HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PREVIEWS : Trading Places : Ex-Kennedy Star Toya Holiday Returns as Coach of City's Premier Girls Program

Times Staff Writer

It is hard to believe that someone with the infectious grin of Toya Holiday could be remembered for something so uncharacteristic.

Craig Raub still jokingly refers to it as "The Stare."

"She was playing in a game during her senior season," said Raub, who retired as the girls basketball coach at Kennedy High after last season. "And the ref calls a technical foul on somebody. So I'm thinking, 'Who popped off, who said something to the guy?'

"I asked the ref to tell me exactly who said what, and he says, 'Nobody said anything, coach. It was just the way she looked at me.' "

That was in 1981, when Holiday was a senior forward named Toya DeCree. Raub calls her one of the best players in school history, and the evidence certainly supports his claim.

She was a two-time All-City Section selection. At Arizona State, she was the Pacific 10 player of the year in 1982. She later was drafted by a now-defunct women's professional league. A 5-foot, 10-inch forward, Holiday had the kind of inside game and outside touch that made college recruiters drool. Her former coach knows the feeling.

"She went farther than any player that ever came out of the Valley," Raub said. "Toya could do it all. She's one of the best I've ever seen."

Six years later, after marrying and earning a bachelor's degree, Holiday fills another description--Coach.

Her maiden name has changed, but the intensity remains. That's fortunate, because Holiday will need every ounce of drive she can muster--one of the Valley's best players is taking over for the Valley's most successful girls coach.

In nine seasons, Raub coached Kennedy to nine Valley 4-A League titles and three City Section 4-A titles--including the past two. Kennedy reached the City final in five of the past six seasons and won 90 consecutive league games, a streak that is still intact.

Citing basketball burnout, Raub, 35, announced he was leaving the girls program to become an assistant with the football team.

"I guess there were too many times I walked across the campus at 7:30 at night after everybody else was gone," Raub said. "I started to wonder what the heck I was still doing it for."

Raub already had Holiday in mind and contacted her before last season ended.

"I told her to give it serious thought," he said, "because I was outta there."

Raub's fast break probably won't make for an easy transition, since Holiday's only previous coaching experience was a junior high summer-league team. Holiday has been left to stare at the void left by a big reputation.

"It seems like every time I go to a game somebody will ask, 'Where's Craig,' " she said with a laugh. "They know I'm the coach but they think he's still in charge. We even have a teacher here that sends my messages over to Coach Raub, because she tells the callers that it's Coach Raub that's in charge.

"A lot of people just haven't got the hang of it that I'm in charge right now."

Holiday has learned that what came naturally to her on the court isn't necessarily easy to explain to players.

"I'm learning that it's not as easy as people think," she said. "It's not as easy to say, 'This is the way it's done.' I never had to tell anybody, 'Don't shoot that way, you have to do it this way.' ".

She'll handle the team by herself, too. Raub says he will do advance scouting for the team and answer any questions she has, but he won't attend games.

"She has to learn and learn in a hurry," he said. "She doesn't need me around as a distraction."

She has other distractions with which to deal.

Because her youngest sister, Diane, played last season, Holiday knew several of the players before the season started. That made for some interesting moments when she first took over.

"When she first started I guess we thought she'd be a pushover," said senior Tisa Rush, a Times All-Valley and All-State guard. "She had to let us know she was serious. She has no favorites. She said not to try anything because 'I was a player and I know all the tricks.' "

Because Holiday, 23, is close to the players in age, she counsels them on personal matters they might not discuss with parents or older teachers.

"It's a little easier to talk to her about girl things," Rush said.

At times, though, Holiday says her age can be a mixed blessing.

"That was probably the hardest part about taking over," she said. "Like with Tisa. She's a close family friend, and she's like a little sister since she hangs out with Diane. I can't treat her any differently."

Players discovered it unwise to try her patience.

"A lot of them tried to push me, to test me," she said. "You know, coming to practice with the attitude that they don't want to run. They put me through the wringer," she said.

Other aspects of the job--like filling water bottles, sweeping the hardwood, collecting towels, setting up the shot clock or finding someone to keep statistics--have had her wringing her hands at times.

"At the first scrimmage she forgot about most of that stuff," Raub kidded. "I asked her about who was going to do this and who was going to handle that, and her eyes would get real big. She'd say, 'Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.' "

Raub is confident Holiday will handle all that is thrown at her, just as she did as a player.

"I don't expect it to be easy and neither does she," he said. "For an experienced coach to come into this program and take over would be tough.

"But she's been in big games and had her big moments. She can do it."

Anybody who thinks she will fail might be met by that infamous icy stare.

"I knew Coach Raub would bring that technical up," Holiday said with a laugh. "When I was a senior, we had what we called the 'T Club,' because Coach Raub was always getting called for a T.

"We had another player who got called for one, too. And then I got called for looking at that one ref. I just laughed, and said OK, I guess I'm in the T Club, too."

And after the team plays its season opener today against Crenshaw, don't be surprised if Kennedy is right back in the W Column.

TEAMS TO WATCH

KENNEDY: Every season it seems that the Golden Cougars make the trek to the Sports Arena and the City 4-A final. If Kennedy makes it that far this season, the parade probably will be led by a solid-gold Tisa Rush.

Rush, a 5-8 All-State guard, averaged 18.5 points a game as a junior last season. Because All-City forward Diane DeCree (18.6 per game) graduated and is on scholarship at Texas A & M, Rush must shoulder the scoring load.

Rush will receive a hand from April Ham, a senior who returns at guard. Sharon Thompson, a 5-8 senior forward, and Jennifer Wright, a 5-9 senior forward, also return, although neither started last year.

Kennedy has been bolstered by two transfer forwards, senior Kristine Anderson (Alemany) and junior Dawn Coleman (Saugus).

