Building the future one player at a time

Sierra College basketball
By: Jim Linsdau of The Placer Herald/News Messenger
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One of the highlights of following the athletic program of the local colleges and university is seeing the names of familiar athletes who played for the high schools in this area.

The Sierra College women’s basketball team has 13 players from Sac-Joaquin Section schools and one from Carson City, Nev. But even more remarkable is the fact the Wolverines finished the preseason 13-1 and are the defending Big 8 Conference champions.

Brandie Murrish, 11-year head coach of Sierra College women’s basketball, said success was handed to her when she stepped in for Roz Goldenberg, who totaled 343 wins in 15 seasons. Although Goldenberg did put the Wolverine’s program on the map, Murrish has certainly done her share to expand those boundaries.

“(This) program was well established,” Murrish said, after returning from last weekend’s San Francisco City College Tournament. “And since taking over for a hall-of-fame coach, we keep the standards high. We really try to recruit high character, quality student-athletes who want to work hard.”

With 82 community colleges in California to compete with, Murrish’s Wolverines have been state runners-up, finished in the Elite 8 three times, Sweet 16 five times and are ranked No. 2 in the state.

But the hard work put in by these local athletes is not confined to the hardwood. Murrish said three-fourths of her players also hold down jobs and excel in the classroom. Sierra College does not offer scholarships or financial assistance for being a Wolverines’ athlete.

“I think for any student-athlete, the confidence and the mental toughness that you develop by playing sports, it helps you in so many situations down the road in your career,” Murrish said.

Murrish said she has players pursuing a number of different careers, like premed, biomedicine and criminal justice.

Lincoln’s Kaitlyn McKinney is working 20 hours a week as a cadet with the Roseville Police Department. She and Fighting Zebras’ teammate Karla are sophomores and both play for the Wolverines.

Rocklin’s Jaimie Curtis and Whitney’s Dominique Bustamante also play for Murrish.

Murrish said community service is also high on her cager’s to-do list and this week the team is helping out at the Salvation Army to help others enjoy a Merry Christmas. And the team put on a one-hour clinic for 50 girls from the Rocklin Thundercats' youth basketball program.

Although Sierra lost its first game of the season over the weekend, they came back the next day to defeat Los Angeles Valley 74-42, showing no real aftereffects from the loss.

“We know what it’s like to have a target on your back. We try to get even better by finding small details they can control,” Murrish said of the team’s response. “Where will we be when the playoffs kick off? That’s part of our process.”

Murrish also credits her assistant coaches, one of which has been with the team 18 years and three have a combined total of more than 30 years of service.

“I’m a very competitive individual and I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by great mentors,” said Murrish. “We talk about winning the right way and playing hard for the person next to you; push for higher standards and levels of accomplishment.”

Sierra College will open Big 8 Conference play Jan. 3 at home against Sacramento City College. Then Modesto Junior College will visit Jan. 10. Both games are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.