Jessi Dreschler used to wake up in searing pain, her back on fire.
She could not play sports. A brisk walk across the Forest Lake Christian High School campus in Auburn resulted in debilitating discomfort. Then the senior basketball captain did something about it. She ignored the bulging disc. And then something else happened.
“I feel there’s a miracle in my body,” Dreschler said Thursday afternoon shortly after helping her Falcons rally to beat Valley Christian Academy 42-39 to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI championship at Golden 1 Center.
“I didn’t play last year because of my back, and I didn’t play volleyball this season. My back hurt right up to the start of the season, but my team needed me and I needed them, so I played. It’s helped because I’m not in pain. I’m happy.”
The spirit of believing carried throughout this contest between rival programs. Forest Lake (23-5) snapped Valley Christian Academy’s 21-game winning streak in exacting a measure of revenge. VCA of Roseville (23-2) defeated FLC a year ago in the finals. This marks FLC’s first banner since the program three-peated in D-V from 2003-05.
And it was Dreschler who sealed it. She missed her first free throw with 11 seconds remaining, her heart racing. And then she muscled in the second attempt, a shot that looked like a wet sandbag plopping onto the back of the rim and then through. She scored seven points and had eight rebounds. Her free throw gave Forest Lake Christian a 40-39 lead, and, in effect, the game.
Alicia McDaniel’s free throw with less than a second to play accounted for the final score. McDaniel had six points and seven steals. Forest Lake Christian guard Amber Jackson led all scorers with 17 points. She is also an inspiration, a five-sport athlete headed to Oregon State to play soccer and compete in track and field. She does all of this despite the challenges of diabetes.
Dreschler amid laughter on her own free-throw make, “but it went in! It was the most nervous I’ve been in my life.”
The Falcons showed poise in a spacious arena known to unnerve players. They shot just 22 percent — 16 of 71 shooting — and were outrebounded 55-45, but they wound up doing the celebrating. The Falcons led by 15 early and withstood VCA’s charge that resulted in the Lions taking a 37-36 lead in the fourth quarter.
“What you saw out there in terms of effort is what they give us every day,” FLC coach John McDaniel said. “Special group.”
McDaniel is a product of the foothills. He graduated from Nevada Union High in Grass Valley in 1993 and coached the storied NU girls basketball program from 2007-15. Small-school coaching appeals, he said, because everyone knows everyone.
FLC’s enrollment is 160, which is about how many students packed the Nevada Union quad during lunch hour during McDaniel’s day.
“It’s an old-town feel to coach here,” he said. “Everyone is polite — please, thank you. And sports mean something. This isn’t just something they do. It means something.”
McDaniel also delighted in being able to coach his daughter, Alicia.
Forest Lake Christian and VCA both canceled classes Thursday to allow students, faculty and staffers a chance to attend the game. Small-school programs take none of this adventure for granted. Both teams qualify for the CIF Northern California tournament, which starts next week. Next week also means another task for Forest Lake Christian seniors.
“We don’t have a junior varsity team because of low numbers, so we’re always in the hallways telling freshmen, ‘You should play!’ It’s so fun!’”
Twins Christelle and Gracie Williams led VCA with eight points each. Other key players for FLC include Bella O’Neill, Saide Whaley and Ellie Wood.