The walls of the main gym at Corona del Mar High School are covered with banners proclaiming the CIF championships won over the years by the school’s athletic teams.
There are multiple blue-and-white banners for football, boys’ basketball, girls’ volleyball, cross-country, tennis, track and field, baseball — you name it.
There is only one for girls’ basketball.
It happened in 1983 — almost 30 years ago. It was brought home by a team with only eight players that put together an amazing playoff run after finishing second in Seaview League play.
The team started the season with a new coach and not enough players to hold a full scrimmage. They played in pink T-shirts from Penney’s, with iron-on numbers. Their warm-ups didn’t match. They were the underdog “Hoosiers” (if you recall the movie) of girls’ basketball.
What they won on March 4, 1983, at the Long Beach Arena was the CIF Southern Section Division 3A girls’ basketball championship. It was a first for CdM and has never been duplicated by a CdM girls’ basketball team.
This is the story of their championship season — of how the scullery maids captured the glass slipper.
Karen Gerhard — a walk-on who had coached the CdM girls’ team for three years, taking them as far as the early rounds of the CIF playoffs for the last two — had departed. She had two small children and wanted to work closer to home, so she became the girls’ basketball coach at San Clemente High School.
Dave Hefferen, the walk-on boys’ tennis coach at the time, was asked by then-CdM Athletic Director Ron Davis to fill the vacancy.
Hefferen had never coached a girls’ basketball team. He wasn’t sure he’d ever seen a girls’ basketball game. He agreed to take on the challenge, though, and brought along a friend, Jim Strong, to help.
“OK, I’ll coach them as I would boys,” he thought to himself. “And they better be in good shape.”
He knew that with such a small roster, he wouldn’t have the luxury of freely substituting fresh players.
Besides, his plan was to play a fast-paced offense, pushing the ball up the court at every opportunity and to use multiple styles of defense, including a full-court press.
Conditioning would be first on the agenda. So when practice began that fall, the girls ran lines. Endlessly, it seemed. Hefferen wanted them to be able to handle the rigors of his style of play. He wanted them to be able to run for four quarters, especially during the fourth quarter, when the game was on the line.
Since they were too short-handed to play full scrimmages, they sometimes scrimmaged against the boys’ junior varsity. Who won those scrimmages was never recorded. A safe bet is that the JV boys didn’t brag much about them.
The girls were fast, learned quickly and could score.
Angie Dodds, a senior and, at 6 feet 1, the center. A big rebounding presence in the middle, she made strong offensive moves to the basket that were difficult to stop, but she had a tendency to get into foul trouble.
Francine Wynn, a sophomore and, at 5-10, the power forward. She grew up playing against her older brother in the family driveway. She could hit the outside shot, or get by defenders on a drive to the hoop.
Joan Loos, a junior and, at 5-8, the small forward, and my daughter. She was the team’s best defender and for her size, a consistent rebounder who picked up a lot of garbage points by being around the offensive basket at the right time.
Heather Estey, a 5-foot-4 senior guard and team captain. She directed the fast-paced offense with superb ball-handling skills and could score from anywhere on the court.
Lisa Romney, a 5--6 junior guard who liked to push the ball up-court and also could score inside or outside. Perhaps the team’s fastest player, she sometimes looked like she would run through a wall to get to the basket.
That was the starting five.
The bench was made up of junior guards Kim Valentine and Suzanne Graham, both about 5-4, and Michelle Willard, a promising 6-foot freshman who was recruited as the team’s eighth member after practices began.
After losing a nonleague game to Mater Dei and to Upland in the finals of the Garden Grove Tournament, the CdM girls began league play. They played well enough, but lost two games to crosstown rival Estancia High School, finishing as runners-up in the Seaview League. Their record was 18-4 and they had a berth in the playoffs.
It wasn’t a bad record, but going into the playoffs, the rap was they were too small and too thin on the bench to beat really good teams. Hefferen knew the key was to keep Dodds in the middle in each game. She had fouled out early in both Estancia games. With Dodds on the sidelines, the CdM girls had difficulty getting rebounds and their up-tempo game faltered.
Hefferen took Dodds aside before the playoffs began. He told her he didn’t care if she scored another basket. Her job was to rebound and stay out of foul trouble.
There was a familiar face in the CdM gym for the first-round playoff game. Gerhard brought her San Clemente team up the coast for the contest. The CdM girls started running and kept running. The San Clemente girls ran out of gas. The result was an easy win for CdM.
Next, the lady Sea Kings hit the road to Walnut to play one of the highly rated teams in the CIF tournament. Walnut fielded one experienced team and a large home crowd. A handful of CdM parents and Gerhard were on hand to watch a 20-point blowout by CdM.
The girls were playing with intensity and confidence. They had reached the quarterfinals — further, they believed, than any CdM girls’ team had gone before, further than the boys’ team had gone that year, and certainly further than anyone thought the CdM girls would go. On top of that, they learned Esperanza High School had knocked Estancia out of the playoffs.
Then it was on the road again. This time to Alemany, a Catholic school in the San Fernando Valley with a long tradition of quality girls’ basketball.
The priests at Alemany were concerned about crowd control. They called before the game to inquire how many busloads of rooters would be coming from CdM. They were told CdM would have its usual seven to 10 fans. The number turned out to be 15, mostly relatives of the girls.
The game against Alemany was intense and physical. The Alemany girls shot better than 80% from the field in the first quarter, but found themselves down by three points at the end of the period. CdM was up by 15 after three quarters and, despite a late rush by Alemany, won by 11 when Alemany ran out of time and was forced to foul in an effort to get the ball.
This had been a pivotal game. The CdM girls had beaten two ranked teams on the road and now were in the semis. They had seen their speed and physical conditioning pay off against good teams. Dodds had stayed out of foul trouble and was in double figures for rebounds in both games.
Next came Palmdale on a neutral court — University High School in Irvine. Palmdale had beaten San Gabriel, the No. 1 seed, while CdM was knocking off Alemany, the No. 2 seed.
Palmdale fans outnumbered CdM partisans, and Palmdale rooters had decorated the University High gym with posters boosting their team. CdM cheerleaders showed up for the first time, along with a few more fans, including some of the players from the CdM boys’ varsity.
After falling behind in the early going, the girls wore down Palmdale with speed and defense, winning by seven. They had made it to the finals in Long Beach against Esperanza High of Anaheim.
That game against a good-shooting but deliberate Esperanza team was frustrating and became a bit dicey when Wynn collected two fouls early in the game. With about four minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Esperanza led by seven. Hefferen called time out and gathered the CdM girls around him.
“OK,” he said, “this is about how bad you want it. We’re going to full-court press. Do not foul.”
Esperanza fell apart under the pressure. The CdM girls forced a number of turnovers and scored off almost all of them. Three or four of them were forced by Loos, who was guarding the Esperanza player trying to inbound the ball. CdM ended up winning, 59-52. It was a 14-point turnaround in four minutes. Their record now stood at 23-4 and they were CIF 3A champs.
A few years after graduating, three or four of the girls on the ’83 team played for an alumni squad against that year’s CdM girls’ varsity. The older girls could still run and it was a blowout for the alums, some of whom admitted to feeling a bit winded.
The girls of ’83 are well into their 40s now. There is talk of a reunion.
Three became lawyers. A fourth is a physical therapist. Another played professionally and coached in Europe. Another is a retail manager. Still another is said to be raising her own basketball team as a wife and mother in Idaho.
Contact has been lost with some teammates, and with Hefferen and his assistant, Strong. It was a great run. It may never be duplicated.
CHARLES H. “CHUCK” LOOS is a former Daily Pilot managing editor.