Even Buena High basketball Coach Glen Hannah conceded his team's appearance in a Southern Section Division I-A semifinal game (a 68-49 loss to Mater Dei) was a surprise. Buena was picked to finish fifth in the Channel League in a preseason poll of the league's coaches.
Buena (23-5) finished with a summer-league record near .500, losing twice to Hueneme, which finished sixth in the Channel League this season. Buena also lost to Santa Paula, a Division III-A team, and Dos Pueblos, which finished 2-12 in league play and 7-17 overall.
Hannah himself was guarded in a preseason interview.
"This year we thought we'd be pretty good, and we still think we'll be good," Hannah said. "But it just depends on how things fit together."
The Bulldogs came together like a jigsaw puzzle and won the league title with a 13-1 record. Hannah said the Bulldog players have mystified him since they were freshmen, overcoming injuries and defections with ease.
"When that group first came in, we knew there was a lot of talent there," Hannah said.
"But one of them moved away, another is a swimmer and another kid isn't playing anymore."
Gone are Joel Gustafson, Chris Stacey and Matt Bortolin.
Gustafson (6-foot-5), was 6-3 when he led the freshman team in scoring in the 1988-89 season but concentrated on swimming as a sophomore.
Stacey led the junior varsity in scoring as a sophomore in 1989-90 but moved to Michigan shortly thereafter. Bortolin, who lettered as a junior last season, elected not to play this season.
Of that freshman group, only Lance Fay, Nick Houchin, Russell Rose and Andy Saint remain. Fay leads players in the region with an average of 29.4 points a game and has won four games with baskets at the buzzer. Saint, who missed last season because of a knee injury, averaged 19 points and 15.3 rebounds in three playoff wins.
"We felt good about them, but surely not this good," Hannah said.
There was so much talent in the freshman group that David Guenther did not make the freshman team.
In a I-A quarterfinal Friday, Guenther hit two three-point baskets in the fourth quarter of a 64-63 win over Pasadena. Guenther, a backup guard, was left alone when Pasadena's defense keyed on Fay.
Guenther's first three-point basket broke a 49-49 tie with 6 minutes 27 seconds left and his second extended Buena's lead to 57-51 with 5:45 left.
"Yeah, we were real smart when we cut him as a freshman," Hannah quipped.
Perhaps it is only coincidence that Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley highs, the top boys' basketball teams from the Marmonte League, demonstrated similar failings in bowing out of the Southern Section playoffs.
Or perhaps it is telling that teams that can jump and run are bringing home Southern Section hardware while slower-paced, conservative teams such as the Lancers and Pioneers simply bring home bruises.
Thousand Oaks ran into a juggernaut in Riverside North, which handed the Lancers a 60-53 loss in the second round of the I-A playoffs.
Simi Valley encountered a similar team in Long Beach Jordan, which dealt the Pioneers a 77-61 loss in the quarterfinals of the I-AA playoffs.
In both cases, the local teams gave away considerable quickness and jumping ability.
"It takes a lot of adjusting," Thousand Oaks Coach Ed Chevalier said. "We were an adjustment for North because we were patient and we were getting the ball inside. But it was a bigger adjustment for us, because it's tough to prepare for that kind of quickness."
Coaches can teach chest passes, jump stops, offensive execution and defensive position. But few have designed drills to produce dramatic changes in a player's quickness or jumping ability.
"If it's those kinds of teams that you have to beat to win a (Southern Section) championship, then we've got to do some different things to prepare for them," Chevalier said.
Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks rarely play against up-tempo teams. Many City Section schools employ that style but scheduling conflicts discourage matchups.
And when they do meet, the games are played nearly two months before the playoffs, during tournaments in December.
Although Simi Valley handed Fremont one of its three defeats (entering the playoffs) at the Simi Valley tournament in December, the Pioneers lost last Friday to a team with superior athletic ability. Two seasons ago, Long Beach Poly ran and jumped over Simi Valley in a quarterfinal.
"One thing we can do is play those kinds of teams in the summer," Chevalier said. "There's really nobody in Ventura County who is like those clubs. You'd have to get into those City teams, like North Hollywood."
North Hollywood competed in the Simi Valley tournament but did not play the host school.
"You can have those kinds of teams, but you're not guaranteed to play them," Chevalier said.
Another possible solution struck Chevalier as he watched North create problems for the Lancers.
"You can practice against six defenders," he said, "because there were times against North when it seemed like they had six players out there."