How does the coach of a defending state Division III champion girls' basketball team with four returning all-state players, including the division's player of the year, fight complacency?
By alleging his team is not the best in the county.
The state's best guard tandem: Aimee McDaniel, the state Division III player of the year, and Tammy Blackburn, another first-team selection to the all-state Division III team, return for their senior season at Brea-Olinda High School along with Jody Anton and Jinelle Williams, who both were named to the division's second team.
Yet, Brea-Olinda Coach Mark Trakh has ranked his Wildcats third in Orange County behind El Toro and Ocean View. Getting county coaches to buy that ranking is a hard sell. "Nobody likes No. 1 pinned on them," said El Toro Coach Greg Yeck, who promptly removed the blue ribbon from his squad and firmly reaffixed it where it belongs--on Brea-Olinda.
"With their experience and athletic ability, those kids are light years ahead of the rest of us," Yeck said.
El Toro figures to be one of the best of the rest with the help of senior Karie Yoshioka, a guard to rival McDaniel and Blackburn, and 6-foot senior Sara Bone.
Trakh calls La Habra "the nightmare team" because of the Highlanders' height across the front line, where no player is under 6-feet.
"We are still small," he said. "We are very beatable. There are 10 teams in the county that can beat us. . . . Well, there are a number of teams in the county that can beat us."
Trakh sites potential Brea-beaters as La Habra, El Toro and Woodbridge, which has won league titles the past six seasons, including the past three Pacific Coast League championships.
The Sunset League will be brutally tough with Ocean View out front and Marina, Fountain Valley and Edison in the hunt.
La Quinta, with state scoring leader senior Amy Jalewalia (31.2 points per game) will be a contender. She led the Aztecs to the Southern Section 3-A quarterfinals in a rebuilding year.
Here's a look at the top 10 teams in Orange County:
With the top guards in the state in McDaniel and Blackburn and four returning starters, the defending Division III state champions will have to look outside Orange County for competition.
Size is the only apparent weakness with McDaniel, 5-6, and Blackburn, 5-8, teaming with returning starters Williams (5-8) at center, and sophomore Anton, the team's tallest returner at 5-11. Allison Bickell, a 5-11 senior forward replaces Cindy Gunn, who is playing volleyball for Texas Tech.
"We really are not individually that talented," said Trakh, adding, "Our strength is we have a talented team."
2. EL TORO
Two years ago, injuries helped keep El Toro from the South Coast League crown. Last year, it was disciplinary measures, as Yeck removed three players from the team right before league play. This year, the Chargers are bent on winning the championship. It will be a small, quick and mature squad with three senior starters returning. Point guard Yoshioka teams with Daniel Silva and Bone--a talented 6-foot senior--to form the nucleus. "The Big Three, as I call them, will have to do the job for us scoring to win ball games," Yeck said.
3. OCEAN VIEW
This season's team is better than last year's which won the Sunset League championship. "We are balanced. We have height, outside shooting, ballhandling, defense. We have everything to be successful," Coach Ollie Martin said. Three starters and a part-time starter return, led by Sunset League MVP Jenny Sullivan, a 6-3 senior center who pulled down 14 rebounds a game and averaged 12.7 points and six blocked shots. She is fast enough to get out on the break. The Seahawks should get balanced scoring from All-Sunset league forward Fabiola Nunez (5-7); senior Alli Takido (5-7); senior Erna Foronda (5-3), who will take over the point this season, and returning starter Tracy Wolfe (5-11), a finesse player with a good drive and 17-18-foot range. "She is smooth," Martin said. "She can run the fast break and can float it to the basket with double pumps. She is going to be fun to watch."
Coach Eric Bangs has three starters returning from a team that won its third consecutive Pacific Coast League title and sixth consecutive league title. Senior Leslie Rathbun (5-7, 18 points per game), the league's MVP and an All-Southern Section 4-A first-team selection, returns along with senior guard Tami Williams (5-8) and junior center Deanna Harry (6-2), who led the team in scoring and rebounding over the summer. Senior guard Kim Dean (5-7), who started part time last year, and sophomore Belinda Taub (5-11) are returning letterman who will probably round out the starting line up. Nicole Schwartz, the MVP of the junior varsity, will contribute. "For the past three seasons we haven't had anybody inside, so we had to develop a full-court game and try to break any time we could. I think for the first time we have some inside players," Bangs said.
