A basketball season that will be remembered as Cougars on Colossus takes its strangest twist yet in the first round of the Southern Section 4-A Division playoffs Friday night.
The Ventura Cougars, whose descent from winners to whiners nearly resulted in their missing the playoffs, travel to Beverly Hills, where Ventura first ascended to euphoric heights this season.
That the triumph over Beverly Hills seems to the Cougars to have occurred light years ago provides a clue as to the depths they have experienced since.
Ventura won the championships of three nonleague tournaments, including the Beverly Hills tournament. The Cougars defeated the host team at the buzzer after erasing an 18-point deficit. After opening with 15 consecutive wins, however, Ventura (20-5) dropped five Channel League games--including two to cross-town rival Buena--and had to defeat Rio Mesa in a tiebreaker game, 63-42, Saturday to secure a playoff berth.
Things hit bottom last Friday when lowly San Marcos downed Ventura, 59-46, to force the tiebreaker the next day.
"We were definitely embarrassed," Ventura Coach Chris Taylor said. "Things were going so bad we just couldn't crawl out of the hole we dug for ourselves."
Forward Chris Hantgin, a three-year starter and co-captain, missed the San Marcos game because of the flu but returned the next day to score a game-high 26 points against Rio Mesa.
"That was a shot in the arm. Chris was real weak, but I think he played his best game," said Taylor, who attributes much of the team's troubles to several players talking rather than playing their best games.
Many of the Cougars have played together since grade school and recently certain players were expecting plenty out of teammates while making paltry contributions themselves.
"These kids are so close, like brothers, that a lot of bitching and moaning seemed like nothing more than what a family might go through," Taylor said. "But it got out of hand and that was my fault, my ignorance in not deciphering what was destructive and what was constructive."
The team met before the tiebreaker game.
"We said, 'Let's keep out mouths shut, stop pointing fingers, and finish up strong,' " the coach said.
Can the Cougars claw back and make a strong showing in the playoffs?
"The kids feel they've been given a reprieve," Taylor said. "Now they realize there is a reason they were playing crappy. They know they have to play together."
No slam dancing: Buena (22-2) may have a 6-10 center in Shawn Kirkeby and may have dominated the Channel League with a 14-0 record, but not a single Bulldog made a dunk this season.
In fact, there has been only one Buena dunk in Glen Hannah's 13 years with the school, seven as head coach.
"Scotty Steen had it seven years ago, the first year dunking was allowed," Hannah said.
A memorable event for Hannah, but the memory of this season's perfect league record in an uncommonly tough league will linger longer.
Add Buena: The Bulldogs have won 22 consecutive Channel League games, three shy of the record of 25 set by San Marcos in 1979-81.
Smoking Carlton: Nordhoff's Larry Carlton set a school record by averaging 22.1 points a game this season. Tim Siefken (1976) held the previous mark of 21.2. Carlton's 508 points fell one short of Siefken's school standard.
Carlton also set Nordhoff records of 164 free throws this season and 316 assists during his three-year career.
Award: Simi Valley's Don MacLean was named high school athlete of the week by KTTV after his 52-point, 16-rebound performance in a 104-71 win over Camarillo on Feb. 5. MacLean, a 6-10 center who averages 33.8 points and 13.0 rebounds a game, set a single-game school scoring record.
Add Simi Valley: The Pioneers, who finished the regular season with a record of 22-3, 12-0 in the Marmonte League, scored 100 or more points in six games and 90 or more in 11. The Pioneers are ranked No. 1 in the Southern Section 4-A Division.
Pitcher rich: Moorpark College softball Coach Willard Thurston rued the graduation of pitcher Karen Mead, but he has wooed two new quality hurlers to the school.
Mead was 27-12 with 15 shutouts, 4 no-hitters, an earned-run average of 0.80 and 295 strikeouts in 268 innings last season. But the addition of freshmen De Dow and Janeen Duncan has eased the loss of Mead.
Dow, a Canoga Park High graduate who was City Section player of the year two years in a row, attended Cal Lutheran last season but left the school before the season started.
Duncan posted a 17-5 record and an ERA of 0.42 last year at Alemany High. She was named most valuable player of the San Fernando League.
Moorpark, which won the Western State Conference with a record of 13-1 last year, also has speedy Malia Ouzts returning. Ouzts, an All-American center fielder last season is known primarily for her baserunning: She stole 52 bases in 59 attempts last year. But after having made a transition to catcher, she also is gaining a reputation for versatility.
Ouzts, who batted .387 and scored 27 runs last year, was 3-3 with a home run in Moorpark's season-opening 5-3 win over San Bernardino Valley last Friday.