MISSION VIEJO â€” On paper, it seemed that you could throw out much of what transpired in the last meeting between the Flintridge Prep and Laguna Hills girls' basketball teams when previewing this year's CIF Southern Section Division IV-A semifinal rematch.
Having each lost three starters since last year's Division IV-A championship game, which Laguna Hills won handily, both squads sported a dramatically different look personnel-wise and each had employed their revamped roster to impressive results during their respective league seasons and playoff runs.
But nonetheless, histroy began to vividly repeat itself in the form of some unfortunate trends â€” from the Rebels' point of view â€” that carried over into Saturday's game, a sobering 61-41 loss.
A slow beginning to the game hindered Prep's chances to beat the Hawks a year ago.
A numbing first-quarter debacle on Saturday made a Rebels' victory virtually impossible.
â€œWe turned the ball over way too much early on and so we never really got into a rhythm,â€ Prep Coach Kenny Fisher said. â€œWe gave them too many easy baskets early and we got too far behind.
â€œIt would be nice to know what we can do with [the Hawks] if we ever didn't give them a big lead in the first quarter.â€
Indeed. A turnover-plagued opening period a year ago â€” in which their first field goal came over halfway through the quarter â€” set the tone for a game the Rebels would never lead and ultimately lose, 57-42.
Saturday's first quarter began no differently. Laguna Hills' sturdy post defenders and lanky guards disrupted things and forced six early turnovers. Megan Musashi's basket with 3:30 to play was the team's first, and while it brought the Rebels within 5-2, it was promptly buried by a 14-2 Hawks run to end the quarter.
â€œDeja vu all over again,â€ was a phrase that entered Fisher's mind as Laguna Hills pulled away. â€œMore importantly, it probably crept into [the players'] minds. It's such a psychological game.â€
Senior guard Courtney Robinson acknowledged a similar feeling, but refused to take on a fatalistic mindset, even when down 19-4 after eight minutes.
â€œI try not to get that mentality even when we're losing by 20 because there's been games where the underdog scores 30 points and wins in the end,â€ she said. â€œI never thought of it, at any point in the game, being just like last year because it's not like last year. It's a whole different type of team and a different game.â€
Robinson's show of perseverance was not lost on her younger teammates.
â€œWe were worried after the start, but Courtney was a great leader,â€ said Musashi, a sophomore. â€œShe was like, 'We have to pick it up. Let's go.'
â€œShe believed in us, and that's what clicked in the second half.â€
The final 24 minutes saw the Rebels play more like themselves and more than double their first-half scoring output.
But, like last year, a redemptive second half wasn't enough to undo the missteps of the first.
?GABRIEL RIZK covers sports. He can be reached at (818) 637-3226 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.