Before Christina Zdenek arrived at West Hills Chaminade, the girls' basketball team was a hapless doormat, "the easy team to beat, the one people tried to score 100 points against," she said. And she's not kidding.
But with the arrival of Zdenek, the fortunes of Chaminade changed. A team that went 13-33 in the two years before she got there, has gone 63-28 since.
It's a similar type of building project that Zdenek will undertake next season, when she attends Utah, which hasn't had a women's basketball program in 16 years.
"It's such a unique opportunity," the 5-foot-8 1/2 Zdenek said. "However far we take the program in five years, it will be just because of us, because we're the first ones. It will be tough, but I'm completely willing and ready to take the challenge. It's going to be fun ... real fun."
Utah's coach is Reagan Scott-Pebley, and Zdenek hit it off with the former WNBA center.
"I know I can trust her, which is a big reason for my decision," Zdenek said. "If I'm going to be the coach on the floor, which is what the point guard is, I need to be on the same page and be able to have a good relationship, and that's exactly what I have."
Opportunities at other Division I programs weren't as plentiful as she hoped. She played on the second team of West Coast All Stars, an AAU club program run by Jerry Gatewood. It left a sour taste in her mouth.
"I don't resent the players.... I resent that the recruiters were steered away from the No. 2 team," said Zdenek, who feels she has something to prove. "But it doesn't matter to me. I'm going to take a program with nothing and make something out of it. Give us a couple of years, and we'll be a winning team."
Chaminade Coach Kelli DiMuro said Zdenek "got overlooked, definitely. Utah is getting a steal."
Zdenek isn't the only athlete in her family. One brother, Jason, 24, graduated from UCLA last year and was the Bruins' starting free safety. Another brother, Eric, 20, played cornerback for UCLA as a freshman but quit to focus on his studies.
Zdenek, senior guard Liz Trent, a three-point specialist shooting 43% from the arc, and sophomore post player Kelly Cochran, who averages 12.7 rebounds, are trying to give Chaminade its second consecutive Mission League title after going a half century without. The Eagles are 15-2.
Zdenek is averaging 18.9 points -- she averaged 21 last season -- with 5.9 steals, 3.9 assists and 5.6 rebounds. Her high school career scoring average is 17.3, and she holds the school scoring record with 1,592 points.
DiMuro is especially impressed with Zdenek's body control.
"It's impossible to take a charge against her because she's able to tweak her body to go around them," DiMuro said. "She's smooth."
Her work ethic isn't bad, either. She trains with William Burr, a personal coach, to improve her game.
"That's where I do all my extra work that nobody knows about," Zdenek said. "People say, 'Gee, that shot was so lucky' if it's a buzzer shot. My brother once told me, 'The more I practice, the luckier I get.'
"Seriously, everything that I can do on the court comes from hard practice, commitment, things from extra work done outside school.
"What I found was that in order to be able to play well, you have to work on personal skills outside of school and have that done by the time you come to high school practice, because then it's about team."
Lynwood played its first 11 games on the road before beating Harbor City Narbonne, 61-45, at home on Saturday.
"It feels good to play here, but there's a little too much hype for us," said junior guard Sade Wiley-Gatewood, who had 17 points, eight assists and four steals against the Gauchos. "It's better when we play away. We play harder because there are fewer distractions."
The Knights must be focused this week. Lynwood is No. 3 nationally in at least one ranking, and on Saturday is playing host to Jacksonville (Fla.) Ribault, which is ranked No. 5 and has a 105-game winning streak heading into this week.
The game was originally scheduled for last month, but fell through when Ribault couldn't cover the transportation costs, which have since been picked up by a local newspaper.
It doesn't seem like it could happen very often, but Irvine University has a varsity team that is less experienced than its junior varsity.
The Trojans start freshmen Kendall Kauker and Cherry Howlett, sophomore Kirsten Garey and juniors Amanda Sutter and Monique Newsome. Two of the first three players off the bench are sophomores.
The junior varsity starts four juniors and a sophomore.
"It's the youngest team I've ever had and the most frustrating, but I'm over it," Coach Bob Bernal said. "They're also as much fun to work with as anybody I've had. They're going to get better. They're real athletic."
The Trojan varsity is 4-11; the junior varsity is 10-5.
Corona Centennial nearly got more than it bargained for last week when it made the long trek to Lancaster Antelope Valley and went to overtime before winning, 55-48.
"I scheduled the game purposefully because we need to have a 2 1/2-hour bus ride and play in a hostile environment to get ready for the playoffs," Coach Dominic Evans said.
He especially liked the play of freshman Brittney Harrell.
"Having her and [junior] Shannel Brown play well will get us over the hump in the playoffs," he said. "They'll protect [leading scorer] Jenna Sybesma on the weakside."
Sybesma scored 31 and had 18 rebounds in the victory.
Senior Shannon Clay, who played last season at Playa del Rey St. Bernard but began this year at Los Angeles High, is back at St. Bernard. Last week, she played her first game of the season for St. Bernard.
Though taking up a spot in a rebuilding project -- the Vikings (4-10) lost their top seven players from last year's Southern Section championship team -- Coach Felicia Simon says it's good to see a familiar face on the floor.
"It doesn't push anybody back because we're [so young]," she said of Clay playing alongside her five freshmen, three sophomores and three juniors. "It's a help to them to play against her in practice and with her."
St. Bernard lost to Fullerton Rosary, 55-28, in Clay's debut, and to Los Angeles Marlborough, 49-40, on Saturday.
"Hopefully, we'll come around and make the playoffs," Simon said. "I'm sure everyone who returns won't want this to happen next year."