By the time students have completed 12 grades at
International (San Francisco, Calif.)
they are required to speak two languages fluently and many speak three.
The athletic requirement is another trifecta: dribble, pass and shoot.
The school known for its renowned global academia has turned into a girls basketball power behind fifth-year coach Charlene Murphy.
The Jaguars (27-3), seeded second in the North Coast Section's Division V, have won 49 games the last two seasons and Wednesday host San Domenico-San Anselmo (24-6) in a 7 p.m. semifinal game.
With only two seniors on a 10-person roster, and a spanking new gym soon to be built across the street from its Oak and Gough St. location, International is a small-school force to be reckoned with.
The Jags are ranked No. 6 in California
among Division V schools.
"We feel the school is a pretty incredible hidden gem in the city," Murphy said. "And our girls have helped put it on the athletic map."
With a second place finish at NCS last year — they 70-68 to St. Joseph Notre Dame-Alameda in the finals — the Jags reached the Northern California playoffs for the first time.
They've already qualified for NorCals this season and hope to go in as NCS champions, though top seed Valley Christian-Dublin already has a 63-59 win over International. San Domenico, coached by former Branson-Ross three-time state champion Mike Fulton, won't be a pushover either. The Jaguars beat San Domenico 45-40 on Jan. 26.
"Our No. 1 goal all year is to get back to the NCS finals and win it this time," Murphy said. "That was a game we thought we should have won and it's been eating at us ever since."
International's chances of even getting to this point looked bleak with 5-foot-5 junior sharpshooter Natalie Kelly
went down with a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 18 against University. Kelly averaged 23 points per game and made up half of San Francisco's most potent one-two scoring punch with 5-8 sophomore Shayna Mehta
, one of The City's top players who averaged nearly 29 to go along with eight rebounds.
But the Jags refocused, toughened up defensively and have gone 13-1 since Kelly's injury.
"We were definitely down after (Kelly's) injury," Murphy said. "It took some time to adjust. But these girls have really responded. We don't score as much but a lot more girls have contributed. Our depth is better now."
Among the roles:
Palo Alto-transfer Danielle Palmer
(13 ppg), a 6-1 junior, has supplied scoring and shot blocking. Kassie Encinas
, a 5-9 junior, is a team captain and possesses superb vision and scoring. Emilia Omerberg
, a 5-9 senior, has been in the program four seasons and according to Murphy, "provides a ton of heart and is a great rebounder. She's been here from the beginning." Margaret Nwabweeze
, a 5-9 senior, took her junior season and helps key the defense along with 5-7 sophomore Cienna Gray
. "Cienna is a defensive stopper," Murphy said. Melanie Fun
, a 5-8 junior, is another key player along with 6-1 freshman Jasmine Sorrells
and 5-6 sophomore Isabella Shin
. Fun, Gray and Sorrells have all been superb defensive players and each shared time in the starting lineup. Shin is blessed with a high basketball IQ and is a superb 3-point shooter.
"I think I lot of people doubted us once Natalie went down," Murphy said. "They really rallied around Natalie herself. They know how much she loves the game and misses it. They are taking advantage of their season."
It helps to have a player as talented as Mehta. Her scoring has gone down to 19 points per game because the Jags score less and she has more responsibilities.
Plus International has now more weapons.
"After Natalie's injury, Shayna had 36, 34 and 29 the next three games," Murphy said. "But we knew that wasn't going to work. We couldn't have just one offensive weapon. We'd be too easy to guard."
Still, it's fun to watch Mehta play.
"She can definitely play at the next level," Murphy said. "She has an unorthodox style, but she's a gamer, she's athletic and she has a beautiful shot."