Selma girls basketball making noise at 18-1
Approach the Selma High gymnasium and there’s no mistaking your location.
“Welcome to BEAR Country!” screams the east wall, and in orange no less.
Inside, there is something else to notice now.
Selma girls basketball has become relevant, not just in south Fresno County, not just in the Central Sequoia League, but the Central Section as well.
The 18-1 and Division III Bears have 11 wins against schools from Yosemite leagues, including two over section two-year reigning D-II champion Monache and another against 2012 D-II runner-up Redwood.
At No. 7, Selma is the only D-III team ranked in The Bee’s overall top 10.
All this from a program with but two league titles in its 107-year history.
“I learned a long time ago,” says the architect of the turnaround, coach Paul Romig, “allow a kid to dream and they can do some amazing things.”
This kind of talk has been mostly associated here with baseball and wrestling.
The league championship banners on the gym’s south wall reflect this.
There are 29 league titles listed in baseball — the first in 1914; the last in 2010 in a program that delivered former longtime major league manager Bobby Cox.
There are 15 titles listed in wrestling — all since 1980 and six consecutive since 2007 in a program that also has made an impact at the state level.
But in girls basketball? Only 2002 and 2012. And this in a program that actually played its first game in 1907, section historian Bob Barnett says.
While it’s true there were many years since then the sport wasn’t played at all (it wasn’t sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation until the ’70s), all that matters is how it’s being played now in Selma.
The Bears made their move last year in Romig’s fourth season by going 19-8, including a 10-2 mark for the CSL championship.
“It started last year,” junior star forward Erin Pallesi says. “We started to win a lot of games, we all got excited and we decided to push ourselves in the summer.”
Selma has not only swept tournament titles at home, Madera and Tulare, it has produced different tourney most valuable players in each — Pallesi and seniors Amanda Carlson, a guard, and forward Juliana Jarquin.
Junior point guard Angela Cuevas and junior forward Kim Alfors round out a starting lineup that returned intact from last season.
Pallesi is averaging 16.5 points and 7.2 rebounds; Jarquin 12.8 and 9.8; Alfors 8.3 and 6.6; Carlson 8.6 points; and Cuevas 4.1 assists and 3.1 steals.
Suddenly, the numbers are favorable to Romig, but it wasn’t that way in the beginning.
When he arrived from Clovis after establishing what is now a 393-win career at Del Campo-Fair Oaks and Sheldon-Sacramento, he found but eight girls playing youth basketball in Selma.
Today, there are more than 100.
“There was a need in the community and the people were real receptive,” Romig says. “There’s been a swelling of enthusiasm to run a competitive program on a year-round basis, and it’s been rewarding. I’ve relished it.”
He admittedly caught a huge break two years ago when Pallesi followed her father, Mike — the Bears’ boys basketball coach — from Sanger.
And Erin Pallesi brought not only talent, but a vision as well — a trip to Fresno’s Selland Arena, where the section boys and girls finals are held annually.
“I’ve watched big games at Selland and in the state (playoffs) with my dad,” she says. “My goal is Selland, and now all the girls have their minds set on that.”
Perfect, says Romig.
“So now the girls have a dream, and we have someone (Pallesi) who names the dream.
“Part of the change of culture is to have something to point at. If you don’t have anything to point at, sometimes you (as a coach) talk with empty words. But when you have (something) tangible, that makes a huge difference.”
By Andy Boogaard/The Fresno Bee