GIRLS' DIVISION V CHAMPIONSHIP : Stutz Tries to Take Christian to State

TIMES STAFF WRITER

You've been a homecoming princess, four-sport athlete, math tutor, student body representative, chaplain committee member and the girlfriend of the principal's son.

Now the high school that has been your lifeline the last four years might retire your number.

These are all lovely memories, but Tiffany Stutz simply doesn't have time to dwell on them. At 2:30 p.m. today, she will play for a chance to compete in her second state Division V girls' basketball championship--which would be her ultimate going-away present.

Christian meets Rio Hondo Prep of Arcadia--the same school the Patriots defeated last year in the regional final--in the Southern California Girls' Division V Regional championship at Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Stutz, a 5-foot-8 forward, was the second-leading scorer in the county this season (24.3 points per game) and has regularly kicked it up a notch during playoffs (during a 10-game stretch last year she was averaging more than 20 points, 10 rebounds and 10 steals a game).

"I don't think we'd be here in L.A. without her," said Christian Coach Mike Zazvrskey.

And the Patriots probably wouldn't get out of L.A. and to the title game at the Arco Arena in Sacramento without her, either. Zazvrskey said Stutz is such a critical key for Christian that she sets the tone for the rest of the team.

"As Tiffany goes, so goes the team," he said. "In our first playoff game, she started missing her shots, and the other girls started missing theirs. (Thursday) night she made her first 12 shots, and everyone relaxed and made theirs."

Stutz finished with 31 points, 10 assists, 10 steals as top-seeded Christian routed Pasadena Poly, 64-31, Thursday. She is playing what Zazvrskey said is her best ball of the season.

"We caused 30 turnovers, and she caused eight to 10 of them. She was unbelievable," he said. "She does things as an athlete that most girls don't. She has good court awareness, she outguesses opponents, and she has quite a bit of speed."

Not only do her teammates feed off of Stutz, but Christian's up-tempo game centers on her abilities.

"We probably wouldn't play full court as much as we do," Zazvrskey said. "We wouldn't be pushing the ball up the court so much."

Yvonne Sanchez, coach of Our Lady of Peace girls' basketball team, which defeated Christian in Harbor League play, said Stutz is a smart player who knows what to do, when she needs to do it.

"She definitely did a good job of taking control when she needed to," Sanchez said. "She's a very smart player, she's a great free-throw shooter and she's real good at this level."

Yet Sanchez wonders if Stutz will be able to make the difficult transition from high school and be as successful at the college level. Stutz is expected to play at Point Loma Nazarene.

But Zazvrskey said Stutz is a throwback to the players of the an earlier era, where a pure love for the game that doesn't need massaging at a pressure-cooked Division I school.

"I don't know if she wants to put up with all that stuff, the high pressure," he said. "I think the joy of competition in sports is enough for her."

Never in Christian's athletic archives has an athlete so captured the imagination of its tight-knit community. Not even the highly publicized Tony Clark, who led the Patriots to a berth in the state championship in 1990, was linked so strongly to the East County school.

"She's home-grown," said Ed Giles, Christian's principal. "She's been here four years. There's a sense of pride surrounding her. She's the epitome of what you'd want a student to be."

And just how serious are the Patriots about retiring Stutz' No. 14?

"It's something we might consider," said Zazvrskey. "No other female athlete comes close to what she's done."

Zazvrskey's wife has known Stutz since she was freshman, when Judy was an ASB adviser, and sees no reason not to.

"She's a real neat kid," she said. "I think they should. Kids like that don't come around very often."

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