When Rachel Finnegan first looked at the walls inside the Turlock High gymnasium, she saw the countless league championship pennants that stretch from end to end.
She looked for the girls basketball titles and saw a very long drought.
"We didn't have anything since 1982," Finnegan said. "That's a long time."
So Finnegan did something about it. After an offseason spent strengthening a post-operative knee and improving her overall game, she averaged 11.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.2 steals as the Bulldogs won a share of the Central California Conference title.
For her effort, Finnegan, a 5-foot-8-inch junior guard has been named The Bee's 2007-08 Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
She spent much of her sophomore season recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. And when she got back on the court, her mind was filled with questions about her knee.
"I thought about it a lot," she said. "And once we were in the offseason, I went to work on making it better."
Time spent in the weight room made her physically stronger and gave her confidence. Time spent in the gym improved her outside and mid-range shots. She felt the difference as soon as she stepped onto the court.
"I felt like this was going to be our year," Finnegan said. "I felt like I was healthy, and the rest of the team was better, too."
The Bulldogs were consistent through the preseason, then won nine of their first 10 Central California Conference games. Finnegan punctuated that streak with her only triple-double of the season -- 13 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in a 58-37 victory over Los Banos.
A loss to crosstown rival Pitman in the regular-season finale meant the Bulldogs had to share the league crown with Merced. And an upset loss to Tokay in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs means Finnegan has extra motivation for her senior year.
"Those losses are going to push me to improve even more," Finnegan said. "Those losses are going to stay with me until next season."
The Bulldogs could be in the mix again. Four freshmen and a sophomore gained varsity experience this season.
"They could be really good," Finnegan said. "It's exciting. They're going to get better, and hopefully, the team will keep getting better, too."
Finnegan again will be the leader, a role she was thrust into this season. Plus, as her teammates improve, Finnegan will become even more of a distributor.
"That's probably my favorite part of the game, passing," she said. "I'll take the assist over the two points any time."
This season, she did a little bit of everything.
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.