THE PREPS : La Quinta Girls Are Leagues Apart From Garden Grove Teams
The ball popped loose, pried free from its dribbler by an aggressive defender, and the La Quinta High School girls’ basketball team converged upon it.
After some persistent slapping at the ball, La Quinta’s Laura Anderson grabbed it and passed upcourt.
The play, in a game of fine defense, was forgettable; the ensuing fast-break yielded a missed layup. But this much was evident: Although La Quinta defeated Garden Grove, 68-11, to clinch its seventh straight league championship, the Aztecs play hard no matter what the score is.
Winning has never been much of a problem for La Quinta. Good coaching, experienced players and a strong winning tradition have kept the Aztecs near the top of the Southern Section 2-A rankings in the ‘80s.
However, the resulting victories have presented a new set of difficulties for La Quinta.
“Come to any Garden Grove League game we play and it’s ugly, ugly, ugly,” La Quinta Coach Kevin Kiernan said.
It’s a blunt statement, but it also is true.
The Aztecs have 24 straight Garden Grove League victories and have won 85 of the last 86, going back 7 seasons.
This season, La Quinta (19-3 overall and 12-0 in league play) is top-ranked in the 2-A and third-ranked in Orange County. Many of its league victories have been by 60 points.
Hence the problem.
How does Kiernan keep the Aztecs at peak performance level if they don’t have any competition for 14 league games?
Does he keep the starters in to give them some extra work?
If Kiernan does, he runs the risk of being accused of running up the score. If he sits them on the bench after a half, they get stale.
“The other coaches don’t realize,” Kiernan said. “They’re taking it personally. I can’t take a game off. I’ve got 14 of these suckers. Sometimes I have to be insensitive.”
Adds Jim Kollar, an assistant coach on the boys’ junior varsity whose daughter Cindy is a starting forward: “He’s got the playoffs coming up. He’s got to play the starters to get ready for the playoffs. But then they blow everyone out.”
La Quinta lost in the 2-A final three years ago and reached the quarterfinals the last two seasons. This season, the team has made its top priority winning a Southern Section championship.
So, Kiernan, in his third season, walks a tenuous line between showing up opponents and allowing the starters enough playing time to work up a sweat.
Often, as in La Quinta’s victory over Garden Grove Wednesday, he puts the substitutes in the game and there is little drop-off.
Donna Gondringer, La Quinta’s top scorer and rebounder, said: “We have fun cheering on the bench. No matter who’s in the game, we want to do well.”
Gondringer usually plays just a few minutes in the second half.
Midway through the fourth quarter against Garden Grove, there was some rough play as a La Quinta reserve posted down low. A Garden Grove player took an elbow to the stomach and walked, doubled over, toward the Argonaut bench. No foul was called.
A booming voice, a Garden Grove fan unhappy with the proceedings anyway, said to Kiernan, “Is that what you teach your players, Coach? Cheap shots?”
Kiernan looked up to see who had hollered and went back to the game, apparently accustomed to such reactions.
“I can empathize with him,” Santiago Coach Bob Walton said. “I coach tennis at Laguna Beach (where the boys’ and girls’ teams are traditionally highly ranked), so I understand. You just can’t have your kids roll over.”
And La Quinta doesn’t. The Aztecs play hard from the start.
Anderson, who is the county’s leading assist-maker with almost 10 a game, leads a relentless fast-break. Their style is to start fast, then speed up.
Although La Quinta seems to be built for quickness, the Aztecs have an added bonus of size that makes them doubly tough.
Gondringer, a 6-foot 2-inch senior center, was a second-team All-Southern Section selection last season. She averages 19 points and 12 rebounds a game. But she is not the only big person.
Amy Jalewalia is a 6-0 sophomore forward who Kiernan calls a young Elaine Youngs, referring to El Toro’s All-County performer. She is the fastest player on the team.
Then there is forward Cindy Kollar, who does much of the dirty work.
“She’s like Ricky Mahorn (the Detroit Pistons’ rugged power forward),” Kiernan said. “She’s rough. She’s tough. She makes possible a lot of the things Donna does.”
Kollar averages eight points and six rebounds a game.
Sue Paulsen is the other starting guard. She and Anderson play the front of the Aztecs’ Bermuda Triangle-like zone press. The ball goes in but doesn’t come out.
"(Anderson) might be the one player who’s not replaceable,” Kiernan said. “That girl can move her feet.”
Santiago’s Walton agrees.
“She makes that team go,” he said. “Anderson is the one who sets the tone for their press. She runs the offense well and gets the ball into Donna.”
All of which creates big problems for Walton and other opposing coaches.
“This year when we play La Quinta, I’m not going to say to the kids that we’re going to get blown away,” Walton said. “I stress goals.”
Walton told his team before their recent game against La Quinta to try to hold the Aztecs to fewer than 60 points, to try not to lose by more than 40 points and to try to score in double figures in a quarter.
“We held them under 60, we didn’t lose by more than 40 and scored more than 10 points,” Walton said. “Here we got beat by 33 points and we felt we played well. We reached our goals.
“Like I told (Kiernan) after the game, ‘I’m sorry we couldn’t give you a better game.’ ”
Santiago is La Quinta’s league rival.
So much for rivals.