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Playing Leapfrog : Santa Ana Sacrifices Points to Direct Ribet Christian's Rise

February 04, 1988|HEATHER HAFNER

Dale Santa Ana sat in his family's living room watching a replay of the recent basketball game between Ribet Christian and Camp Kilpatrick. Santa Ana, a 5-4 senior point guard, had played a pivotal role in Ribet's victory and he seemed pleased with his performance.

Being a team leader is not a new experience for the four-year starter. Leading the team to victory is.

In his first two seasons, Santa Ana, 18, was the only cog in the team's wheel. Without him, the offense would have come to a grinding halt. Santa Ana was the first--and quite often the la1937016066player to touch the ball before it was sent airborne.

He averaged about 20 points in his freshman and sophomore seasons and earned recognition among his peers at the La Canada campus. But Ribet had losing seasons both years so the only people who got wind of Santa Ana's exploits were the school's 65 students and the immediate families of the players.

The game plan and the outcome changed when Ernest Dailey took over as coach two seasons ago. Santa Ana was still expected to handle the ball a majority of the time, but he wasn't supposed to shoot it.

Dailey wanted Santa Ana to concentrate on defense and working the ball inside.

"He said, 'Do you want to have a winning season? Do you want to go all the way?' " Santa Ana said. "I said 'Sure.' He told me I was going to have to be the floor general out there and work the ball and that it would mean less points for me.

"You usually don't see assists in the paper and everybody just started saying 'How come you don't get any points anymore? What's wrong? How come you're no good anymore?' "

Although it stung when his scoring average dropped, Santa Ana continued to make the adjustment. At season's end, the Fighting Frogs had produced their first winning season, taking the Heritage League title and advancing to the second round of the Southern Section Small Schools Division playoffs.

Santa Ana no longer resents losing his top-frog status.

"Sometimes it bugged me but then we were winning and it felt good to be winners," Santa Ana said. "Before, I thought all that was involved in basketball was scoring, putting the ball through the hoop. Now I could care less whether I have 20 points a game or two points a game. If I help the team and do what I'm supposed to, it feels good."

Santa Ana is averaging 10 points and 11 assists a game this season. His point production is down, but so what?

Ribet (13-3) is atop the league standings with a 5-1 record and is on track for a second playoff appearance. The Fighting Frogs defeated Virgin Valley and Mesquite in Las Vegas during Christmas break and lost a close one to Whitney, the Nevada small schools state champion.

"At this level, it's really team play," Dailey said. "If you can think team, you can be very competitive. Dale had some problems at first, but he worked hard over the summer. He was very cooperative because he knew it had to be that way.

"The sacrifice he made last year made us the league winner."

Ribet (pronounced Rib-ay) has not yet received the respect that a league title may warrant, Santa Ana said. The Fighting Frogs are often greeted with amphibious slurs. Perhaps it's the green and white uniforms and green high-top shoes.

But often, being from Ribet can be an advantage. Santa Ana said that the Fighting Frogs have taken several teams by surprise.

"When I was a freshman and a sophomore we weren't concerned about making the playoffs," Santa Ana said. "We just played and said, 'If we win, we win.'

"Last year we saw what the team could do. We said, 'Hey, we have a lot of talent. Let's start playing and go as far as we can.' Now we're setting goals for ourselves."

Dailey believes that with discipline, the goals can be attained. Discipline is not, however, confined to the court.

He told players before the season that they were to wear the school uniform at all times and that he would not tolerate the violation of school rules.

On the court, the workouts have steadily increased in intensity and the Fighting Frogs now benefit from a tight zone defense. It has relieved some of the pressure on Santa Ana.

"I may not be pressured to deliver the points, but I still have to bring up the ball and not have so many turnovers," he said. "And I still have to get these guys going.

"You know, about four years ago when people asked me what school I went to it was kind of embarrassing to say Ribet. But ever since we've really developed this basketball program, everybody is proud of the school."

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