February 25, 2005
It may not be what Hillary Clinton was thinking, but the results speak for themselves. At Seton Catholic, it truly does takes a village to produce winning basketball programs.
And the Sentinels boys and girls teams have been winning with remarkable regularity for nearly a decade.
What is the secret of success for the small Chandler high school? One clear theme is the family-like atmosphere that encompasses both programs.
"We’re all so into the atmosphere; our whole surroundings, everything is based upon teamwork and helping each other and being there for everyone," Seton junior Lindsey Warburton said. "The support we have for one another is really what brings it all together."
Since the 1997-98 season, both the boys and girls basketball teams at Seton have won at least 20 games all but one season and there has been a Seton team in the 3A state semifinals every year since 2002. This year, both the boys and the girls teams are in the state semifinals, with the Sentinel girls taking on Kayenta Monument Valley tonight at 7 p.m. at Glendale Arena and the boys facing Fountain Hills at 8:45 p.m.
Being a private, parochial school does help create a tight-knit community at Seton, but the basketball programs are a community all to themselves.
On the two varsity rosters, there are two sets of siblings (Jenny and Tim Churosh and Nikki and Matt Magnus) and a father-daughter connection (boys assistant coach Paul Warburton and Lindsey). Those family ties extend throughout the history of Seton’s programs.
"We are really close-knit, we have a lot of brothers and sisters, a lot of girls grew up together, played together, and we all support each other," said senior Meghan Mullin, who had two older sisters attend Seton and her father, Jerry, is the softball coach at Seton.
For the coaches, that familial feel creates a productive environment where there are few distractions for the players and plenty of support.
"The kids, they know it’s like a village and every (parent) is responsible for each kid and that gives a level of comfort to everybody in the program," said boys coach Hosea Graham, who has been the varsity coach since the 1997-98 season. "These kids grew up in our parochial schools looking forward to playing Seton basketball. And the parents, the families, were looking forward to them coming and getting into this program."
But a positive environment doesn’t win basketball games. It does take a level of talent, and Seton has had its fair share. Names like Rosa Bernasconi, Sara Briggs, Joanna Usher, Alana Wirth and this year, Christina Wirth, have helped keep the Seton girls among the elite programs in the state.
The boys have had fewer star players but have had standouts like Jeff Warburton, Drew Arnold and Matt Refner.
Christina Wirth has emerged as the most decorated player in Seton hoops history. She became the first Arizona girl to be named to the McDonald’s All-American game and has been the Tribune’s girls player of the year two years running.
Having a star player can be a challenge, but Seton has been able to get the most out of it. One good example of that came in a quarterfinal win over Camp Verde. Wirth got all of the defensive attention and the rest of the Sentinels took advantage, with Jenny Churosh, Lindsey Warburton and Emily Bryant all scoring in double figures while Wirth had just six points in a 63-47 win.
"Everybody knows that they have to do their part to put us over the top," Seton coach Karen Self said. "While they may appreciate the fact that we have a superstar on the team, they know that Tina can’t do it by herself and it’s not fair to ask her to."
The Seton boys had a pair of stars last year in Arnold and Refner, who both went on to play NCAA Division I basketball. This year, there are no stars on the team but they are one win away from getting as far as last year’s squad did.
"We don’t rebuild anymore, we’re just reloading," said Graham, whose leading scorer, Mike Harty, is a junior. "What happened is the group of juniors who came up off of the unbeaten (junior varsity) team really pushed my three seniors who were here from last year. They rose to the occasion; they were not going to be outplayed by a bunch of juniors."
Seton boys since 1997-98
Hosea Graham’s first year as coach 1997-98 20-10 2A state qualifier 1998-99 18-11 2A state qualifier 1999-2000 26-5 3A West Region champ 2000-01 26-7 State quarterfinals 2001-02 27-8 State semifinals 2002-03 25-6 State qualifier 2003-04 28-4 State finalist 2004-05 23-9 State semifinals
Seton girls since 1997-98
Karen Self started in 1992-93 1997-98 32-1 2A state champ 1998-99 32-2 2A state champ 1999-2000 21-9 3A West Region champ 2000-01 25-8 State quarterfinals 2001-02 31-4 State final 2002-03 27-4 State semifinals 2003-04 27-6 State quarterfinals 2004-05 27-6 State semifinals