Bell-Jeff’s Napier Leaving A Legacy!

August 16, 2012 by  

BURBANK – Rishonda Napier ends her tenure at Bell-Jeff as one of the most decorated players in program history, helping the Guards to a league title and a deep CIF run.

There have been only two CIF Southern Section championships won by Bellarmine-Jefferson High teams in the 68-year history of the school. Both of those titles came in girls’ basketball.

Two individuals who played major roles in each of those titles were involved in the Guards girls’ basketball program during the 2011-12 season.

One of those individuals was former coach Jaclyn Johnson, who stepped down from the Bell-Jeff helm following last season. As a senior in 1997, Johnson led the Guards to the Division IV-A championship game, and even sank the winning shot at the buzzer to give Bell-Jeff the title.

The other person was senior player Rishonda Napier. As a freshman in 2009, Napier was a driving force on a Bell-Jeff team that captured a Division V-A title, along with a state championship. She was also an All-CIF first-team selection and an All-State honoree that year.

Johnson and Napier will likely always be intertwined because of the CIF titles. However, the two will also be linked because they are arguably the two most decorated players in the history of the program.

“I like to consider myself a big-time player,” Napier said. “Whenever there’s a big game, I always want to try and do my best. I just want to give the best effort in every game.”

Behind Napier, Bell-Jeff had another impressive season in 2011-12. Along with being a McDonald’s All-American candidate, Napier also paced the Guards to a league title, a semifinals playoff run and a win in the Division IV CIF State Basketball Championships. Her efforts earned Napier her third All-CIF award.

It is because of her accomplishments that Napier has been selected as the 2011-12 Burbank Leader Female Athlete of the Year.

With an iron will and a wealth of talent, Napier is at home on the basketball court.

Napier began playing basketball at age 8. Once she got her first taste of the game, she knew what was going to dominate the rest of her life. She has gone on to win two national championships with her travel-ball team.

“I just love the game so much; it’s what I want to do with the rest of my life,” said Napier, who earned a scholarship to Southern Illinois University.

Napier averaged 21.7 points a game to go along with nearly three assists and three steals.

She also had some successful efforts in some big games. Napier poured in 34 points — including 14 in the fourth quarter — to lead the Guards to a 65-54 upset win against Chaminade in the Division IV-AA quarterfinals. In addition, she had 26 points in 70-60 Southern California Regional opening victory against Los Angeles Baptist and also tallied 26 in a 46-37 win against St. Anthony that clinched the Guards their fifth straight Santa Cruz League crown.

Napier also earned All-CIF honors for the third time, was named the Santa Cruz League Player of the Year and was an All-Area selection for the fourth year. However, of all her accolades, Napier covets the All-American nomination the most.

“That’s the single greatest basketball achievement of my life and I feel so proud and so blessed,” Napier said of the nomination. “It’s just changed my mind set a lot and made me want to work harder.”

Napier said the recognition definitely took her by surprise.

“I was very surprised. I was shocked. I had no idea,” she said

With Napier running the show, Bell-Jeff (24-6), the No. 6 seed in the playoffs, advanced to the Division IV-AA semifinals where it fell to No. 7 Gardena Serra, 71-54. The team also won a game in the Division IV state playoffs against Los Angeles Baptist before falling St. Bernard, 65-51.

It was the fifth straight season the Guards have advanced to a divisional semifinal.

Johnson said Napier was an invaluable member of the team, who also served as a leader on the floor.

“Rishonda was our point guard and she really helped control things for us,” Johnson said. “The experience that she brought to our team was very important. She is a player that is very focused on winning and helping the team in any way that she can.”

Napier leaves Bell-Jeff after a career chalk full of success. From a team standpoint, however, it was the 2009 squad should leave a lasting impression.

That year, Bell-Jeff defeated Pinewood, 55-47, in the CIF State Basketball Division V Championships at Arco Arena in Sacramento. It serves as the only state title by any team — in any sport — in city history. The win gave Bell-Jeff a 34-1 record, which set a new school record. In addition, the team ended the season on a 20-game winning streak. The Guards also won the CIF Southern Section Division V-A championship against Santa Clara, 61-31. It was the program’s first crown in 12 years.

Napier’s contributions to the Bell-Jeff program will likely linger for years to come.

Jeff Tully

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