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Mission Accomplished--Muir Girls Make Up for Last Year, Win Title : Prep basketball: They came within a game last season. This year the Mustangs have reason to celebrate.

March 08, 1990|MITCH POLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was moments after her team had won the CIF Southern Section 4-AA Division girls basketball championship and Rose Jong, senior point guard for Muir High of Pasadena, could not contain her jubilation.

First, she ran up to Coach Mel Sims and gave him a hug. Then, after a few assorted hugs with teammates, she went behind the team bench and celebrated with Stacie Gravely--who had fallen a game short of a title playing on last year's team.

For Jong and the Mustangs, winning basketball games was old hat but winning championships was something special.

Muir had appeared in Southern Section title games five of the last seven seasons. Only this was the first time that the Mustangs had come away as champions.

"They were on a mission this year," second-year coach Mel Sims said. "They wanted to be the first (girls) team at Muir to ever win a title."

In the past, that had proven to be a difficult task for Muir to accomplish. In the 1980s, the Mustangs had come close four times and then lost.

On the first three occasions, from 1984 to 1986, the Mustangs even had the services of twin sisters Pauline and Geannine Jordan--who are now starring for NCAA Division I power Nevada-Las Vegas.

The Mustangs lost by scores of 48-41 to Buena in 1984, 50-42 to Compton in 1985 and 54-52 in overtime to Lynwood in 1986.

After a two-year hiatus, Muir returned to the championship game last season only to drop a 54-48 decision to Katella in the final.

At the start of the season, with the graduation of top players such as center Lisa Salsman and forward Stacie Gravely, Sims said there was a shadow of a doubt as to whether or not the Mustangs could even reach the final this season.

"That's your greatest fear," Sims said. "You wonder if you're ever going to get back there again because there's so many things that can happen that can cause you to lose a basketball game."

Jong said despite the loss of Salsman and Gravely, she was optimistic about her team's chances at the start of the season.

"I thought we could win it and I knew we had the talent," she said. "We just had to have the desire and really want it."

Unlike past Muir teams that had reached the finals, Sims said this was not a team that was bursting with talent.

"I thought those teams with the Jordans and Tasha Bradley just had great personnel," Sims said. "Those were teams with All-Americans on them. These are just a bunch of no-names. I think this was the greatest group of over- achievers we've ever had here."

Without a dominating inside player such as Salsman, who is a freshman at Arizona State University, the coach said he had to alter his approach at the start of this season.

"We had to change our philosophy a bit," he said. "With Salsman we were a powerful inside team. With this group, we were more of a defensive-minded team."

It didn't hurt to have a little persistence, either.

"They had a chance to fold up against Gahr, Riverside North and Ventura and they didn't do it," Sims said. "The kids just wouldn't let it happen."

Muir had advanced to the title game by defeating Camarillo (65-50), Gahr (40-36) and Riverside North (59-55)--coming from behind for wins in the last two.

So when the Mustangs advanced to the title game against Ventura last week, Jong said the team was determined not to let another opportunity for a championship slip away.

"I was going to do everything in my power to help us win," she said. "It was my last chance to win (a title) so I thought I might as well do everything to win and just go all out and I did."

The Mustangs wound up winning by a 56-49 margin and Sims said he couldn't have asked for anything more from Jong, a 5-2 All-Southern Section performer last season who had 24 points, five assists and five rebounds and made four three-point baskets.

"Rose is the type of player that when things get down and dirty she rises to the top," Sims said. "There are not a lot of players that can do that."

The Mustangs also received a good shooting effort from forward Karin Banks--another starter from last season. Banks finished with 16 points, mostly on outside jumpers.

"She's just a pure shooter and her job is to be on the wing and knock down the open jumper and that's just what she did," he said.

In winning the championship, Sims said the team didn't think a lot about past disappointments that the program had experienced in title games.

"To be honest, we really weren't a part of that past," he said. "So it was more like, 'Let's win it for ourselves.' Winning the championship was for myself and the ladies."

Sims said it ranks with his biggest accomplishments as a coach, along with when he was an assistant college coach in 1978.

"It's the biggest with the exception of coaching at Cal State Fullerton when they went to the nationals and got to the quarterfinals," he said. "That team was identical to this team. It was a bunch of no-name players who just came together and played."

That is what Sims says makes winning a CIF title even more special. It is also why he said he will not be disappointed if the team does not go on to win the state title. The state playoffs started Tuesday night.

"It's like somebody said to me, 'If you win the CIF title that's the main thing," Sims said. "Everything else is icing on the cake. If we go on to win the state (tournament) it will be a big thrill but it will in no way diminish our winning the state title."

The coach doesn't want a loss in the state tournament to take away from his school's long-awaited first championship.

Banks says the biggest weight has already been lifted from her shoulders.

"It's a big relief," she said. "At least now I can leave school saying I won a CIF championship at Muir High School."

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