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QUEENS OF THE CAGERS : Morningside's Lady Monarchs Have It All: Skill, Speed, Height, Respect

December 17, 1987|IRENE GARCIA | Times Staff Writer

Asked to describe the weaknesses of league rival Morningside, Redondo High girls basketball Coach Tim Ammentorp just shrugged and said: "I just wish they had some."

His team is probably the second best in the Pioneer League, but second best to Morningside still translates into 20- to 30-point losses.

"I guess the only weakness is that they don't get to play better teams," Ammentorp said. "They don't get pushed. There's no question that they have some of the best players."

Just how good are Morningside's players?

"They have one of the greatest teams of all time," said Amateur Athletic Union basketball Coach Steve Kavaloski, who has coached youngsters for 22 years. "Not only do they have height, speed and power, they have more kids that are skilled at all positions than anyone else."

"I would hate to be Frank Scott (Morningside coach) and have to motivate them every time," said Ammentorp. "Every time they get on the floor (for a league game), they know they're going to win."

Morningside is the top-ranked team in the South Bay and the No. 2 team in the CIF 4-A Division with a starting lineup that often makes opponents gasp. It includes one of the quickest high school guards in the state, a 6-4 center and a forward who's so tough that some believe she should play with the boys.

"Their three returning players are just incredible," said Ammentorp. "They're at the very top when it comes to playing the game."

Shaunda Greene, Morningside's 6-foot forward, always wants the ball and usually gets it. She averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds last year when the Monarchs reached the semifinals of CIF playoffs with a 27-3 record. Greene intimidates opponents with a mean game face and fancy court moves.

"She is an intimidating player who plays great defense and runs the floor real well," Scott said. "She's also a real force on the boards."

The 17-year-old senior has earned just about every honor in the book. Last year she was a first-team all-CIF and all-state player. As a sophomore and junior she was the league's Most Valuable Player and named all-South Bay.

"I just like to play the game," Greene said. "I give it my all and the bigger and better a team is, the more I like it because the harder I work."

Greene has won numerous summer league titles, including MVP of several area basketball camps and the Basketball Congress International, an organization that allows players from all over the United States to compete against each other.

"She gets the ball and she scores," said Long Beach State women's Coach Joan Bonvicini, who coached Greene at camp. "Shaunda is quick, versatile and jumps extremely well. She's just a real good ballplayer."

That's why so many college coaches are after her. Since Greene decided not to sign with a college in October, she gets about six letters a day from schools that want her.

She's narrowed her choices to the University of Washington, Old Dominion, USC and Cal State Fullerton.

"Shaunda Greene is one of the best athletes to come out of the L. A. area in a long time," said USC women's Coach Linda Sharp. "She can add power and strength to any team because she is physically tough. As a result, her overall game is very good."

For now, Greene's tremendous defensive skills and quickness belong in Inglewood with the Monarchs. They're complemented by 6-4 center Lisa Leslie, who has mastered a threatening turnaround jump shot. As a freshman, Leslie averaged 15 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots.

"She's still learning and developing," said Scott, "but she's already a strong rebounder and great inside shooter.

"And you don't worry about too many people driving the lane to take shots when Lisa's in there."

The 15-year old sophomore was the youngest player to participate in the 18-and-under Olympia Girls Development League during the 1986 season when she was 14.

Leslie was a first-team middle blocker on the Monarch volleyball team last season. She uses volleyball as a tuneup for hoops, which she'll play in college.

"I've received letters from Alaska to Hawaii," said the soft-spoken Leslie, "but I don't like snow and I don't like rain."

Louisiana Tech, Texas, San Jose State, Long Beach State and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, have sent her letters. She sees Long Beach and UNLV as distinct possibilities.

"She's by far the top post player her age," Bonvicini said. "She's going to be a superstar in college. She can be the best center ever to play women's basketball."

But size and aggression aren't the only strengths of the Monarchs.

Morningside also has an outstanding ball handler in Carla Gladden, a 5-6 point guard who averaged 15 points, 10 assists and five steals last year. The senior is a fast breaker who passes well and puts full-court pressure on any offense.

"She knows how to handle the ball and penetrates better than any other guard I've seen," Ammentorp said.

Completing the Monarch's starting line up are 5-8 guard JoJo Witherspoon, who averaged eight points and four steals coming off the bench last year, and 5-8 forward Althea Moses, who will go to college on a track scholarship.

Moses' conditioning and speed add plenty to Morningside's running game. The senior is one of the nation's top high school triple jumpers and placed third in the state in the half-mile last year.

It's no wonder then, that Morningside has such a tough all-around squad that puts its league opponents through torture. The Monarchs seem to have all the ingredients for a championship.

"I'll just say that I like our chances," said Scott with a big smile.

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