OK, we know Woodbridge upset Laguna Hills on Saturday. But here is how we had it figured 10 days ago, before the season began. And it's how we think it will finish, in all likelihood, when the final Orange County sportswriters' poll is released in mid-February. The top five teams is a no-brainer, the next five is a scramble. If you're looking for a dark horse, you heard it here first--Newport Harbor.
1. Brea Olinda
In the most simple terms: Brea has four starters back from a team that won the Division II-A title and was one game away from reaching the state final. Four reserves return who played major roles in that journey. Just by being a year older, they're a year better. And without a doubt, after a two-year absence, they're No. 1.
2. Laguna Hills
Six-foot-six center Tayyiba Haneef is surrounded by the hardest working team in the county. If Haneef asserts herself the way her teammates do, then Laguna Hills makes a real run at Brea Olinda in the state Division II playoffs. If not, they're still No. 2.
3. Mater Dei
The Monarchs are slow starters because they don't get the early-season gym time some other teams do, but they are fast finishers--and that's what counts. After relying so much the past two seasons on Melody Peterson and Rhonda Gondringer, the Monarchs are looking for a go-to player. They will excel when Lori Hurlbut, the county's best three-point shooter, decides to be that player.
The Warriors will hardly lose a rebound if Krissy Duperron or sophomore Cathy Joens are under the basket. The more Duperron exerts herself, the better the Warriors will be. But they lack a three-point threat. Still, tough defense wins games, and Woodbridge plays defense.
5. Ocean View
There is only one senior starter, Jennifer Tuiolosega, but she is complemented by Anna Lembke (6-1), who shot 68% from the field last season. With two all-county type players--a guard and a center--the Seahawks have what it takes to make some serious noise, provided they stay out of foul trouble.
The Centurions, like Laguna Hills last season, scheduled tougher competition to establish their program's credibility. We like that. They have plenty of height and inside game with Aprile Powell (6-2, 17 points), Allison Napier (6-2, 12.2) and Nikki Love (6-3, 8.0). If their guard play holds up, so do they.
7. Capistrano Valley
The Cougars have the established guards, Natasha Coombs and Mary Anderson, and the forwards, Jenny Jennings and Sarina Kissel. That's four starters whose combined average was 46 points on a team that went 17-10. They should win 20.
8. San Clemente
Two years ago, Coach Mary Mulligan had expectations that were too high for her team. A year ago, she said the 1996-97 team was the one to watch. OK, we're watching. The Tritons, with two starters back, are hard-working and can physically compete with the upper-echelon teams. To rise higher, they'll have to compete mentally too. They'll be very good, but look out next year--really.
It takes guards to win in high school girls' basketball, and the Vikings have the guards that will again make them one of the county's best teams--Marisa Emde, Adria Sortino and all-county candidate Natalie Nakase, who averaged 8.0 assists and 7.3 points while shooting 40.9%.
The Aztecs return eight players, including three starters: center Leah Combs (6-2) and guards Heidi Hill and Kim Omer. If Esperanza remains poised--only one of the eight is a senior--the Aztecs will take care of business.