It may be little surprise that Whittier Christian, Olympic League champion six of the last seven seasons, is again favored to win the league title.
In Bill Cuccia's nine years as varsity coach at Whittier Christian, his teams have compiled a 180-49 record and have reached the 1-A final in three of the last seven seasons, and the semifinals five of the last seven.
They are seeded second in the 1-A this season behind two-time defending champion Crossroads.
Whittier Christian returns Erik Martin, the league's most valuable player and a first team all-Southern Section and all-state selection.
Martin, a 6-foot 5-inch senior, averaged 21.9 points and 14.1 rebounds a game, setting a school record for single-season scoring. Martin signed a letter of intent to attend Texas Christian University next fall.
The Heralds add two top players from last season's league champion junior varsity team. Scott Ferguson, a 6-7 center, is a strong rebounder and shot-blocker with a good outside shot. Paul McKinley, a 6-3 forward, should be the team's best outside threat.
Despite these front-line strengths, Cuccia doesn't expect his team to coast to the league title.
"I'm optimistic, but I think the league is so much more competitive this season," he said. "I really think four teams will be fighting, along with ourselves, for the three playoff spots and league title."
According to the league's coaches, there are four: Orange Lutheran, Valley Christian, Ontario Christian and Brethren.
Orange Lutheran returns four starters. Valley Christian, 10-2 as the league's runner-up last season, is said to be much improved.
Ontario Christian will have the league's best height. And Brethren returns five varsity players.
But can any of them upset Whittier Christian?
"It doesn't look that way," said Richard Thomas, Brethren coach. "Though they'll be challenged a lot more this year. After Whittier, the league's up for grabs."
Here's a closer look at the Olympic League's Orange County schools, with last season's records in parentheses:
CAPISTRANO VALLEY CHRISTIAN (6-14, 3-9)
Key personnel--Rob Martinek (5-11, guard), Shane Meiner (6-1, forward), Chris Phillips (5-11, guard).
Top newcomers--Kirk Riddle (6-5, center), Bret Biegert (5-10, guard).
Outlook--Although Eagle Coach Jim Sargent concedes that his team isn't a major threat, he thinks it will be competitive. Capistrano Valley Christian returns four senior starters who have played together since their freshman year. Martinek, a first-team all-league selection, averaged 17 points a game. Meiner averaged 10 points and is the team's most intelligent player, according to Sargent. Phillips is the team's best athlete and is outstanding on defense. The fourth player is Brian Jacobson, a 6-1 guard. A key to success may be Riddle, up from the freshman team. "Kirk's got great hands, he runs well and he's great defensively," Sargent said. "The tough thing is, you want it all right now. He'll be outstanding, but in time." Riddle also may be taller. His father is 6-10.
ORANGE LUTHERAN (7-15, 3-9)
Key personnel--Geoff MacArthur (6-2, forward), Jason Neben (6-0, guard), Gaylord Greene (6-2, forward), Kelly Black (6-5, center).
Top newcomers--Pat Bagatoruian (6-2, forward), Matt Wilson (5-10, forward).
Outlook--The Lancers, who defeated Whittier Christian by one point this summer in the La Habra summer league, return four starters. They have quickness and rebounding in Greene, size and power in Black, and everything in MacArthur, who averaged 14.8 points as an all-league selection. They are improved with experience, but do they have a realistic chance to win it all? "I think we do," said Coach Jerry Simmons. "I'm pretty confident about (the season)."
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA CHRISTIAN (5-14, 1-11)
Key personnel--Jason Parks (6-6, center)
Top newcomers--Eddie Felton (5-11, guard), Wade Bowie (5-6, guard), Shawn Wilshire (6-4, forward), Steve Acod (6-4, forward).
Outlook--Flame Coach Mike Murphy doesn't want to sound pessimistic, but . . . "We have no depth, no experience and no talent," he said. "It's going to be a long year. We'll have to scrap for anything we can get." Parks averaged five points as a sophomore starter last season and is expected to be the Flames' leading scorer. He should be helped by Felton, who averaged 14 points for the junior varsity. Wilshire, a sophomore transfer, may become the team's bright spot. "He looks like he might turn out to be our best," Murphy said. "He can play everything from center to point guard." Height is a plus for Southern California Christian. The front line is built of players, 6-4, 6-4, and 6-6.
WHITTIER CHRISTIAN (26-2, 12-0)
Key personnel--Erik Martin (6-5, forward), Brett Molter (5-9, guard), Lanny Carrillo (5-9, guard).
Top newcomers--Scott Ferguson (6-7, center), Paul McKinley (6-3, guard).
Outlook--The Heralds lost four starters to graduation, but they return their best in Martin. Cuccia doesn't bemoan the losses. "I'd like to have them back, but after three years, I'm ready for a new challenge and new faces," he said. And new talents. Molter and McKinley are sharp from the outside, and Ferguson adds height. Whittier Christian is not only quick, talented and aggressive, but covered both inside and out.