One of the most telling gauges of Celia Duran's worth came in some of the final minutes of the Estancia High girls' basketball season.
The No. 9-seeded Eagles were on their way to losing at top-seeded West Hills Chaminade in a CIF Southern Section Division 3A quarterfinal game. But Estancia Co-Coach Xavier Castellano said that Chaminade stayed in a "box and one" defense against Duran, even with the game in hand.
"They box-and-one'd her up 30," Castellano said. "She was the best player on the floor."
Estancia's 5-foot-8 junior guard, who scored 23 points in the loss, may have been the best player on the floor in that game, even against the eventual CIF champions. She also was the best player in the Newport-Mesa area.
Duran is the Daily Pilot Dream Team Newport-Mesa Player of the Year for girls' basketball.
She was one of three team captains and, without question, the leader for Estancia (20-8). She helped the Eagles accomplish big things, like winning the outright Orange Coast League title for the second time in three years. They went 9-1 in league, their only slip up at Laguna Beach.
Making the playoff quarterfinals was another big deal. It was the first time that Estancia girls' basketball had made it that far since 1999. Duran helped make it happen, scoring a big 27 points in a 54-43 second-round win over Ridgecrest Burroughs.
Duran said she felt prepared for that second-round game. She wasn't necessarily her normal happy self before the game started.
"During the day, my friends were saying, 'Why are you so serious?'" Duran said. "And I was like, 'I'm not serious. I'm just in focus mode.' I tried to do everything we usually do that much better, because I knew the team that we were facing obviously wanted the same thing we did. It was a 'win or go home' situation. I had to score, and I had to be calm throughout the game. Sometimes that doesn't happen. Sometimes I get scared."
Duran, a repeat Dream Team selection, usually made the opposition scared instead. She averaged area-bests of 16.3 points, five assists and four steals per game. She also averaged 4.6 rebounds per contest, high for a guard. Her 75 three-pointers tied her for third in Orange County.
Duran was the co-league MVP and an All-CIF Division 3A selection. She helped Estancia beat rival Costa Mesa three times during the season, including during two tight league games. Duran was right at her season average, 16 points, in each of the three games.
Two years ago, Duran was also on a special Estancia team as a freshman, the first sub off the bench. At that time she deferred to senior Kassie Stratton, the 2011 Newport-Mesa Co-Player of the Year. This year, Duran was the go-to player.
"Being a team captain now and all, it was cool that I could lead our team to go so far, you know?" Duran said. "I knew our team was going to be good, but you always have to compare it to that [2010-11] team. That team was really good. Everyone contributed [this year]. It wasn't so much like it was my freshman year, when it was a little bit more centered on Kassie. Now it was more like everyone was a part of it, and it was really cool."
Senior co-captains Gianna Jason and Star Molina, along with junior Michelle Simmons, provided a post presence, and freshmen twins Maya and Nefertiti Van Den Heever also made an impact. Maya took point guard duties, a task that Duran was willing to give up after handling the ball more her sophomore year.
It all worked out for the Eagles in the end. And Duran looks primed for a big senior year as well. Even without handing the ball as much, her scoring averages have gone up each year.
But more important than that, Castellano said, is the impact that she has on our teammates.
"She's very unselfish, not just on the basketball court but with the team as well," he said. "All she cares about is playing hard and winning."
Here's a look at the other five members of the 2012-13 Dream Team:
Corona del Mar
A 6-foot-2 freshman center, Bruening helped the Sea Kings (10-18) achieve a playoff win for the second straight season. She averaged 10.2 points, a co-team high 10 rebounds and nearly three blocks a game for CdM, which won a CIF Southern Section Division 3AA playoff game again. CdM upset No. 14-seeded Hawthorne on the road in the first round. A second-team All-Pacific Coast League selection, Bruening also helped CdM be more competitive in league, winning against Irvine and coming close in several other games. CdM Coach Mark Decker said Bruening is an extremely driven player, and may push for Newport-Mesa Player of the Year honors next year as a sophomore.
Settles, a 5-foot-8 senior forward, wore jersey No. 1 for the Mustangs. And she was the No. 1 option for Costa Mesa (15-13), which finished tied for third in the Orange Coast League and advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs. Settles averaged a team-high 12.5 points per game, along with 4.3 rebounds and two steals. Coach Nichole Maddox said Settles, a first-team All-Orange Coast League selection and one of three team captains, was a leader on and off the floor. She played in the Orange County North South High School Basketball 12th-Grade All-Star game. Settles is headed to play volleyball at Johnson & Wales University in Colorado.
A 5-foot-11 senior forward, Danner was a versatile player for Coach Kerwin Walters' Lightning. She was a calming presence for Sage Hill (7-15), which finished fourth in the Academy League and advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division 5A playoffs, and she gained confidence as the season went on. Danner, who will play volleyball at Amherst College in Massachusetts and was also a Dream Team selection in that sport, averaged team-bests in points (9.9), steals (2.2), blocks (2.1) and assists (2.4). She was also second on the team with 9.5 rebounds per game. Danner was a first-team All-Academy League selection.
Maya Van Den Heever
Van Den Heever and her twin sister Nefertiti were big pieces this year for the Eagles. Maya stepped in as the starting point guard as a 5-foot-7 freshman and brought a lot of energy, and Castellano praised her fearlessness. Her statistics were impressive as well, as she averaged 9.2 points per game, second only to Duran. She also had 3.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and a team-best three steals per contest. Van Den Heever was a first-team All-Orange Coast League selection.
Corona del Mar
Anderson, a 6-foot-1 freshman forward, teamed with Bruening to form a promising young duo in the front court. Anderson averaged a team-high 10.3 points per game for the Sea Kings, tied Bruening with 10 rebounds per game and added two blocked shots. Even as freshmen, they consistently performed for a young CdM team that graduates no starters and started three freshmen and a sophomore in the playoffs.