FEISTY Girls basketball teams from Healdsburg (white) and Middletown (blue) fight for a rebound during the opening game of the 2024 North Coast Section Girls Basketball Championships. (Photo by Christian Kallen)

Healdsburg High School’s girls basketball team of 2023-24 has made its mark on the school’s history, sweeping all North Coast Redwood games this year and winning the first round of the Division 4 tournament, advancing to the quarterfinals on Saturday, Feb. 17.

Behind the record-setting shooting of senior Hailey Webb, the Lady Greyhounds ran off 17 straight victories in the season’s closing months, dating from Dec. 9, capturing the league pennant and earning a No. 6 seed in the North Coast Section Division 4 tournament.

In the first game of the elimination tourney of 16 teams, they extended their winning streak to 18 straight, sweating out a 36-34 win over Middleton on the Healdsburg home court. The teams had last met in the 2022-23 season, with the Mustangs winning by a single point in an electrifying 49-48 game.

STEAL Allie Espinoza (10) gets away with the ball after Middletown failed to score, and Meher Dhiman (30) and a herd of Mustangs chase her down the court. The Greyhounds won the playoff game.

And although the Greyhounds led from the outset, they were never able to build a comfortable double-digit lead at any point, their high point coming 25-17 at the half. In the second half, however, the Healdsburg rallies were met by the Mustangs almost point for point, and the gap slowly closed.

“We got off to a good start, but Middletown is a skilled team and fought back to tie in the third, and it was a battle the rest of the way,” said coach Jim Lago. “Fortunately a solid team effort with some third- and fourth-quarter heroics from Hanna Sellards and Allie Espinoza led us to victory.” The final score was close, but it was a win.

The Quarterfinals

Having made it past the first tournament game, the team and coaches traveled through a downpour on Saturday, Feb. 17, to reach Napa for the quarterfinal game against Justin-Siena. The perennial Napa Valley powerhouse was seeded No. 3, and it didn’t take long for their defense to establish a dominance over Healdsburg the girls hadn’t seen before.

POINT Claire Berry makes the second of her two freethrows in the second quarter against Middletown, as Amelia Wickersham (1) watches.

The Braves held Healdsburg to only 3 points in the opening frame, on a shot by Ruby Leffew,  riding a comfortable 29-15 lead into the half. After the Greyhounds had two successive quarters of a respectable 12 points each, the Justin defense again clamped down in the fourth, allowing just 5 points while they sank 14. 

The Braves accomplished their primary goal by holding Webb to just 9 points for the game, the first time this year she hasn’t scored into double digits. Other Healdsburg scoring came from Allie Espinoza (8 points), Ashley Behrens (6 points), Leffew (6 points) and Hannah Sellards (3 points).

The 53-32 final score sent Justin-Siena to the semifinals (Feb. 21 against University), but Healdsburg headed home.

The rest of the Division 4 NCS tournament played out exactly according to the seeding of the teams: No. 2 seed University defeated No. 3 seed Justin-Siena, 53-45, while No. 1 seed St. Vincent-St. Patrick beat No. 4 seed Arcata 57-49 in the semifinals. In the final, St. Vincent-St. Patrick defeated University, 60-40 for the title.

End of the Road

“It is hard for a season like ours to end so abruptly,” said coach Lago on Monday. “One day we have plans to go deep into the playoffs and the next we run into a private school with extraordinary talent and size.”

ELUSIVE Healdsburg senior Hailey Webb makes a move to get around a Middletown defender during the first half of their Division 4 playoff game, held in Healdsburg on Feb. 14. (Photo by Christian Kallen)

Lago, who returned to coach the Lady Greyhounds this year but has a coaching career many years long, offered a summary of the season. “Myself and my coaches were honored with the opportunity to coach [these] extraordinary young ladies. Their character, sportsmanship, talent and commitment to their team and this season was amazing … and all without one bit of drama,’ he added.

He pointed out, too, that eight of the nine girls on the roster had 4.0 or above grade point averages. “To me that is a testament to their maturity and commitment to excellence,” he said.

”Lastly,” he said, “I have been involved with lots of great teams, including two of the best seasons HHS has seen since 2000,” going 27-3 in 2003 and 29-1 in 2004. “I am now proud to include this 2023-24 (27-3) varsity team among them.”

Alicia Webb, who with Gregg Marguglio serves as an assistant coach with the Greyhound girls, proudly called attention to her daughter Hailey’s record career with the team.

“I just thought you would like to know Hailey finished with 1,274 career points and 110 three-pointers” this season, Alicia said.

As Alicia Williams, she scored a then-record 76 three-pointers during her own senior year, in 1995. “She annihilated my record,” Alicia said.

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2008, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.


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