FREMONT — When the subject of the top places in the Bay Area for high school girls basketball is mentioned, the city of Fremont most likely doesn’t come up.
Maybe that’s about to change.
A pair of Fremont public school girls teams have a combined record of 33-4 and find themselves highly ranked in this week’s Bay Area Preps HQ Top 25.
American is No. 11, two spots ahead of Mission San Jose.
Friday night, American (17-1, 7-0 Mission Valley Athletic League) ran its winning streak to nine games with a 65-53 victory at Mission San Jose. The loss for the Warriors (16-3, 6-1) was their first to a North Coast Section team this season; American’s only hiccup so far was by four points to Lincoln-Stockton on Dec. 27.
The postseason has not been kind to Fremont public schools. There has not been a North Coast Section champion in either boys or girls basketball since 1987 (the Washington girls in the 3A division).
But American and Mission San Jose have consistently fielded winning girls basketball teams for the past seven seasons.
American hasn’t finished below .500 since the 2012-’13 season under coach Keith Ramee and has a 57-16 mark over the past three seasons.
Mission San Jose, under Doug Sakamoto, has been even more successful. The Warriors have fielded a winning overall mark since the 2008-’09 season and hold a 58-16 mark since the beginning of the 2017-’18 campaign.
The rest of the Fremont public school girls teams had a combined record of 63-148 during that time frame entering Friday’s play.
Ramee pointed out that his first season at American (2011-’12), his team had a 7-19 overall record.
“The team before us had 14 players on it, and 10 graduated, one transferred,” said Ramee, who started four sophomores and a freshman when he first began changing the culture of the program. “We started scheduling a little bit harder in the preseason, we did expand our off-season program, a lot more weightlifting in the spring and fall. I went to a lot of coaching clinics.”
Ramee, a Fremont resident, knows the game well — he played at Stanford from 1982-86. Now he is coaching a premier girls basketball team. He was asked about how his squad and Mission San Jose have become so successful in Fremont.
“I think some of it is that Doug and I, we both do a really good job of coaching down at the JV level, so I think we really focus on that, player development at the younger levels,” Ramee said. “We’ve also tried to tie in with our junior high schools and try to get some coordination there. I think our players are doing a better job of playing in the spring and summer with some AAU programs.”
“I think it’s the consistency of the girls playing at a young age,” said Sakamoto, a 1985 Mission San Jose graduate. “We both have strong summer programs. We get positive turnouts, and that’s a big help.”
Mission San Jose has not had a losing overall record since Sakamoto began coaching there over a decade ago. The three previous seasons, Mission San Jose had a combined win-loss record of 21-47.
Both American and Mission San Jose also play tough man-to-man defense. American has allowed more than 50 points in only seven games this season; Mission San Jose has only allowed that much six times.
“We can control how fast people play or how slow people play by us on defense,” Ramee said. “I think that’s what happened probably four or five years ago, we started defending a little bit better.”
On Friday, American bolted out to a 12-1 lead in the first five minutes of the game. But Mission San Jose worked its way back and tied the score at 24-all with 1 minute, 49 seconds left in the first half on a 3-pointer by Meghna Nair. American scored the next five points, punctuated by a 3-pointer by Asha Walker, and led 29-26 at halftime.
American went on a 7-2 run to start the second half and led 47-34 at the end of the third quarter. Mission San Jose couldn’t cut the deficit to less than eight points the rest of the way.
“They capitalized on our mistakes, and that’s what good teams do,” Sakamoto said. “That’s why they have a 27-game league winning streak.”
Chiara Brown, an inside force offensively, paced American with 20 points, including 6 for 6 free-throw shooting, and she also grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds. Teammates Natalie Kao and Walker added 14 points apiece.
Nair scored a game-high 22 points for Mission San Jose, including 12 points in the fourth quarter. Teammate Isha Nambisan added 11 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
After the game, Ramee backed away from the word “elite” being mentioned about his team.
“I don’t know if we’re elite. We’re just a work in progress,” Ramee said. “But I will say this, our seniors are stepping up. We have great leadership in the program.”