J. R. Robinson tried to remember the last time a Morningside wrestler won a CIF title before sophomore Ronell Lone turned the trick Saturday night in the Southern Section 3-A championships at West Torrance High.
"I think it was about in '69 or '70," said Robinson, an assistant coach. "I remember (the wrestler's) picture was on the wall of the wrestling room."
The picture is no longer there, the result of a fire that destroyed the room in 1976. Two years later, the wrestling program also disappeared, the victim of dwindling interest and cost-cutting Proposition 13.
But under Coach Bill McCullough and Robinson, a former Morningside and El Camino College wrestler, the program has slowly risen from the ashes since it was revived three years ago.
Morningside placed five wrestlers--four sophomores and one freshman--in the 3-A championships, and Lone proved to be one of the meet's biggest surprises by winning all four of his matches in the 175-pound class. He registered the only pin in the finals, defeating Rami Kiriakos of San Bernardino.
"He's given the program a little bit of a kick," said El Camino College Coach Tom Hazell, who announced the 3-A finals. "It's the first time I can remember anyone from Morningside winning CIF."
Actually, he is the third. Morningside had individual champions in 1956 and 1965. Lone's victory ended a 24-year drought.
Lone is working out this week with West Torrance's Mike Ramirez, the 3-A champion at 165 pounds, in preparation for the Southern Section Masters Meet starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Fountain Valley High. The top six finishers in each weight class qualify for the state championship meet March 3-4 at the University of Pacific in Stockton.
Robinson says Lone, who at 6-3 is considered tall for a wrestler, came to the sport by chance.
"He was going to be a basketball player," the coach said. "He watched us (practice) one day and decided he wanted to wrestle instead. He said there was too much running in basketball."
Lone was one of nine freshmen who wrestled on the varsity level last year. This season, the Monarchs carried an 11-man team of seven sophomores, three freshmen and one junior. So, it's not surprising that Robinson believes the Monarchs' best days are ahead.
"One of my goals was to go back to my old high school and win CIF," he said. "I told these kids last year that by the time they are seniors, they will be in contention."
While the Morningside wrestling program is on the rise, the once-vaunted Mira Costa program appears to be on the decline.
The Mustangs, who won four CIF team titles and were runners-up five times under former Coach Jack Fernandez, failed to qualify a wrestler for the 3-A championships.
"That had to be a first," said El Camino's Hazell.
Anyone who follows girls basketball knows about Heather and Heidi Burge, the 6-4 twin towers of Palos Verdes.
But what about the other players who have made the Sea Kings one of the most dominant teams in Southern California?
The talents of guards Susan Wilhite and Lisa Humphreys, forward Mary Maloney and key reserves Kaaren Iverson and Kristen Jaconi haven't been overlooked by Coach Wendell Yoshida.
"You hear about the Burges, but you have to watch us play to realize how much the rest of the kids are contributing," Yoshida said. "I think the beauty of our team is that we play as a team. Everybody is unselfish, even Heather and Heidi. That's the fun part."
Top-seeded Palos Verdes (23-3) will bring a 17-game winning streak against visiting La Habra (19-6) at 7:30 tonight in the quarterfinals of the Southern Section 4-A playoffs.
Although the Sea Kings have an average winning margin of 45 points a game, including an astounding 66 in Bay League play, Yoshida expects tough outings through the playoffs. They defeated Pioneer, 74-34, Saturday in the second round.
"All the teams left are good," he said. "Everyone thinks we're going to run away with it, but we don't expect to blow anyone out."
Yoshida, in his ninth season as Palos Verdes' coach, expects the girls basketball program to remain strong for several years.
Although the Sea Kings lose the Burges, seniors who signed early with Virginia, they return juniors Wilhite, Humphreys, Maloney and Jaconi and an experienced sophomore in Iverson. Add to that a junior varsity team that was 20-2 and you have the makings of another championship-caliber squad for next season.
And the parade doesn't end there.
Yoshida says next fall's freshman class will include the most talented group of players ever to enter the school.
"That's because they've played three or four years in the Palos Verdes Basketball Assn.," said Yoshida, referring to a youth league that was not available to most of his current players.
He said two of the top freshmen-to-be are Joanna Whitley, sister of former Palos Verdes basketball standouts Jeff and Greg Whitley, and Devon Warren, daughter of Rolling Hills boys basketball Coach Cliff Warren.
In other girls basketball playoff games tonight, North Torrance (16-9) plays host to Mission Viejo (22-4) in 4-AA and top-seeded Morningside (26-1) is at home against Rubidoux (20-3) in a 5-AA matchup.
Both start at 7:30.
When you play in the same league as Morningside, the top-rated girls team in the state, its tough to get noticed. But North has quietly enjoyed a fine season after finishing third behind the Lady Monarchs and West Torrance in the Ocean League.
Led by junior center Laura Collins' 31 points and 17 rebounds, the Saxons defeated Whittier, 73-62, in the second round of the playoffs Saturday night.
Assistant coach Dan Hansen said North loses only four seniors and will have a solid group of freshmen and sophomores coming up from the junior varsity team that posted a 21-1 record, 14-0 in the Ocean League.
Hansen, who coached the JVs, ran a rather unorthodox system, substituting five players every three minutes.
"We played all 15 girls every game," he said. "We played man-to-man, full-court (defense) all game. When we substituted, the referees would say, 'What is that, an assembly line?' "
It's official. Perry Klein will be allowed to play volleyball for Santa Monica High following an inquiry by the CIF-Southern Section into his recent transfer from Carson.
"I don't like it, but we can't do anything about it," said Southern Section Commissioner Stan Thomas. "I think it's unfortunate. They've made a mockery of the rules."
Thomas said Klein cannot be denied eligibility on the grounds that he transferred solely for the purpose of athletics because the family's legal residence is now in Malibu, in the Santa Monica school district. When Klein attended Carson, the L.A. City Section recognized the family's rented apartment in Carson as his legal residence.
So, even though the family never gave up its Malibu beach house while Klein attended Carson, it is considered a legal transfer because there was an "official" change of address.
"Nobody can tell you how many houses you can own," Thomas said.
But the commissioner said it would have been impossible for Klein to play football for Carson last fall had the school fallen under the jurisdiction of the Southern Section.
"Because of the dual residency rule in our section," he said, "he would have been ineligible."
Apparently the L.A. City Section has no such restriction.
PREP NOTES--Goals by Gillian Boxx, Barbara Wiseman and Mary Llewellyn gave South Torrance a 3-2 win over Camarillo on Tuesday and sent the Spartans (12-4-5) into the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section 4-A soccer playoffs against third-seeded Royal of Simi Valley (20-1-2) at 3 p.m. Friday at South. . . . Jennifer Jeffrey, a 5-9 outside hitter from Torrance High, has signed a letter of intent to play volleyball for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Jeffrey led the Tartars to the Bay League title in the last two years. . . . The top-seeded Palos Verdes boys soccer team, which barely got past the first round of the 4-A playoffs with a 2-0 overtime win over Westlake, plays at Mater Dei in the quarterfinals at 3 p.m. Friday. The Sea Kings bring a 30-0 record into the contest. Mater Dei is 12-8. In another 4-A matchup Friday, Hawthorne (15-9-2) travels to Simi Valley (23-3-1). . . . Inglewood's 77-72 victory over Mission Viejo last Friday in the Southern Section 4-AA basketball playoffs was the first playoff victory for Coach Vince Combs since the Sentinels defeated Long Beach Poly in the 4-A championship game to cap a 29-0 season in 1980.