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South Gate Legacy has risen quickly in girls' basketball

South Gate Legacy has risen quickly in girls' basketball
South Gate Legacy point guard Jennifer Pool probes the defense in a 65-62 win over Palisades in the Legacy Tournament. (Steve Galluzzo / For the Times)

What kind of mad scientist holds basketball tryouts with no basketballs?

That would be Ronald Estrada, the girls' coach at South Gate Legacy High.

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When the school opened in 2012, about 70 girls showed up for tryouts. Estrada wasn't interested in seeing their layup skills.

"I just wanted to see attitude, character, leadership," he said.

He told them: "All I need you to be is dedicated and trust that I will get you better."

The first team lost a fall league game, 65-4.

Four years later, the Legacy Tigers have a remarkable story to tell. They are 22-1 this season and could be the No. 1 seed in the City Section Open Division playoffs. They have defeated City powers Palisades and Harbor City Narbonne.

In an era in which the Los Angeles Unified School District has opened more than 30 new high schools, none have reached the top in Division I sports when competing against the longtime City powers. That makes Legacy's rise so astonishing, and it has been done largely without transfers.

"Our whole approach to every game is do what we do," said Estrada, 39, a former girls' coach at South East. "Let's play like us — up-tempo, be quick, be fast, make good decisions, depend on our defense."

Last season, Legacy won the City Division III championship. Leslie Aguayo, a 6-foot junior, has been a strong presence in the middle blocking shots. Arianna Harper, a 5-7 sophomore, was the top player in Division III last season and is averaging 15 points per game. Junior point guard Jennifer Pool is averaging 10 points. Jessica Gomez and Christina Rodriguez are quick 5-4 guards.

"We work really hard," Estrada said. "The girls are dedicated. These girls get along like family."

Estrada has always scheduled tough opponents for his teams in spring and summer competitions.

"We took our spankings and learned from it," he said.

The team's biggest victory came against Palisades, the defending City Section Open Division champion. Legacy won, 65-62, on Jan. 8. Suddenly, people were asking, "Who's Legacy?"

"The thing that separates them from a majority of teams we encounter in the City Section is their work ethic," Palisades Coach Torino Johnson said. "I attribute that to their coaching staff. They don't quit and they continue to work hard whether they are up by five or down by 10."

The schools doing well in girls' basketball in the City Section have been pretty much the same for years. Legacy's arrival adds some real competition to the likes of Palisades, Fairfax, El Camino Real and Narbonne.

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"It's really good for our section that they are winning games," Johnson said. "I think they've broken through."

No. 1 vs. No. 2

The game of the season in boys' basketball is set for Saturday at 7 p.m. at Cerritos College. No. 1-ranked Chino Hills (19-0) will take on No. 2 Torrance Bishop Montgomery (19-0) in the Fairfax State Preview Classic.

It will be the featured game of an eight-game schedule that begins at 9:30 a.m. Tickets are $13. Cerritos College's gym can seat about 2,400.

The winner is expected to be the No. 1 seed for the Southern Section Open Division playoffs.

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