Children enthusiastically circled this town’s most famous athletes--the members of Brea Olinda High School’s girls basketball team--hoping for autographs and handshakes.
“I want to be on the Ladycat team someday,” said 11-year-old Mandi Prince, who has been a loyal fan for years.
Armed with 17 cards, each with a photo of a different player, Mandi got her autographs at a ceremony Monday night honoring the undefeated team, which was ranked first in the country.
About 500 fans, including city and school officials, alumni, students and parents, gathered in the gymnasium to congratulate their hometown stars.
The Ladycats, with a 33-0 record, were ranked first in the United States last month in USA Today’s final poll of girls high school basketball teams. On March 19, the girls had won the state championship for the fourth year in a row, beating San Jose Archbishop Mitty, 54-44.
During the three previous seasons, the Ladycats compiled a 130-5 won-lost record.
Team players and coaches were showered with praise and proclamations from President Clinton, Gov. Pete Wilson, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, state Sen. John Lewis and other politicians and community groups. The team was honored with musical tributes and dance and cheerleading numbers as well.
The national championship team “had talent, leadership and a tremendous work ethic,” said Mark Trakh, the Ladycats’ coach until last year, who led the team to three consecutive state championships. “They are a group of young people who were not afraid to fail. . . . Because of the way they prepared, they were winners. Even if this group had not won the championships, they would still be champions.”
In addition, the team collectively boasts a 3.5 grade-point average, officials said.
John Hattrup, the coach who led the team to its undefeated season this year, said the girls practiced before and after school for 11 months. “All the hard work and sacrifice has definitely paid off,” he said.
“Their national championship has brought the school together,” said Craig Hawkins, 18, a Brea Olinda senior. “Everyone has a sense of pride. We all say, ‘That’s our Ladycats.’ ”
The Ladycats’ fame “has completely put Brea on the map nationwide,” said Brea Olinda Unified School Board member Todd Spitzer. “And the Ladycats have become role models for boys and girls throughout the district.”
The team’s Most Valuable Player and the Orange League’s Athlete of the Year, Nicole Erickson, wept at the ceremony.
“This is a great end to our four years on this team. It’s so special,” said Erickson, 17, who has been playing with six other seniors on the team since they were in the seventh grade.
Other team members are: Rochelle Anthony, Tammika Banks, Sarah Beckley, Marissa Bradley, Colleen Hudson, Lauri Jordan, Tara Llanes, Dawn Metz, Kiyoko Miller, Lee Moulin, Janelle Ralph, Susan Rhodabarger, Jennifer Saari, Joan Shipley, Stephanie Wettlin and Sarah Zachry.