While first-year Coach Toya Holiday left most of the Golden Cougar playbook intact, some changes have been made.

"Well, for one thing, we don't have a 6-2 Diane DeCree under there any more," she said. "So we will try to run a little more."

EL CAMINO REAL: If experience translates into victories, El Camino Real might make a serious bid for the Valley 4-A title. The team's starting five returns.

Junior Lisa Huffaker runs the offense as point guard. Other returning players include Melissa Guidi, Nicole Nelson, Kerrie Marshall and Melanie Clarke.

Freshman Heather McAdams (6-0) is a project player who could give the Conquistadores a big height advantage when teamed with Clarke (6-0) in the frontcourt.

CLEVELAND: The Cavaliers will try to press Kennedy and El Camino Real in the Valley 4-A by utilizing a big front line.

Cleveland features the Valley's version of the twin towers--All-City senior center Dawn Stewart and forward Nancy Nicholls are both 5-11. Stewart had 12 points and 14 rebounds in a 46-40 season-opening loss to Reseda on Tuesday. Nicholls added 13 rebounds.

Guard Dawn Greer, whose brother Damon plays for Cleveland, will run the team at guard.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD: The Huskies have plenty of talent back from last year's team that advanced to the City Section 3-A final before falling, 69-65, to Reseda, a West Valley League rival. The Huskies have won the league title three consecutive years.

The only player who won't return is Debbie Herz, who attends Cal State Dominguez Hills. Otherwise, the North Hollywood cupboard is stocked.

All-City point guard Leticia Carranza, a senior, returns. Junior Michelle Cabaldon and senior Gwen Mickelson, who both play wing, also return, as does senior post player Sandrine Rocher. Nikki O'Neal, a junior, is the other front-line player. Both Rocher and O'Neal are 5-10.

Ysraelya Horner, a senior, will see plenty of time as the first player off the bench and Melinda Anger, a junior, will spell Rocher and O'Neal.

"Depth is what makes us tough," said Coach Rich Allen, who is in his fifth season. "We have 14 players on the varsity and 10 or 11 will probably play each game."

RESEDA: The Regents pulled an upset by defeating North Hollywood in the City final, avenging a pair of losses that cost them the West Valley title. Reseda has the personnel to make another run at the league and City titles.

While the loss of Dana Jones--who attends San Jose State--will hurt, most of the roster remains intact. Cheryl Hightower, an All-City player as a sophomore, leads the Regent offense. Hightower (5-7) averaged 18 points a game as a guard-forward but will play point guard this year. Hightower scored 14 points in a 46-40 win over Cleveland in the season opener Tuesday.

Freida Kalajian and Sharlene Cirrito, both 5-9 senior forwards who started last season, return along with Aggie Garcia, a 5-11 junior. Sophomore Denisha Jordan and junior Jennifer Marzahl will be used extensively off the bench.

Reseda may be as good as last season's team.

"I think we're about the same," Coach Ann Francola said. "Where we were weak last year we're strong this year. Rebounds were a soft spot, but we look pretty good there. And our experience is certainly a plus."

LOUISVILLE: Louisville has won five consecutive San Fernando Valley League titles and 29 league games in a row, yet Coach Brian O'Hara might have the toughest job of his five-year career ahead of him. Four starters who combined for 56 points per game no longer are with the team. Just the loss of 6-3 center Andrea Knapp--a freshman at Cal--cost O'Hara 24 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.

To offset the loss, O'Hara said Louisville will emphasize defense.

"People are going to have a tough time scoring on us this year," he said. "It's definitely the quickest team I've had since I've been here."

Nancy Robinson, an all-league pick despite not starting last season, will play off-guard. Becky Long, who started 10 games in '86-87, will run the offense at point guard. Both are seniors. Mary Hudson, a 5-8 sophomore, and Kristen Carpenter, a 5-11 senior, also will play guard.

ALEMANY: Alemany finished 21-6 overall and 8-2 in the San Fernando Valley League, but the Indians never emerged from Louisville's shadow. Both league defeats were to the Royals.

Three starters return: Millie Juniano, Carol Schoenmann and Andrea Hoffman. Sylvia Castaneda will see plenty of playing time at guard.

The Indians match up favorably with Louisville in size--neither team is especially big. The games between Alemany and Louisville may go to the swiftest.

THOUSAND OAKS: The Lancers finished third in the Marmonte League last season but should be the early favorite. Their top seven players are back and four starters are seniors.

Senior guard Lina Mascarenas, an all-league selection, averaged 12 points a game. Senior center Barbara Tanner is the team's best rebounder, averaging nine a game. Cindy Wiley, a senior forward, is strong defensively and junior off-guard Amy Chandler averaged 7.5 points.

If the Lancers make the move to becoming a playoff-caliber team, however, senior Kris Pederson (5-10) probably will lead the way. Pederson, a three-year starter, averaged 14.5 points a game.

"This would have to be the best all-around team I've had," said Coach Chuck Brown, who is in his sixth season. "We've had better individual players, but this team has the potential to be very, very good."

SIMI VALLEY: The Pioneers lost Julie Arlotto and Paula Cooper--who took their combined 32.5 scoring average to Cal State Northridge--and Coach Dave Murphy will be hard-pressed to find replacements.

As many as four juniors will start, including point guard Keira Irwin (5.1 ppg). Shannon Solway, another junior, will play off-guard.

Sandy Nothvogel and Donna Houck, both seniors, are expected to contribute. Simi Valley's 13-player roster includes 10 juniors.

"We may be a little slow at the start, but I think we will round into shape for league and the playoffs," Murphy said.

Simi Valley has won 25 consecutive league games and has made the playoffs in nine of the past 10 seasons.

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