Once known for its dominant post players, the Carondelet High basketball team has kept up its winning ways by running opponents out of the gym.
For the past three seasons, the Cougars have remained one of the East Bay's best squads with their run-and-gun offense and full-court pressure defense. It's a style perfectly suited for senior point guard Natalie Romeo, who has signed with Nebraska, but one veteran coach Margaret Gartner didn't use in her first 19 years at Carondelet.
"I needed to adjust with my players and talent," Gartner said. "With a player like Natalie, I didn't want to slow her down. We needed to move with her. It was a big change for me, though, and took me a year to figure out."
No matter what style of basketball Carondelet is playing, the Cougars consistently win under Gartner. Since she took over the varsity program 22 seasons ago, Carondelet has claimed nine North Coast Section titles and has played in the state championship game four times, winning the Division II state crown in 2004.
On Saturday, before Carondelet's showdown with St. Mary's at the Corner Bakery Showdown, Gartner will be honored for her 500th career win, which game during the Cougars' 2013 postseason run.
She credits the people she works with every day -- the players, their families and her assistant coaches -- for keeping her going at the same spot for so long.
This year's Carondelet team doesn't have much size, with the tallest player on the roster listed at 6 feet, and features just three seniors. But the team is in the middle of another fine season as it prepares to take on St. Mary's, which is nationally ranked and loaded with individual talent.
The Cougars are 13-2 and coming off a 108-50 victory over San Ramon Valley, which also pressed, resulting in a high-scoring affair in which all 13 Carondelet players scored.
Besides Romeo, who is a four-year starter and averages 19.6 points, 7.7 assists and 5.3 steals a game, the Cougars feature seniors Makenzie Cast and Gabby Grupalo.
Cast, who is headed to Loyola Marymount, might be the best long-distance shooter in the area while Grupalo uses her quickness to wreak havoc as a defender.
But in the Cougars' up-tempo system, which requires regular substitutions to stay fresh, it takes contributions from the whole team to be successful.
"It gets more girls on the court, that's what I like about it," said Gartner, who is also a second-grade teacher. "They all work hard in practice so it's nice to try to get more on the court."
The Carondelet vs. St. Mary's game, which begins at 6:30 p.m., will highlight the Corner Bakery Showdown, an all-day girls basketball event held at Bentley School in Lafayette.
Here's the rest of the lineup: Campolindo vs. Castro Valley, 10:30 a.m.; Heritage vs. Santa Rosa, noon; McClymonds vs. Brookside Christian, 1:30 p.m.; Clayton Valley Charter vs. Presentation, 3:30 p.m.; Miramonte vs. Berkeley, 5 p.m.; Skyline vs. Amador Valley, 8 p.m.
Back on track: The Newark Memorial boys basketball team tested itself with tough nonleague games throughout November and December. Now that it's January, the Cougars have hit their stride and appear primed for another Mission Valley Athletic League title.
Starting with a 59-56 win over Sheldon-Sacramento on Dec. 30 in the National Division of the Under Armour Holiday Classic in San Diego, Newark Memorial had reeled off seven straight wins going into Wednesday's home game against Washington. Along the way, the Cougars beat Moreau Catholic 74-48 on Jan. 10 and on Monday, topped previously unbeaten Jesuit-Carmichael 60-50.
After a slow first half against Jesuit, Newark Memorial started to take control in the second half and pulled away in the final two minutes. Senior forward Matthew Thomas scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half.
Staff writer Curtis Pashelka contributed to this report. Follow Stephanie Hammon on Twitter at twitter.com/stephhammon.