Winter Sports Notebook : Fast Start in Basketball Follows Suit at Ventura

Times Staff Writer

A trend is developing at Ventura High, where sports teams seem to come out of the gate as fast as a thoroughbred sprinter.

Ventura's basketball team entered the week having won its first 11 games. Last fall, the football team opened the season with eight wins in a row, but was upset, 27-25, by Santa Barbara and had to share the Channel League championship with Hueneme. Later, the Cougars were eliminated from the Coastal Conference playoffs in the second round.

Coach Chris Taylor tries not to think about the prospect of a similar fate for his basketball team. The season is too young and the outlook too bright. But he admits that Ventura's start has surprised him.

"I knew we'd have a decent team, but not undefeated," Taylor said. "There are intangibles involved that you can't count on. We've won some close games and sometimes we've been a little bit lucky. But we've also played very good basketball."

Ventura, ranked second behind Simi Valley in the Southern Section's 4-A division, won tournaments at Beverly Hills and Thousand Oaks, then added a title at its own tournament last week.

The Cougars defeated crosstown-rival Buena, 81-75, before a standing-room-only crowd of 1,400 in the Ventura gym to win its own tournament. It was the eighth time in the 24-year history of the tournament that Ventura won the title.

Point guard Joe Paul was selected MVP of the tournament. Chris Hantgin scored 29 points in the final and also made the all-tournament team, as did Jeff Hereford, who had 23 points against Buena.

"It seems like it's someone different coming through for us all the time," Taylor said. "When someone has a bad game, someone else comes through with a good game."

Ventura's streak could reach 13 by the time the Cougars play host to fourth-ranked Santa Barbara next Wednesday.

Add tournament: Several hundred people had to be turned away at the door for the championship game between Ventura and Buena, fueling speculation that the title game might be moved next year.

Ventura College has been mentioned as a possibility, but Taylor will have none of it.

"I've heard a lot of talk the last few days, but as long as I have any say it will remain in our gym," he said. "It's an opportunity for our kids to play in a full gym in the kind of atmosphere that can give us momentum going into league.

"People say we could get 1,500 more people in at the college and make more money, but our home gym and home crowd is an advantage and I think any coach would be crazy to give that up."

Warriors are stung: Camarillo has been the surprise of the Marmonte League in basketball. Picked to finish near the bottom by some, the Scorpions are 6-5 and defeated highly regarded Westlake, 62-45, in the league opener for both teams last week.

Camarillo had lost three previous games to the Warriors, but snapped the string behind 19 points from Tom Carrillo. Westlake had defeated Camarillo only three days earlier for the consolation championship of the Ventura tournament. The Warriors won that game in overtime, 70-67, when center Kurt Schwan banked in a three-point shot at the final buzzer.

Football honors: Linebacker Mack Humphrey of Thousand Oaks and running backs Marc Monestime of Thousand Oaks and John Johnson of Channel Islands were honorable mention selections on California Football Magazine's all-state team.

Humphrey was the leading tackler on a Thousand Oaks team that won the Coastal Conference championship. Monestime is Ventura County's all-time leading rusher with 4,024 yards and Johnson led Ventura County in rushing last season with 1,672 yards and 27 touchdowns.

The rankings: Santa Clara is ranked sixth in the Southern Section 2-A basketball poll despite a 6-7 record. St. Bonaventure (8-1) is ranked eighth in the 1-A division.

In girls basketball polls, Buena (10-0) is ranked second behind Morningside (11-1) in the 4-A division. Thousand Oaks (12-3) is fifth. Santa Clara (5-6) is seventh in the 1-A division.

In boys soccer, Royal and Simi Valley are ranked third and sixth, respectively, in the 4-A division.

In girls soccer, Simi Valley is ranked fourth, Thousand Oaks ninth and Buena 10th in the 3-A division.

Dual sports: Eric Thomas, Rio Mesa's wiry sophomore forward, says he knows he has a lot of work to do in the weight room when basketball season is over.

His jumpshot is a sight to behold, but his 6-6, 175-pound frame is not as picturesque. Critics say he is too easily pushed around.

Thomas won't be able to spend too much time pumping iron in the off-season, however, due to his second love--high jumping.

Thomas cleared 6-6 and placed third in the Southern Section 4-A Division as a freshman last year. Even more impressive is that he did it in only his fourth meet.

After basketball, Thomas caught mononucleosis and wasn't able to jump until Rio Mesa's last league meet of the season. His other meets were the league finals and the 4-A preliminaries and finals. He can remember practicing only twice.

Thomas plans on making it through the entire season this time, which is good news for Spartan track coaches, who also plan on using him in the 400-meter run.

"I have a 40-inch inseam and I can stride out pretty well so they want me to try the 400, but basically I'm a high jumper," Thomas said. "That's what I'd like to concentrate on."

That and basketball, of course.

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