It wouldn't be wise to question the ability of Calaveras Redskin hoopster Brianna McGinness to perform well under intense pressure.
The senior team captain of the 2012-13 Redskin varsity girls' basketball team had a tough act to follow. The previous squad claimed the 2011-12 Mother Lode League title before going on to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Championship and a NorCal playoff game in the postseason.
As the only returning starter from that championship team, McGinness thrived on the lofty expectations placed on her to guide this year's group to another successful season.
"She was the best captain I've ever had and I've been coaching a long time," said Calaveras head coach Mike Lewis. "Brianna just always knew what to do and how to handle any situation that came up."
The Redskins weren't able to reach the same heights they did in 2011-12, but this year's team still finished second in the MLL with a 12-3 record (19-8 overall) and advanced to the first round of the section championships.
And for leading the Redskins to success, not only as the team's top scorer but also its model for determination and hard work, Calaveras senior Brianna McGinness has been namedThe Union Democrat's2012-13 All-Area Girls' Basketball Most Valuable Player.
"I can't believe it," McGinness said enthusiastically after being informed of her selection during a phone interview. "I'm very honored to receive this award. I knew it was my last year and had to give it my all.
"I worked as hard as I could during my junior year, but I was playing under a lot of really good basketball players. So I was determined this year to do everything I possibly could to get better and I'm glad it showed."
Lewis said McGinness gave her best effort in every drill and practice and her Redskin teammates always looked to her as their leader.
"There's no other person I'd rather have to start a basketball team than Brianna McGinness," the Calaveras boss said.
McGinness said some of her favorite moments this year included winning the Stagg Tournament in Stockton early in the season "because it showed we were still a really good team," as well as sweeping their season-series with county-rival Bret Harte.
She also said sharing the court with twin sister Bridgette McGinness, also a starter this season, made the experience more special and contributed to her development as a basketball player.
"Having a sister play in the same sport always brings out the best," the MVP said. "You're always going to have someone on the court who knows exactly how you play, and she's worked a lot with me. We do a lot of one-on-one practices and its definitely a great feeling."
McGinness, who played on varsity as a sophomore, is planning to play hoops at the college level after graduation and has been working with strength and conditioning coaches at Calaveras High since the season ended in order to keep improving her game.
"She hasn't decided where exactly it will be, but she's in the process of trying to figure out what she's going to do and is working on getting some local scholarships through the school," Lewis said. "She deserves everything she gets."
In addition to her most recent honors, McGinness was selected to play in an All-Star game May 3 at Gregori High School featuring the top high school players from six counties including Calaveras. She also was named the MLL's Co-Most Outstanding Player along with Morgan Roots of the undefeated league champion Argonaut Mustangs.
Bridgette McGinness earned a spot on the All-Area First Team despite missing three games near the end of the MLL season due to injury.
"It's a great honor and I'm glad to hear I made it, because it's something I've been working toward for a long time," she said.
Lewis said Bridgette was the team's best point guard and could have played well at other positions, too.
"This year she gave everything she had and played hard the whole time," Lewis said.
Selected to the All-Area First Team from Sonora were Bailey Henington and Jessie Fong, who both played critical roles in keeping the Wildcats within reach of the Redskins during an early-season overtime loss.
In that game, Henington hit a jaw-dropping shot at the buzzer from halfcourt that sent it into extra minutes.
"When it went up, I just knew it was going to be nothing but net," Lewis said. "She's got all the tools. She can shoot, she's an excellent ball handler and understands the game."
And the Redskins can look forward to facing Henington a lot more in the near future, as the current sophomore will be in her senior season when the Wildcats join the MLL in 2014.
"It already scares me having to go up against her," Lewis said. "She's going to be an excellent player."
Henington's high school career is already a decorated one despite its young age. She led the Wildcats (9-4 Valley Oak League) this season to the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Girls' Basketball Championships and earned All-League First Team honors.
Over 26 games, Henington averaged 13 points, 5.2 assists and 5.8 steals. She also shot 64 percent from the free-throw line and grabbed 103 total rebounds.
"She was definitely the heart of our team," said Sonora head coach Amy Santos. "Her teammates voted her one our captains, which is a huge statement because she's only a sophomore.
"Bailey's an outstanding player as anyone who has ever seen her play can tell you. She can handle the ball, shoot and play defense. She's a threat at any aspect of the game."
As crucial as Henington was to Sonora's success, Santos said co-captain Fong's outside shooting and stingy defense played an important role as well.
"She was one our top 3-point shooters and probably our best defensive player," Santos said of the Wildcat senior. "Anytime we needed to shut someone down, Jessie (Fong) was the one I had defend them. I'm so sad to lose her because she was our fireball that got us going."
Lewis jokingly referred to Fong as Sonora's "3-point artist."
"She really hurt us from the outside," said Summerville head coach Dave Woods. "When she got the ball, if we left her open, it was automatic."
Santos said Fong has generated at least one call from a junior college coach in Gilroy and expressed interest going to school in Santa Rosa where she would be likely be a walk-on candidate.
"I think she could definitely play at the next level and I really, really hope she does," Santos said.
Santos also noted the selection of Summerville senior Ashley Gamber to the All-Area First Team for leading the Bears in points, steals and assists this season.
"She always struck me as a hustle player who worked really hard," Santos said. "She's really scrappy, and I love that."
The Bears didn't make the playoffs but improved their record from the previous season to 8-19 overall (5-10 MLL) to finish fourth place in their league.
Gamber has been a varsity starter for Summerville since her sophomore year and made the MLL's All-League First Team for her efforts this season.
"She plays hard and is very aggressive," Woods said. "When she gets going she's hard to stop and that was our most effective weapon this year."
Woods said another outside shooter who made the All-Area First Team, Bret Harte junior Kelsey Switzer, is someone he's not looking forward to facing next season.
"She's also very deserving," he said. "It seemed like their juniors were the ones who really stepped it up this season and she was probably the best one overall."
Bullfrogs Jessie Evans and Sami Seider, who both made the All-Area Second Team, are also expected to return next season for Bret Harte, setting up another talent-heavy year for Tuolumne and Calaveras county high schools.
2012-13 UNION DEMOCRAT ALL-AREA GIRLS' BASKETBALL
Guard,Bret Harte, Junior
Guard,Bret Harte, Junior
Forward,Bret Harte, Junior