For three seasons, Chloe Tam played the loyal sidekick for the Mills girls’ basketball team. A four-year varsity player, Tam spent her first season playing with a pair of all-league players, including Aubrey Bussinger. Tam spent her sophomore and junior years as option No. 2 behind all-league point guard Kaela Stonebarger.

This year, Tam’s senior season, she was no longer the sidekick. In fact, the Vikings needed her to essentially be a super hero as the team’s success hinged mainly on Tam’s performance.

She came through — and then some. She led Mills — as well as the Peninsula Athletic League — in scoring, all but putting the team on her back and helping guide the Vikings to the Central Coast Section Division III title game and into the quarterfinals of the Northern California Division IV regional tournament, earning her Daily Journal Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year honors.

“For her first three years, she always deferred to [Bussinger and Stonebarger]. This year, people looked to her to be our scorer and she embraced that,” said Mills head coach Dave Matsu. “She carried us the whole year. She stepped up to the challenge of a being a senior leader. She embraced it.”

After averaging a little more than a bucket a game her freshman season, Tam jumped up to 10 points a game her sophomore year and just under that mark her junior year. This year, she led the entire PAL in scoring, finishing with a 14.2 points per game average.

But Tam meant so much more to Mills. One of the team’s top rebounders and the Vikings’ best all-around player, Tam was the one the rest of the team looked to when things got tough. Tam credits the belief the coaching staff and her teammates had in her to perform as well as she did this season.

“[Matsu] kept reassuring me I was good. It was good to hear that. My teammates were always confident in me,” Tam said. “This year, I looked more to score. In previous years, I would look to pass. I knew we had to score, so I took the initiative to do it.”

Like all good players, Tam would look to get her teammates involved, so Mills’ half-court offense was methodical. Eventually, the ball would end up back in Tam’s hands and it was up to her to determine the fate of the possession. A 5-8 wing, Tam was one of the toughest players to guard in the PAL because she had the speed and skill to beat defenders off the bounce, but posed just enough of an outside threat to force defenses to defend her jump shot.

“(She’s) very shifty. She’s a lefty … she’s not afraid to attack the basket, a real headsy player,” Matsu said. “From the time she was a freshman, I knew she was someone special.”

It was her aggressiveness, more than anything, that led to her success. Unafraid to take the ball to the hoop, Tam beat a steady path to the free throw line this season. Of her 171 total points in PAL South play, 66 came from the free throw line — 16 more than the league’s second-place finisher, Carlmont’s Erica Mendiola.

The funny thing is, Tam doesn’t necessarily like the pounding that comes with being aggressive to the hoop.

“I’m not really (a physical player), but I like shooting free throws,” Tam said. “I just knew it was easier to drive in than to just look for outside shots. It’s definitely more tiring getting to the basket, but I didn’t feel like my (outside) shooting was there.”

Mills jumped out of the gate quickly to start the season, winning 6 of its first 8 games with both losses coming to a strong Sacred Heart Prep squad. Two more losses to private school powers Urban-SF and St. Ignatius and the Vikings went limping into PAL South play. After opening league play with a loss to Menlo-Atherton, the Vikings won three straight, before dropping 2 of their next 3 — including a 55-45 loss to rival Capuchino.

That’s when Matsu saw something change.

“After our first loss to Cap, that was the turning point for her season,” Matsu said. “She said, ‘You know? I’m putting everyone on my back.’”

Mills would proceed to split its last three games, winning three before ending the regular-season on a three-game skid, including a sweep at the hands of the Mustangs.

But when the Vikings got into the playoffs, they rediscovered their winning ways. The No. 3 seed in the Division III bracket, Mills topped Saratoga in the quarterfinals, 50-42, setting up a semifinal showdown with second-seeded Cap.

Tam was ready for the Mustangs this time. She erupted for 22 points and grabbed 6 rebounds to lead the Vikings into their first CCS championship game since 2003.

Not even a 57-30 loss to three-time reigning champ Aptos could dampen the Vikings’ excitement. They were then rewarded with the No. 4 seed in the Nor Cal Division IV bracket, hosting two games, beating Washington-SF in the first round, 45-36, before losing by a point to Pleasant Valley-Chico in the quarterfinals, 37-36.

“We made it farther than anyone thought we would,” Tam said. “I think we were all really satisfied.”

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