It has been almost two months since the junior college basketball season began. But as area teams either opened or prepared for the first stages of their conference schedules this week, the outlook for the rest of the season appeared to remain consistent with the preseason predictions of the respective coaches.
Based on their performances in nonconference play, Canyons and Moorpark should once again contend for the championship in the Southern Division of the Western State Conference. Valley, however, may continue to search for a combination that will make it competitive in the Southern California Conference.
"It looks like it's going to be a dogfight every night out just like last year," said Canyons Coach Lee Smelser, whose team opened its conference schedule Monday night with an impressive 97-88 win over Santa Monica--the 20th-ranked team in the state by the JC Athletic Bureau.
Canyons (11-8, 1-0 in conference play), which plays host tonight to Bakersfield (10-7, 0-1), has used a combination of youth and experience to successfully offset the loss of its two most talented players from last season--6-10 Mitch McMullen, who averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds, and 6-8 Anthony Hines, who averaged 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Smelser expected to compensate for the Cougars' lack of size with quickness and defense, but he has been surprised by the offensive output he's received from Delwood Linzy, Butch Mettinger and Rusty Morse.
Linzy, a 6-4 sophomore forward, averages 19 points and has a high game of 32. Mettinger, a 6-6 sophomore guard, averages 18 points and has a high of 41. Morse, a 6-4 freshman forward from Saugus High, scored 28 points against Santa Monica and is averaging 12 points.
That trio may help Canyons improve upon last season's 6-7 finish that earned the Cougars a second-place tie with Moorpark and a berth in the Southern California regional playoffs.
"The fact that we have different scorers gives us some diversity," Smelser said. "One of those guys doesn't have to have a great game for us to be there. By spreading it around, it gives us some areas where other teams can't really focus in and say they got Canyons."
Moorpark is led by sophomore Tom Neumayr, an all-conference guard who is averaging 16 points.
Moorpark (10-5) opens conference play tonight at home against Glendale (7-9, 1-0).
"It's going to be a tight league again," Moorpark Coach Al Nordquist said. "We're improving and if we continue to improve through February, we should be in contention for a playoff spot."
One of the players who might make the Raiders more than just a playoff participant is Fred Parks, a freshman forward from Philadelphia. Parks, who is averaging 12 points, earned WSC player of the week honors after scoring 34 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 23 minutes in last week's 111-92 win over East L. A.
At Valley, Coach Jim Stephens still is not sure what kind of team he has. The Monarchs (4-15, 1-0) opened conference play Wednesday night with a 95-65 win over Victor Valley.
Despite that easy victory, it might be difficult for Valley to improve upon last season's 5-7 finish unless the Monarchs start playing together, particularly in close games. Freshman forward Steve Ward is averaging 25 points, but the team's overall play has been sporadic.
"We've played well at times but we need to be more consistent," Stephens said. "If we can do that and get a couple of wins, who knows, maybe we can turn this thing around."