After Estancia High senior Celia Duran earned Newport-Mesa Girls' Basketball Player of the Year honors last year, she received congratulations from Corona del Mar sophomore Natalia Bruening.
The two players ran into each other at club basketball tryouts last spring. Soon, they were talking about being co-Players of the Year this year.
"We called it," Duran said with a smile.
Duran is a 5-foot-7 guard, while Bruening is a 6-foot-3 forward. While they played much different roles, both Duran and Bruening helped ensure big years for their respective squads.
And the two friends did indeed call it.
For their skills and leadership qualities, Duran and Bruening share the 2013-14 Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Player of the Year award.
The numbers for Duran are a bit staggering. She scored 1,613 points and made 212 three-pointers in her four-year career, while helping Estancia win three Orange Coast League titles. The Eagles also went a combined 79-32 in her career, while they were just 19-76 in the four years before that.
"It's special every time," Duran said of winning league again. "You would think, 'Oh it's the second one, oh, it's the third.' No, it's still just as great as the first one. It's a lot more difficult than the first one, because now you're the team to beat."
This year, Duran helped make it happen. She averaged an area-best 16.7 points per game, as well as 3.6 steals, 3.5 rebounds and three assists per game. She was the league MVP, marking her third straight first-team all-league selection. All this, while playing through a fractured left hand she suffered in the second league game against Costa Mesa.
Despite a second-round CIF Southern Section Division 3A playoff exit, the Eagles had a very strong year, finishing 24-4 and winning the CdM Tip-Off and Santiago tournaments. Duran, who plans to play at Santa Ana College next year, was named tournament MVP both times.
"It was just a crazy season, and a lot of it is Celia," Estancia Co-Coach Xavier Castellano said. "She got other girls open, she made timely shots. She wasn't scared of anything. When she walks into the gym, she doesn't look like a basketball player. But she led our school, Estancia, with no one over 6 feet on our team, to 24 wins against some really good teams."
Bruening, meanwhile, helped CdM (21-10) finish a strong third in the tough Pacific Coast League. But the best was yet to come, as the No. 6-seeded Sea Kings advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA semifinals before falling at No. 2-seeded Lakeside Lake Elsinore. The run, which included a comeback upset victory over No. 3-seeded San Juan Hills, put CdM in the semifinals for the first time in 31 years.
The Sea Kings also made their first CIF State playoffs appearance in program history. Bruening, who averaged 14.5 points, an area-best 12 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, was the go-to player. She said she got physically stronger this year, as well as quicker.
"It was a year of firsts," said Bruening, also a starting middle blocker on the volleyball team. "We were really successful, we went further than I thought we would, and we clicked really, really well. That was really nice too. I just wanted to go further than last year."
Bruening ended up earning first-team All-Pacific Coast League honors, and was an All-CIF Division 3AA selection. She knows the hopes are high for the next two years as well, and she's excited. CdM graduates just one senior, guard Keaton Gaughan.
"For me, I want our team playing our best basketball at the end of the season, and we were definitely doing that," CdM Coach Mark Decker said. "Natalia led that with her improvement as the season went on. She improved tremendously in every aspect of the game.
"It's hard, because post players are not treated the same as other players. They get beat on and pounded and fouled, and honestly, the refs don't give them a lot of breaks because they're taller. I think her improvement mentally, in dealing with that, really helped with her play on the court too."
Here's a look at the other five selections for the 2013-14 Newport-Mesa Dream Team:
Obong, a senior, played point guard for the Mustangs and was definitely their biggest offensive threat. Coach Nichole Maddox called Obong the heart and soul of Costa Mesa (14-12). She led the Mustangs with 15 points per game, and 2.8 steals. She helped Mesa, which ended up third in the Orange Coast League, hand rival Estancia its only league loss in the league opener. Obong, who plans to play at Orange Coast College, made 49 three-pointers and was a first-team All-Orange Coast League selection.
A 5-foot-8 senior guard, Lopez was a go-to player for the Sailors. She averaged a team-best 10.5 points per game, and pulled down 6.2 rebounds per contest. She also led Newport Harbor with 2.6 steals per contest. The Sailors finished just 7-16, 0-10 in the Sunset League, but they were much more competitive in many of those league contests thanks to the play of Lopez. She was a first-team All-Sunset League selection.
Maya Van Den Heever
The 5-foot-6 sophomore grew as a player in her second year handling point guard duties for the Eagles. She was second on the squad, averaging 9.9 points per game, while contributing five assists and 3.5 steals per contest as well. She earned all-tournament team honors after helping Estancia win the Santiago tournament. A gifted athlete who is currently one of the best hitters for the Eagles softball team, look for Van Den Heever to continue to blossom in her next two years on the basketball court as well. Van Den Heever was a first-team All-Orange Coast League selection. She also is a repeat Dream Team selection.
Corona del Mar
Anderson, a 6-foot-2 sophomore center, was the second half of the size quotient that helped the Sea Kings so much this year. She played one of her best games of the season in the Sea Kings' second-round CIF win over Pacifica, shooting eight for eight from the field, and Decker said she improved her overall consistency on the season. Anderson averaged 12 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game. She earned second-team All-Pacific Coast League honors, and was selected All-CIF Division 3AA as well. This is her second Dream Team selection.
The tough Garnett, a junior transfer from Texas, had the unenviable task of guarding the best player on the other team. But the 5-foot-6 forward shined in the role, averaging 8.5 points and a team-best 4.2 steals per contest despite missing time at the end of the season with a hamstring injury. She played one of her best games of the year in Estancia's league victory over rival Costa Mesa, scoring a season-high 20 points, with four three-pointers and six steals. Garnett, an all-tournament team selection after helping the Sea Kings win the CdM Tip-off Tournament, was a first-team All-Orange Coast League honoree.