LA South: Harvard-Westlake girls' basketball team adds to school's legacy

On one wall of the Harvard-Westlake gymnasium hangs the banners of the league championships won by the teams at the school.

On another hangs the CIF Southern Section championship banners.

On a third wall hangs the CIF state championship teams. The names of all the players on those teams hang with the championship banners.

Harvard-Westlake girls basketball coach Melissa Hearlihy said her team wanted to be on the third wall. Her players wanted to be part of the legacy, not just the history, of Harvard-Westlake athletics.

The Harvard-Westlake girls basketball team of 2009-10 will hang a CIF state championship banner in the school’s gymnasium. With a convincing 58-44 win over St. Mary’s of Berkeley in the championship game of the CIF Division IV state playoffs, the Harvard-Westlake girls reached that rare level of excellence achieved by few in sports.

St. Mary’s center Danielle Mauldin said after the game the Harvard-Westlake girls had a greater desire.

“The key to this game was they wanted it more than us,” Mauldin said.

Desire was part of it. Hearlihy said her team has been focused for more than a year on winning a state championship. But it takes more than desire to achieve the kind of success the Harvard-Westlake girls did. Unity, loyalty and trust in each other were all factors in Harvard-Westlake’s championship run.

“I feel like this year, we were more like a family than a team,” said Harvard-Westlake senior Nicole Hung, “and that really helped.”

If the Harvard-Westlake girls basketball team was a family, Hung was the mother. She was the leader, statistically and emotionally. She made sure her teammates encouraged each other, supported each other, picked each other up when they were down.

But like a good mother, she let her kids shine. She had no problem stepping out of the spotlight to let another player bask in success.

For example, in the CIF Division IV playoffs against Bell-Jeff, Skylar Tsutsui made two clutch free throws at the end of the game to seal a 61-59 win. Hung had no doubt Tsutsui, a junior, would make those shots. Tsutsui needed to take some big deep breaths and convince herself she could make those shots. Hung had the confidence, Tsutsui had the ability, and the Harvard-Westlake girls moved on.

In the CIF Division IV Southern California regional final against Bishop Montgomery, it was Sydney Haydel’s turn to shine. Haydel scored 15 first-half points as Harvard-Westlake rolled into the state championship game against St. Mary’s.

Hung, who scored a game-high 23 points in the game against Bishop Montgomery, was Haydel’s biggest fan in the first half of that game and the proudest teammate after the game.

Haydel got off to hot start again in the game against St. Mary’s, scoring another 15 first-half points. Only this time, Haydel was the leading scorer with 20. Hung scored 16, but the win and the state championship trumped anything in the box score.

St. Mary’s coach Alan Koch said after the game that Haydel is the most important player on Harvard-Westlake’s team. He said she does a lot of the little things that make her teammates better.

“I think we all do those little things,” Haydel said.

It was the little things, not necessarily the picks, the screens, the charges and the passes that made the Harvard-Westlake girls state champions. It was the heart, the desire, the pursuit of excellence that made them champions. Maybe those things aren’t so little after all.

For Haydel, it might have been something as simple as desire that made her and her teammates reach the vaulted level few have reached.

“I wanted that banner,” Haydel said. “We decided we were going to do anything to get that state title.”