5. LA HABRA
La Habra Coach John Koehler's players have something you can't teach--height, and lots of it. Four players are 6-foot or taller-- substantially taller. Three starters return from the Freeway League champion team that lost to Katella in the quarterfinals of the Southern Section 4-A playoffs. The Highlanders might just have the best center in the county in 6-5 sophomore Zrinka Kristich, an all-league selection as a freshman who can drill jump shots from 18 feet out, Koehler said. She teams with her sister, Ana, a 6-1 junior forward and the team's second-leading scorer (12.1-point average with 11.8 rebounds) last year behind league MVP Kris Kelly, now a freshman at Fullerton College. The two team with Leslie Ferguson, a 6-foot junior forward. Guards are the question mark. Freshman Martha Hernandez (5-8) will run the point and junior Lisa Almanza is pushing for the other guard spot. The Highlanders might tone down their traditional running game.
6. LA QUINTA
La Quinta has won eight consecutive Garden Grove League championships and the ninth is in the bag. State scoring leader Jalewalia (31.2 points per game) is back, along with all-leaguers Heather Brannan (13.2-point average) and Tanya Krill (10.7 points). Eight of the team's top nine players return. "A lack of depth and height, especially up front, will make things difficult against the county's best," Coach Kevin Kiernan said. Again, Jalewalia will play all over. "We try to frame her in a position where she can do the most damage and give her a chance to have a little freedom," Kiernan said. "When she gets her triple doubles it is points, rebounds and steals, rather that assists--she is that good a defensive player. She is incredibly quick with long arms. Gets a lot of her points off the press with steals and quick, cheap baskets."
7. MISSION VIEJO
Mission Viejo lost a lot from last season's team that won the South Coast League title and advanced to the semifinals of the Southern Section 4-AA playoffs, but 6-3 center Jennifer Rohrig returns for her senior season, and that in itself makes the Diablos contenders. Senior forward Mary Andrew (5-11) will help on the boards and junior Carrie Burt (5-6), the quickest player Coach Steve Asay has coached, will handle the point. The Diablos are young. Sophomores Kelly McGlothlin, a 5-9 guard with quick hands and a good outside shot, and Kendra Okura, a 5-7 guard, are contending for playing time. Defense again will be the focus and the Diablos will use quickness to press and develop a transition game, Asay said.
The cornerstone of Marina's team is senior guard Melisa Sortino (5-7). She will move from her off-guard spot, where she averaged 20.2 points per game, to point "because if the game is on the line, I don't want somebody trying to get her the ball, I want it in her hands," first-year Coach Pete Bonny said. Along with Sortino, two other starters--Kristy Sparks (5-9) and Christa Yorke (5-6), a softball standout at catcher--return. Height is a problem; Sparks is the Vikings' tallest player. Bonny hopes to offset size deficiency with transition basketball. "We'll be running," he said. "We'll be the girls' version of Loyola Marymount. We'll be exciting."
9. FOUNTAIN VALLEY
The Barons lost four starters from last year's squad, but senior guard Julie Workman (5-7), one of the league's top players, returns and will be buoyed by players from a good junior varsity team. Freshman Julie Murdent, a 6-foot post player, will see action as will a core of four returning lettermen. The Barons are inexperienced but they have better overall size than last year, Coach Carol Strausburg said.
Kim Beckhart moves up from junior varsity to coach varsity, replacing Debi Woelke, who now coaches at UC Riverside. The Tigers lost three starters from last year's 4-AA championship team, including 6-2 senior Krista McDonald, who is out for personal reasons. Her absence weakens the Tigers inside, but a 5-10 transfer from Corona, Holly Keeton, will help. Keeton (18 points, 14 rebounds) was All-Riverside County last season. Guard Candy Andersen, a 5-8 senior forward, returns. Andersen and guard Hsin-yi Lo are quick. Valencia finished third in league play last year but won when it counted, in the playoffs. The junior varsity was league champion.
Others to watch: San Clemente, Loara, Tustin, Orange, Estancia, Dana Hills, Cypress, Esperanza, Edison and Villa Park.