They've been characterized as ordinary, unspectacular and sometimes even downright dull at times.
But no matter how one chooses to describe Mater Dei High School's basketball team, there's no denying that the Monarchs play the physical, tough brand of defense that has set them apart from most teams for the last six seasons.
Mater Dei's defense was the difference on Thursday night in the Monarchs' 55-49 victory over Edison in the Southern Section's 5-A quarterfinals at Huntington Beach High.
The victory moves Mater Dei (19-7) into the semifinals for the sixth straight season. The Monarchs will play host to St. Bernard (20-7) on Wednesday night at either UC Irvine's Bren Center or Chapman College's Hutton Sports Center.
Edison (17-11) had beaten some of the top teams in the Southern Section this year. Among the Chargers' upset victims were Capistrano Valley, Long Beach Millikan and St. Anthony. But the Chargers had difficulty playing its game against Mater Dei.
"We seemed to be out of sync all night with the exception of a short spurt to open the third quarter," said Jon Borchert, Edison coach. "They were very physical and much stronger inside."
The Chargers were playing without point guard Dirk Paul, who contracted mononucleosis Monday. Paul was averaging 7.2 assists per game. Paul's absence meant that the Chargers were missing their best penetrating guard, and they were forced to shoot the majority of their shots from the perimeter.
Edison made only 19 of 52 shots as Mater Dei effectively mixed an extending matchup zone to contain the Chargers' three-point shooters with a man-to-man defense that cut off the inside game.
Edison made only 3 of 14 shots from behind the three-point line and its best outside shooter, Alvin Loftis, scored only two points. Afterward, Borchert was reluctant to blame the loss on Paul's absence.
"I would rather credit Mater Dei and the great job they did defensively than to say we lost because Dirk Paul was sick," he said. "You have to play with what you've got."
Mater Dei took control midway through the second quarter on a pair of three-point shots by guard Dylan Rigdon. The Monarchs held a 24-13 lead after Rigdon hit his second three-pointer and had a seven-point lead at halftime.
Edison managed to keep the game close when forward Mike Hunter livened up play with a couple of nice moves, driving past Mater Dei's Kevin Rembert for six points in the third quarter.
Mater Dei held off Edison in the last quarter by making 10 of 16 free throws as any chance of another Edison upset had vanished.
Afterward, Gary McKnight, Mater Dei coach, credited his team's defense and said the Monarchs are better than their record.
"It's not fair to judge us by our record," he said. "Look at the people we've played. All those good teams we played in the preseason have gotten us ready for the playoffs.
"It's going to be tough to beat St. Bernard a third time. They're an excellent team. But don't sell us short. We don't have an outstanding player, but I think the fact that we're so balanced and play good defense is what makes us good."