Winning section football championships is old hat to Mater Dei. This season the Monarchs won their second Division I title in three years, and their third title since 1991.
On the other hand, the excitement remains high for Santa Margarita and Aliso Niguel, which won the Division V and Division VIII titles, respectively.
Yet, interestingly, all three winning coaches--Mater Dei's Bruce Rollinson, Aliso Niguel's Joe Wood and Santa Margarita's Jim Hartigan--spoke of similar reasons for their team's success.
The biggest one, they all said, was the willingness of the players to work and strive for a common goal.
"I can't honestly say we did not have personality conflicts," Rollinson said. "We had the normal amount of problems when you put a collection of high profile athletes together. But they always put aside the individualism for the goal of winning a championship."
For Aliso Niguel's Wood--the defensive coordinator at Capistrano Valley when the Cougars won the 1990 Division II championship--it was a joy seeing the school's first senior class reach a goal only they believed was possible when they were freshmen.
"When this freshman group came in, it was the best group I had seen since I'd been coaching," Wood said. "They went on to show a great work ethic and a willingness to stay together. To me, the bottom line key to winning is respecting and caring for one another. That was the feeling I got with them."
Hartigan, whose Eagles played their eighth season of varsity football, said his players all liked each other, which made it easier to work collectively.
"They loved coming to practice every day," Hartigan said. "They were great kids that worked extremely hard to get where they got. They were a tight-knit group that never questioned what we wanted them to do. This team sacrificed more than any team I've had."
Mater Dei's coaching staff said all season the defense was the main reason the Monarchs were successful. And the defense made the key play in the Division I championship game.
Nursing a 7-3 lead with 17 seconds left in the first half, Mater Dei linebacker Kevin Mitchell hit Los Angeles Loyola quarterback Ray Kasper as he threw. Fellow linebacker Brian Manibusan picked off the floating football--his first interception this season--and returned it 58 yards for the touchdown that was the difference in Mater Dei's 17-10 victory.
"I was in disbelief when I caught the ball," said Manibusan, the team's leading tackler. "They told me later they thought [Loyola's Stephen] Faulk would catch me, but I could feel my teammates push me and I got in. And I got to celebrate in the end zone for the first time."
Santa Margarita closed its season with three consecutive shutouts, against Valencia, Tustin and Newport Harbor. Though there were plenty of instances in which the defense held on fourth down in the playoffs, none was more symbolic than a third-quarter defensive series Saturday.
Danny Pulido caught a 27-yard pass from Josiah Fredriksen to give Newport Harbor first and goal at the one-yard line. But Brett Baker and Fredriksen were stopped for no gain. Then Ray Ohrel, the county's fourth-leading rusher, lost a yard when he was tackled by Damien Minna. On fourth down from the two, Fredriksen was sacked for a seven-yard loss by Minna and Billy O'Connor.
"We could have let them score--38-7 wouldn't jeopardize our chances," Hartigan said. "But our team has improved every game. That defensive stand symbolized that improvement. It was a long progression, but we finally got to the point where we were pretty good on defense and it was important to us to not let people score.
"That four-down series was two coaches [Matt Rink and Tim Prukop] doing their homework, and 11 guys who knew there were 10 other players counting on them to do their job."
The Santa Margarita girls' soccer team moved up one spot to No. 1 in the Orange County coaches' poll this week after a 3-0 victory Saturday over third-ranked Mission Viejo.
Santa Margarita (3-0) was ranked No. 2 behind Capistrano Valley (4-1) in the coaches' preseason poll. Capistrano Valley fell to No. 2 this week after a loss to unranked Fountain Valley last week.
The shuffle in rankings adds intrigue to today's game between the Cougars and the Eagles at 3 p.m. at Santa Margarita.
Against Mission Viejo, Santa Margarita defenders Susie Mora and Lizzie Atwood shut down the Diablo attack. Sara Henderson scored two goals after corner kicks and Maresa Zanetti scored another on an assist from Brooke Smith for the Eagles.
The Laguna Hills girls' soccer team left nine girls behind because of illness Saturday when it traveled to Whittier for the La Serna High tournament.
Only three regular starters made the trip and the reserves led the Hawks to two victories, both by penalty kick: They beat Norco, 3-2, in the quarterfinals and Redlands, 4-3, in the semifinals.
"The subs just came up big," Laguna Hills Coach Kevin Macare said.
The school was hit with an outbreak of influenza last week, when more than 300 students stayed home from class Thursday and Friday because of illness.
In its Ladycat Classic, the Brea Olinda girls' basketball team defeated defending state Division III champion Torrance Bishop Montgomery in the title game, 65-38. It came on the heels of Brea's 64-38 victory over Riverside North, a section II-AA finalist last year.
In the Alaska Hoops Challenge, Marina defeated the No. 1-ranked team in Alaska girls' basketball, Palmer, 55-42.
Magnolia's Brian Morris broke a school single-game record recently when he made eight three-point baskets in an 88-38 victory over San Pedro Mary Star of the Sea. Andy Walin and Josh Redding held the previous record: seven.
Times staff writers Martin Henderson and Wendy Witherspoon, and correspondent Don Turnbull contributed to this report.