to think ahead during a game. I think we are on the same page during the game."
Green is one of the top high school girls players in the nation. She played for the 2013 USA Basketball Under-19 World Championship women's team this past summer, one of only three players on the team who are still in high school. Green is also one of 10 girls named to the Naismith Trophy High School Player of the Year watch list.
"She's 6-2, and she plays like she's 5-5 -- she's fast, she's quick, she can get off her feet," Fripp said. "Gabby can score whenever she wants in so many different ways, and, defensively, I wouldn't want her to guard me. She is so gifted.
"Mikayla does everything. She rebounds, she scores, she defends. ... Taylor has taken it upon herself to be the defensive stopper. ... (Ma'Ane) is just energy personified. She has been playing really selfless. She is very athletic."
Among the teams that St. Mary's beat in December were Sacred Heart Cathedral-San Francisco (64-53), Christ the King-Middle Village, New York (56-50) and St. Mary's-Stockton (70-62). The Panthers' first loss this season was to Bishop O'Dowd on Dec. 7 (70-68 in overtime).
"We have learned from the O'Dowd game. Since that game, we have been more focused," said Fripp, whose team was 6-2 entering January.
St. Mary's second loss was to Mater Dei-Santa Ana in the Nike Tournament of Champions (66-53). Mater Dei, which is ranked No. 2 in the nation in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 rankings, pulled away in the third quarter of that game, Fripp said.
St. Mary's, ranked No. 12 by MaxPreps, will play Mater Dei again Friday at Long Beach City College.
"It's all about challenging yourself. How do we respond to the way we played in the second half the first time? Did we learn anything?" Fripp said.