Gary McKnight, coach of the Mater Dei High School basketball team, had just sweated out his second straight one-point playoff win, this time for the Southern Section 5-A basketball championship. Walking around the Sports Arena court Saturday night with the championship plaque, the Monarchs' third straight, he had a look of contentment, and of relief.
"Right now, I want to relax for a whole day, and Monday we'll decide what's next," he said.
Next is the state playoffs, beginning with the Southern California Regional. That schedule is no different than last season, but McKnight's attitude certainly is.
"I'm really looking forward to the state tournament," he said.
What's this? The Monarchs of Santa Ana setting their sights on winning the California title?
Last year, McKnight claimed the Monarchs' showdown with Crenshaw in the Southern California Regional final was the true state championship and that "the one in Oakland is a token."
"Last year, it was a big deal to win CIF (Southern Section), and that's still great," he said Saturday after Mater Dei beat Long Beach Millikan, 53-52. "But this year, we want to shift gears and do as well as we can do in the state."
The drive begins this week, with Mater Dei and City 4-A champion Fairfax both already in overdrive and heading to a possible collision in the Southern California Division I final next Saturday at the Sports Arena.
If that comes to pass, it will be the second year in a row that the state's two top-ranked teams have met in Los Angeles for the right to go to Oakland, Crenshaw having beaten Mater Dei in 1986.
In the pairings announced Sunday, No. 1 Fairfax has a bye and meets the winner of Tuesday's first-round game between San Diego Morse (22-2) and Santa Monica (18-9) at San Diego State. Thursday's semifinal, the first game for the Lions (25-0) in six days, will be at Santa Monica College.
In the lower bracket of Division I, Mater Dei (28-1) also has a bye and plays its semifinal game Thursday at Cal State Fullerton. The Monarchs will get either Fresno Edison (24-2) of the Central Section or City 3-A champion Granada Hills (19-4), with those two teams meeting Tuesday at Fresno City College.
Point Loma (31-0) of the San Diego Section is the top-seeded girls' Division I team and will play host to a semifinal game Thursday at Serra High in San Diego. The opponent will be either City 4-A winner Granada Hills Kennedy (22-3) or Hanford (18-6) of the Central Section, which meet Tuesday at Granada Hills High. Point Loma is looking for its fourth consecutive California title.
The girls' lower bracket has Southern Section 3-A champion Mission Viejo (28-2) playing City 3-A titlist Reseda (15-2) Tuesday at El Toro High, with the winner going on to meet second-seeded Huntington Beach Edison (30-1), the Southern Section 4-A winner, Thursday at Huntington Beach High.
The rest of the Southern California matchups:
Boys Division II--Southern Section 2-A champion Irvine Woodbridge (25-5) travels to Fresno to meet Washington of the Central Section. The site for the Wednesday game will be at either McLane High or Bullard High. In the other semifinal, Saugus (22-9) of the Southern Section 3-A, plays host to Oceanside of the San Diego Section (21-7) at The Master's College in Newhall.
Girls Division II--Both Southern Section representatives have will home games Wednesday. Lompoc (26-2) of the 2-A meets Chowchilla (19-5) of the Central Section at Cabrillo High and 1-A winner Cerritos Valley Christian (25-2) takes on La Jolla (18-5) of the San Diego Section at Cerritos High.
Boys Division III--Top-seeded Santa Monica Crossroads (23-5), the Southern Section 1-A champion, plays host to Riverdale (20-6) of the Central Section Wednesday at Santa Monica High. Southern Section Small Schools champion Cerritos Whitney (24-2) travels to take on Calipatria (22-1) of the San Diego Section at Central High in El Centro.