CERRITOS — Eleanor Dykstra, coach of the Valley Christian High School girls basketball team for 16 of the past 18 seasons, has seen more than a few top-rated teams tumble from the Southern Section playoffs as a result of complacency.
"You've got to take these playoff games one at a time and don't look ahead," said Dykstra about a philosophy that brought 1-A titles to the school in 1982 and again last season.
Albeit a cliche, Dykstra has made that "one at a time" statement a team goal. The top-rated and top-seeded Crusaders (23-2) open playoff action Saturday night at 7:30, hosting underdog Kern Valley (6-13). A heavy favorite to win the title again this year, Valley Christian puts a 20-game winning streak on the line and with it a shot at the upcoming state playoffs later in March.
Dykstra said her team was not bothered during the regular season by the possibility that it would get to defend its Southern Section 1-A title in postseason play. "We concentrated on winning the (Olympic) league title," she said.
Crusader 'Farm System'
Founded by immigrant Dutch dairy farmers in the sprawling grass fields of what was then known as Dairy Valley, Valley Christian is an institution long on tradition.
There's an air of pride in Dykstra's voice, who years ago taught several of the parents of her current players. With one exception, the entire team came up through the Crusader "farm system." They began their educations in the organization's kindergarten program and worked their way to a spot on the varsity roster. Starting sophomore guard Lucinda Brewer came to the school in the sixth grade.
"They're all products of a strong Valley Christian system," Dykstra said. "It's a strength for us. They're in the system and they know what's expected of them from the start. They're all very good students and do a good job in the classroom."
Given Dykstra's feelings about looking ahead, it is difficult not to speculate on the Crusaders' playoff chances even into the the next few seasons. Only one starter is a senior and the first two players off the bench are only sophomores.
As cautious as she might want to appear, even Dykstra admits that the group has been "playing well. They're doing what they're supposed to do."
Defense has been a key. No one in the league scored more than 46 points against the Crusaders.
Offensively, the school shot 48% from the floor for the year, a higher than normal rate for a high school girls basketball team.
Junior Center's Play
One key has been the play of the 6-2 junior center Kari Parriott and 6-0 forward Donna Pollema. Parriott has parlayed her height advantage into 21.3 points and 12 rebounds a game. Pollema, the most valuable player in last year's 1-A championship game, averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds a game.
Both Parriott and Pollema have been difficult to stop, according to Dykstra, because Parriott is a talented inside player, while Pollema, despite a height advantage, prefers the 15-foot jumper.
Point guard Patricia Reitsma, a 5-8 junior, and 5-8 senior guard Natalie Bouma split assist duties, each dealing out more than four a game.
Corinna DeYoung, a 5-9 junior, rounds out the starting five.
Top players off the bench include Brewer and 5-9 sophomore forward Tonya Zwagerman.