If Frontier League followers are growing weary of Santa Clara High's dominance the past decade, they'll be exhausted Feb. 9 when the Saints will probably capture their 11th league title in 12 years.
Santa Clara, the defending state 2-A champion, has yet to be challenged this season. The top-ranked Saints (8-0) have beaten larger schools, including Simi Valley and Santa Barbara--the Marmonte and Channel League preseason favorites. Santa Clara beat Simi Valley by 41 points and Santa Barbara by 16.
Lou Cvijanovich was somewhat apprehensive because of his team's inexperience at the start of the season, but the Saints' prayers are still being answered after a 27-3 year that included a 78-54 win over Orange Lutheran for the state title.
"I feel real good about the potential of this team," said Cvijanovich, who earned his 600th coaching win Dec. 11 with its 72-56 win over Santa Barbara.
"The kids are busting their butts and, even though they're young, they have good ability."
Few people have ever questioned the ability of Santa Clara's players, especially the skills of players such as Shon Tarver. Tarver, a 6-foot-5 senior who is only 16 years old and is among the more-recruited players in the nation, was the Division IV Player of the Year and a first-team all-state selection. Tarver is averaging 29.5 points a game, and scored a school-record 44 against Santa Barbara.
"The big advantage they have over us is Tarver," said Nordhoff Coach Dick Sebek, whose team is among the league's elite. "Not many players in the state are as good as he is. You have to give credit to their other players, but he can dominate."
Those other players are returning lettermen Bruce Howarth, a 5-9 senior point guard who is a captain along with Tarver, Anthony Maestas (6-2 junior forward) and Evan Swanger (6-2 junior forward). Add four talented sophomores in Art Barron (5-9), Chris Cole (6-4), Isiah Mustafa (6-2) and Stevie Amar (6-4), and the remaining coaches are left to devise plans to win the battle for second place.
"We have good size, excellent speed, and a superstar," Cvijanovich said. "So it's no wonder they are picking us to win it. They're trying to put the pressure on us, and it's stupid. It just helps us."
The only bad news floating around Friedrich Pavilion this season--and it's relegated to whispers when discussed at all--are the sanctions handed down by the CIF Southern Section after Santa Clara refused to return to the South Coast Christmas tournament at Estancia High in Costa Mesa.
Cvijanovich, upset with the officiating in a 39-38 loss to Edison, refused to return to the tournament for two consolation games that Santa Clara eventually forfeited. In March the CIF ruled Santa Clara broke its tournament contract and barred the Saints' varsity, sophomore and freshman teams from competing in any tournaments this season. Santa Clara also had to pay restitution of about $900 for officials, loss of gate receipts and loss of snack-bar revenues.
Cvijanovich said the $900 was an exaggerated estimate, and said tournament officials broke the contract by using local referees. Santa Clara, barred from tournaments, has been forced to schedule nonleague games as far away as San Diego and Antelope Valley. On their way back from San Diego, the Saints stopped by Quartz Hill on Tuesday for a 57-51 win, concluding a four-day, 500-mile journey.
"It's rough on the kids, but we'll survive," Cvijanovich said. "It was just a bad experience."
Cvijanovich, who is 604-202 during 37 years of coaching, doesn't dwell on the subject. He is more concerned with developing a young squad and fighting potential challenges from Agoura and Nordhoff, which tied for second place last year at 7-3.
Agoura is led by junior point guard Sean Martin, a first-team all-league choice who averaged 16.2 points. The Chargers are quick, and hope to run and press their way to another 4-AA playoff berth.
But Agoura will find a challenge in Nordhoff, which returns three all-league starters.
Rob Fournier (5-10 senior guard) averaged 10.3 points and Trevor Taylor (6-2 senior forward) averaged 17 points and were first-team selections. Junior Tim Sebek, Coach Dick Sebek's son, averaged 12.6 points and was named to the second team.
"They are the mainstays of our squad," Dick Sebek said.
Nordhoff's tallest player is 6-3, so the Rangers will rely on a fast-paced offense and aggressive defense in their bid for a fifth playoff berth in six seasons. Sebek compares this year's team with the 1985 squad that lost in the Southern Section semifinals.
"I've always felt that this was the group to come along," he said. "It's a good situation for us."
Nordhoff will discover just how good almost immediately; The Rangers open league play Jan. 5 at Santa Clara.
"We'll have to be ready to go right away," Sebek said. "We'll know right away if we can compete."
Eight players return from a Calabasas team that finished fourth at 4-6. The Coyotes are led by Jim Friedlander, a first-team all-league selection who averaged 12.5 points as a forward last year but has moved to point guard.
Santa Paula and Santa Ynez will attempt to avoid the cellar. Santa Paula, which was 0-10 in league play and 1-19 overall, is led by Danny Lona (5-8 senior), Everett Corona (6-0 senior), Jaime Medrano (6-0 senior) and Jason Acosta (5-11 junior).
Santa Ynez, 2-8 in league play and 3-17 overall, is led by Mike Scott (6-2 senior, 11.7 points) and Matt Halme (5-11 senior, 10.3).