Capistrano Valley: 17-10, 7-3 in 1995-96. Coach: Pete Belanto (fourth year, 43-38). Prospects: The South Coast League might be the county's toughest. Belanto is predicting his team will finish fifth. Of course, he's sandbagging. The Cougars would be the county's biggest underachiever if that happens because they return four starters: forward Jenny Jennings (5-11, 14.5 points, 8.7 rebounds), a 39.9% three-point shooter, and three juniors, guard Natasha Coombs (5-10, 14.2 points, 6.3 assists), forward Sarina Kissel (5-10, 10 points, 8.3 rebounds) and guard Mary Anderson (5-7, eight points, four steals).
Dana Hills: 7-18, 2-8 in 1995-96. Coach: Carolyn Waltman (third year, 12-38). Prospects: Jennifer Hass (13.4 points) moved to Arizona, but center Jamie Fowler (5-11, five points, five rebounds) leads four returning starters. Help could come from the newcomers: Ashley Hawkins (forward, 5-10) is a transfer from Centinela, junior Michelle Chambers (forward, 6-0) is from Santa Margarita, and junior Jami Bari (guard, 5-10), an all-league volleyball player, is an outstanding athlete.
Mater Dei: 30-2, 10-0 in 1995-96. Coach: Mary Hauser (fourth year, 82-9). Prospects: Gone are Melody Peterson (Stanford, 17.3 points) and Rhonda Gondringer (16.4), so Hauser has a chance to prove her coaching mettle. The Monarchs will try to defend their state Division I title with underrated guard Charline Mendoza and three-point specialist Lori Hurlbut, a reserve last season. Hurlbut was the county's leading three-point shooter (50.8%) and stepped up in the big games down the stretch. They should get help from sophomore B.J. Day (5-8), a terrific shooter, and junior forward Anamativa Grey (5-10). Sophomore Bianca Larson (6-2) gives the Monarchs some size in the middle. Help should also come from two transfers, junior Christina Colon from Loara--an All-Empire League player--and Tina Garcia from Seattle Christian, who averaged 22.3 points and signed to play at UNLV.
Mission Viejo: 9-13, 2-8 in 1995-96. Coach: Jim Irby (fifth year, 45-48). Prospects: Four starters return, led by forward Tami Higham (5-11, 15.2 points, seven rebounds), who shot 42% from the field, 72% from the free-throw line. Although there is little height, Higham will be helped by Margaret Enoch (four points, five rebounds), Christina Carcich (five points) and Geneva Kelly (3.5 assists, three steals).
San Clemente: 17-12, 7-3 in 1995-96. Coach: Mary Mulligan (12th year, 149-104). Prospects: Some in the coaching community think the Tritons will win the league title. Two starters, forward Kirsten Quade (5-9, 7.7 points, 51.4% FG) and junior guard Amanda Engle (5.5 points), are back from last year's Division II-AA quarterfinal team. With Quade, junior Andrea Jacobs (5-10) and sophomore Colleen Turnbull (6-0, seven points, 5.8 rebounds, 50% FG), the Tritons shouldn't be overmatched down low. Junior guard Kelly Kruger (5.2 points, 3.7 assists, 3.2 steals), junior forwards Taryn Commins (5-9, 5.6 points) and Molly Ela (5-7, 3.8 points) also factor into the mix. Among the players who could emerge: senior guard Karmin Pulos, injured last season, and 6-2 sophomore center Marissa Ficklin from the junior varsity.
Trabuco Hills: 11-14, 2-8 in 1995-96. Coach: Howard Stephens (fifth year, 41-36). Prospects: The Mustangs are trading quickness (they have it) for height (they don't) this season. They must shoot well to be successful. Sophomore guard Emily Deeley (six points) should emerge as a bright talent, but no one else averaged more than five minutes. Their fortunes could depend on how assertive those players become, including forwards Miranda Wilkinson (5-11) and Alexis Walters (5-9).