La Jolla High School girls basketball climbs mountaintop to CIF Semifinals

La Jolla High School Vikings 62, Fallbrook High School Warriors 49

By Ed Piper

“I’ve been to the mountaintop.” Famous words. Not to cheapen their original meaning, but the La Jolla High School Lady Vikings are getting closer to the top of the mountain, and they like the view.

This is a view they haven’t had for years — possibly 10 or 15. The Vikings entered the CIF Division III semifinals on the strength of their 62-49 victory at Fallbrook High Feb. 28, in front of a vocal partisan crowd, far from home, on a rainy, rainy night. And there were a lot of hills to drive to get to alien “Warrior Territory.”

“We’re trying to do research to find out when La Jolla was last in the semifinals,” said Coach Dave Westhem, who three years ago began building this program with his daughter, Sierra (then finishing her sophomore year), and his older daughter, Ashley (just graduating from LJHS). Sierra is now a senior, and with fellow senior and four-year starter Sophia Sowers, she is having the ride of her life.

Sowers — who was recognized after the Vikings’ first-round win over Oceanside for her achievement of scoring over 1,000 points in her career for only the third time in the history of La Jolla girls basketball — hit five more 3-pointers and a sparkling 26 points. That brings her season’s total of three’s to 24, and 159 in her career, according to statistics posted on maxpreps. com. (La Jolla says she has over 200 three’s for her career.)

Sierra Westhem plowed in 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds. More crucially, Sowers and Sierra Westhem got up in front of the other girls at halftime and got loud, telling them they needed to keep on the heat and deliver this victory.

Just before the half, a period in which visiting La Jolla had led the whole way after the opening minutes, the Fallbrook Lady Warriors had just retaken the lead on a follow by 6-foot Andrinna Perez and a layup at the buzzer by point guard Hailey Drew. This brought deafening noise from the Warrior student body section.

Another issue was that 6-2 Viking center, Madeleine Gates, only a sophomore but growing in skills by leaps and bounds, was battling Fallbrook center Amanda Cunningham, a senior, inside. Fouls were an issue. Gates finally did foul out with 2:54 left in the game.

So, after the halftime pep talk given by the two seniors, La Jolla (18-11), the fifth seed, went out and outscored the Warriors (17-10), the fourth seed, 23-6 in the third quarter. Sierra Westhem had eight points, Gates six in the quarter. The lead eventually escalated to 19 points, 59-40, before Coach Westhem was able to insert subs to close out the game.

“At the end of the half, we were all down a little at that buzzer shot,” said Viking guard Jenna Harmeyer, who dished out five assists to go with three rebounds, of the first-half closing shot. “We went to the locker room and said, ‘We can do this. We are here, and this is our time.’ ”

La Jolla played in the semifinals March 5. At press time, it still was not determined who the Vikings’ opponent would be, since the Rancho Bernardo-Calexico quarterfinal game was postponed to March 3, due to weather. The CIF Finals are scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, March 8, at Jenny Craig Pavilion, USD.

■ GAME STATS – SCORING: La Jolla High (62): Sowers 26, Westhem 17, Gates 12, Polcyn 5, Harmeyer 2, Satori Roberson 0, Tajran 0, Miller 0. Fallbrook (49): Cunningham 14, Drew 12, Christiansen 11, Tucker 8, Foster 2, Perez 2. REBOUNDS: Gates 10, Westhem 8, Polcyn 8, Harmeyer 3, Satori Roberson 3, Sowers 2. ASSISTS: Harmeyer 5, Polcyn 2, Gates 1. BLOCKS: Gates 7