A 31-22 home victory over Etna Tuesday night, March 3, puts the Weed High School girls basketball team in the Northern Section Division 5 championship game for the third year in a row. The game against Durham is scheduled for Friday night at 6 p.m. at Butte College in Oroville.

The expectations at the start of the season were sky-high, and the Weed High School girls basketball team has lived up to them.

Now the Lady Cougars have a chance to go even farther than they went the past two seasons, and senior Elyssa Fisher, for one, likes their chances.

Tuesday night’s 31-22 home victory over Etna gives Weed its third trip to the Northern Section Division 5 championship game in the past three seasons.

That’s another historic first for the Weed girls program, alongside the third consecutive league championship they won this year.

Their section championship game opponent for the third year in a row will be Durham, which defeated Mount Shasta in Tuesday night’s other semifinal, 57-40.

No. 2 seed Weed takes a 23-5 record into Friday night’s championship game against No. 1 Durham (22-3). Tip off is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Butte College in Oroville.

Weed seniors Fisher, Destinee Jones, Tia Palangvanh and McKenna Crabill reached this same high ground as sophomores and juniors, as did Durham seniors Katherine Freitas, Summer Vercruyssen, Baylie Larson and Lili Flores.

Weed lost a heartbreaker in last year’s section championship game at Shasta College in Redding, 53-49.

Two years ago at Chico State, Durham stopped the Cougars in the title game, 53-35.

Both teams have won more than 20 games each of the past three seasons. Durham’s combined record during that stretch is 69-15. The Cougars are 67-22.

Getting back to the championship game was hard work this season, Fisher said after the Cougars put the kibosh on Etna with one of their typically stifling defensive efforts.

Winning the semifinal, Fisher said, felt both great and “normal.”

She said they started working toward getting back to this place soon after last season ended.

“We’ve earned everything we’ve gotten,” Fisher said. “We had a big bullseye on our chest. This time was harder... we had more girls step up.”

Coach Bob West admitted the win over Etna was not a thing of beauty.

The Cougars led 4-1 after one quarter, 14-9 at half time and 24-19 after both teams scored 10 points in the third quarter – the only quarter both teams scored in double digits.

A steal and lay-in by Jones, sandwiched between inside baskets by Palangvanh and junior Angel Whatley, gave the Cougars a 30-19 lead.

Then Weed slowed things down to the point that Fisher would stand alone dribbling as long as possible on Etna’s half of the court after possession changes – the clock ticking down to what soon became a foregone conclusion.

Not that you would have thought that watching West, who stayed in constant motion in front of the Cougar bench, directing the action with no sign that it was a done deal until the clock showed less than 10 seconds and a 9 point lead.

Jones scored 11 points, Whatley 8, Fisher 3, sophomore Rachel Michelon made a 3-pointer, senior Taylor Harris scored 2, Palangvanh 2 and senior Paige Miller 2.

Junior Kortni Bennett was Etna’s high scorer with 6 points. Etna’s 5-11 senior post player Hannah Little scored 5.

Neither team had a lot of success from the free throw line. Etna was 6 for 19, Weed was 5 for 12.

“We match up well with (Etna) defensively,” West said after the game, pointing out that in three games against the Lions this season, his team gave up 28, 22 and 22 points. The first of those three games was a 28-27 loss in Etna to start league on Jan. 6. Weed hasn’t lost since.

“We struggle making shots and finishing against them,” West said. “It’s a mental thing offensively. Hopefully we’ll play better (in the championship game).”

Like Etna, West said Durham is big and athletic. They also have a good point guard, Freitas, who scored 18 points in the semifinal win over Mount Shasta and 16 points in last year’s section championship game.

There were hugs and smiles and some arms raised after the semifinal win, but no huge celebration for the Cougars.

The feeling that it’s “normal” or expected doesn’t mean it should be taken for granted, West said.

“It’s a big accomplishment,” he said he told his players. “It’s not easy. There’s a lot of hard work you put into it.”

As for taking it a big step further, West said another strong defensive effort will be needed along with “knocking down some shots.”

“I think we can win it, and I’m confident we will,” said Fisher.