The preseason consensus was that Channel Islands High would run away with the girls' basketball title in the Marmonte League. But after the season's halfway point, it's been the speed of Thousand Oaks that has dominated play.
Still, any of 3 other teams could capture the crown.
Defending league champion Thousand Oaks was tied with Camarillo at 5-1 entering Tuesday's games. Channel Islands was one game back at 4-2 and Simi Valley was 3-3.
The Lancers were expected to have a down year after losing to Buena in the quarterfinals of the Southern Section 4-A Division playoffs. Center Barbara Tanner, the school's all-time leading scorer, and fellow All-County players Lina Mascarenas and Kris Pederson were lost to graduation.
But the void has been ably filled with the increased playing time of Shani Smyth and the transfer of Michelle Palmisano.
Smyth has proven to be more dangerous with the ball than Tanner, averaging 21.1 points a game. Palmisano has been the team's second-leading scorer with a 13.8 average, second in rebounds (7), second in assists (4.3) and first in recoveries (5.2).
Smyth has already set a school single-game scoring record with 39 points. Thousand Oaks Coach Chuck Brown said Smyth, who has scored 423 points in 20 games, needs less than 10 points to become the school's all-time leading scorer.
"I expected this type of performance from Shani," Brown said. "I think Michelle Palmisano coming in and playing so well has made us a first-place team."
In addition to their scoring abilities, Smyth and Palmisano have made the Lancers faster.
"When we play a real fast-tempo game, most teams haven't been able to keep up with us," Brown said. "If we slow down at all and walk the ball up the court, we'll get beat."
Last-second heartache: Down by 2 points with a second to play in a boys' basketball game last week, Hueneme's attempt to beat San Marcos was a touch short of perfection.
After setting up a play during a timeout, Mike Spears caught a length-of-the-court pass from Mike Wolfe and appeared to make a 3-foot shot at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
But the referees, after much discussion, disallowed the basket because of offensive interference. Jessie May of Hueneme apparently touched the ball as it was entering the basket. San Marcos won, 52-50.
"I was very upset at the time," said Hueneme Coach Howard Davis, whose team dropped to 4-10 overall and 1-6 in league play. "The referees gave me three explanations about why the shot should be disallowed. It was probably a good call."
Let's get physical: Bryant Taylor and Johnel Turner have shed their protective football gear for basketball tank tops, but they didn't leave behind their aggressive behavior.
"They're two mean guys on the basketball court," Oxnard Coach Danny Garcia said. "They're not afraid of body contract when they go up for a rebound. They set hard screens and they aggressively fight through them. They're not too worried about finesse."
Taylor's 14 points and 10 rebounds and Turner's 13 points and 8 rebounds led Oxnard to an upset of Santa Barbara on Friday. "I think some opposing players have been intimidated by them underneath the basket," Garcia said.
Still scoring: Senior guard Joannie Weinerth proved she can run Buena's offense and still post some impressive scoring totals.
Some felt Weinerth's point total would tail off when she moved from off guard to point guard after Lianne Ishikawa suffered a season-ending ankle injury 2 weeks ago.
But Weinerth, who is averaging 19.3 points a game, scored 19 against Hueneme, 24 against Dos Pueblos and 14 against Ventura--all Buena victories. She's also averaging between 6 and 7 assists a game for Buena.
"Obviously it took some adjustment after playing off guard her whole career," Coach Joe Vaughan said. "Joannie had to learn how to control the tempo of the game and read defenses. But she has this inner will to win. It's not always pretty from a basketball purist standpoint, but she gets the job done."
Doctoring their shots: Fillmore (7-9, 0-4) has lost 4 in a row, including its Tri-Valley League opener in double-overtime to Oak Park. Coach Jim Fauver blames undependable scoring efforts from his starters.
"We're not consistent," Fauver said. "We can't count on anyone to score in double figures."
Randy Hunt, who had averaged 10.7 points a game, scored only 2 against Bishop Diego. Robby Ibarra, who also had a 10.7 average, had 1 point against Carpinteria.
"I think they're trying too hard," Fauver added. "We're playing like it's brain surgery. We have to go out and make it fun again. It's not the end of the world if we lose."
Another record win: St. Bonaventure (11-5, 4-0) extended its school record for consecutive league victories with its 17th in a row last week.
Brian Bass hit a 12-foot jump shot with 5 seconds left to give the Seraphs a 47-46 victory Friday over Oak Park.
Bass had 14 points, Rich Slyker 13 and Kevin Zoll 12 as the Seraphs also upset Bishop Diego.