Followers of Western State Conference men's basketball may be a bit shocked when they glance over the current standings.
Few observers expected Ventura and Oxnard to be tied for fourth in the Northern Division with 3-2 records. But following weekend losses, that's exactly where they find themselves entering Wednesday's games.
Ventura dropped a 107-101 decision to division-leading L.A. Valley on Saturday night to fall further from its goal of winning the conference title. The Pirates are 17-8 overall.
Oxnard's mark is something of a pleasant surprise, considering the Condors lost two of their top players to injuries before the season started. The team nearly moved into sole possession of second place Saturday night, but fell, 64-63, to Santa Monica to force the tie with Ventura.
Oxnard beat Ventura two weeks ago, 70-62.
"Considering where we were two months ago, I'd have to say we're pretty happy with the way things have gone," said Oxnard Coach Remy McCarthy, whose team is 12-9 overall. "But we have to sustain our play if we're to keep going. This is a very tough conference."
The sentiment is less enthusiastic at Ventura, where Coach Phil Mathews is disappointed by his team's conference showing.
"We expect to have a good season every year," said Mathews, whose teams have won four division, two conference and one state title in the past four years. "Our goals this year were to do good in preseason, make a run for the division title and get a good seed in the state playoffs. We haven't achieved all of those goals yet."
Ventura is facing an uphill battle in its quest for the division title, with first-place Valley at 6-0. Mathews said the Pirates haven't been able to click on offense and that the "defense is just not playing hard enough.".
Freshman standout Lester Neal, a 6-foot-6 center, is averaging 17 points a game for the Pirates. Sophomore guard Terrance Lamb is averaging 11. But they have been the only two bright spots.
Oxnard found itself in trouble as the season began when starting center Andy Beltowski (back surgery) and guard Gary Hunter (ruptured Achilles tendon) were lost for the season. The Condors couldn't replace Beltowski, but forward Randy Carter has helped fill some of the void by averaging 25 points and nine rebounds a game. Guard Art Santana has sparkled from the outside, averaging 11 points a game.
"Those injuries didn't leave us with much depth," McCarthy said. "When you lose 40% of your lineup, it hurts."
Ventura plays host to Oxnard on Feb. 12.