Three years ago, when Hank Nozaki took over as soccer coach at San Pedro High School, the returning players were raving about a newcomer, some sophomore who was being described as fantastic. The juniors and seniors were saying, "We won't have to worry about scoring, Coach."
Nozaki, naturally, was skeptical.
Then the fantastic sophomore scored three goals in his first game.
Raul Haro has been unstoppable ever since. He scored 31 goals as a sophomore and 36 as a junior, when he was named City player of the year. This season, with San Pedro looking for its second straight championship Friday against Reseda, he has 38.
Haro has done it with veteran teams and young teams that have never failed to reach at least the semifinals.
Nozaki, naturally, is no longer skeptical.
"He plays center forward," the coach said, explaining Haro's positioning on the field. "Just like--what's that guy's name?--Gretzky."
The great one of City soccer takes it all in stride. He prefers to talk about his teammates, but Nozaki likes to tell of the quiet times he has with Haro on game day. Sometimes, it is when the Pirates are boarding the bus for road games or just before they take the field.
"Coach," Haro, a speedy 5-foot 7 1/2-inch, 140-pounder, will say. "I think I'll score four today."
And then he goes out and does it.
Said Nozaki, who has won three straight Marine League championships at San Pedro and is 14-2 this season: "If I say to him, 'We need three goals from you today,' he might look at me like, 'You're not expecting too much, are you?'
"Sometimes, I'll say, 'Raul, we need at least three from you today.' He just smiles, like a sign of confidence. He almost always tells me, 'OK, coach, I'll do it.' But he never brags. He doesn't have to make a show."
His playing does that.
The Rolling Hills basketball team, which graduated its entire starting lineup from the squad that was ranked No. 1 in the Southern Section 3-A for all of 1986-87 before losing in the championship game, is off to a 13-4 start this season.
More impressively, the Titans have done it without a starter taller than 6 feet 3 inches and with only two of their top six players being seniors. There is a good chance they will pick up additional talent next season if Miraleste of nearby Rancho Palos Verdes closes, as expected.
Of the losses, the worst was by nine points, to Lakewood in a tournament at Carson City, Nev. The others were by one point to West Torrance on a last-second shot in the season opener, El Segundo by one and Carson City by four. One of the wins was against Palos Verdes, the preseason favorite to win the 3-A, in the semifinals of the Miraleste tournament.
Junior John Hardy has been the hottest player lately and one of the main reasons Rolling Hills has won five straight and is 3-0 in the Bay League heading into Wednesday's game at South Torrance. Last week, the 6-3 center had 31 points and 10 rebounds in a 79-68 victory over West Torrance, then-No. 3 in the 3-A, and 26 points as the Titans beat Torrance, 57-55.
The West Torrance game was at home, so the win was not surprising. Coach Cliff Warren is 23-1 in his own gym, not to mention 60-14 overall, since taking over at Rolling Hills before the 1985-86 season.
Unranked at the start of the season, Rolling Hills is now No. 4 in the 3-A Division.
Santa Barbara will attempt this week what no Channel League girls' basketball team has been able to do in 10 years: win at Buena of Ventura.
That's the main plot for the Thursday night game. As a sidelight, it's the No. 2 team in The Times' Southern Section rankings, Buena, against No. 4, Santa Barbara.
"Anything helps, and the home-court advantage especially helps up there," said Lynwood Coach Van Girard, whose third-ranked Lady Knights lost a nonleague game at Buena earlier this season.
"Even if they (Buena) are away, they bring busloads of fans. I figured we'd be going up there anyway if we made the (4-A Division) semifinals, so I took the girls up there to get used to it."
In another key matchup, No. 11 Burroughs of Ridgecrest travels to No. 12 Antelope Valley in a game that could determine the winner of the Golden League. Burroughs is 14-2 and Antelope Valley is 10-2 and has played a decidedly more difficult schedule.
The City will have its marquee matchup Friday, when Westchester, No. 1 since the start of the season, plays host to No. 2 Crenshaw. Westchester (7-2) features the City's two best players, Trisha Stafford and Tammy Story. Crenshaw (8-3) is led by forward Kelly Murphy.
Also Friday, No. 8 El Camino Real of Woodland Hills and No. 9 Kennedy of Granada Hills play at El Camino Real.
Dick Bruich of Big Five Conference champion Fontana and Darryl Stroh of City 4-A winner Granada Hills have been selected to coach the South team in the 38th annual Shrine all-star football game July 23 at the Rose Bowl.
The teams for the statewide game will be selected in early February.