SANTA ANA — Leticia Oseguera dropped the basketball and gazed at the large scarlet and gray banners adorning the walls of the Mater Dei High gym.
Oseguera was exhausted after a practice for the Mater Dei girls' basketball team, but she could not bring herself to leave. She studied every aspect of the banners, which are testaments to the supremacy of Mater Dei boys' basketball.
She was filled with envy.
"Everyone always goes to the boys' games and gives them a lot of support," Oseguera said. "I go to some of the games too, and I'm real happy for them, but I thought about how different it is for us.
"I wondered if some people even know we have a girls' team. I just wished we could play for championships like they do."
Sometimes wishes do come true.
Led by Oseguera, their standout senior center, the Monarchs play for their first Southern Section title tonight. Mater Dei meets defending-champion Ventura Buena in the Division I-A final at Ventura College. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30.
Oseguera no longer longs for fan support.
"This is so exciting," Oseguera said. "Before, only our family and friends came out to watch us, but now the stands are full at a lot of our games.
"It's fun to have people out there rooting for you . . . to have people in school who know your name. The boys have stuff like this happen to them all the time, but this is something really new to us."
Success in boys' basketball at Mater Dei is as common as the jump shot. The Monarchs have won nine section titles and two State titles in the past 11 seasons.
Coach Mary Hauser said that if the Monarch girls are to raise their first championship banner, Oseguera must lead them.
"People are now saying, 'Wow, Mater Dei really does have a good girls' basketball team too,' " Hauser said, "and Leticia has been a big reason for that.
"You couldn't ask anything else of a kid. She's been the leader I expected her to be and more."
The role is one to which Oseguera has grown accustomed.
"Coach told me before the season that she needed me to be a leader because we were going to have a lot of young players on the team," Oseguera said. "There is always room for improvement, but I think I've done a good job."
Facts are facts.
Oseguera leads the South Coast League-champion Monarchs (24-3) in scoring and rebounding with averages of 18.4 and 8.4, respectively. Last season, Oseguera averaged 16 points and led the county in rebounding (16.4).
Hauser said that Oseguera's decline in rebounding is not a negative.
"Leticia improved her shooting and we have other people who can rebound this season, so she doesn't have to do as much," Hauser said. "She really has worked very hard to improve her overall game."
Buena Coach Joe Vaughan is also an Oseguera admirer.
"She is a very good player," Vaughan said. "She has good moves in the post and she goes to the basket well."
Cerritos saw Oseguera's complete repertoire in the semifinals--and was not pleased.
Oseguera was scoreless in the first half, spending much of it on the bench because of foul trouble. But she took control after the break, scoring 18 of Mater Dei's 25 second-half points in leading the team to a 65-62 victory.
"I'm so proud of what our team has done this season," Oseguera said. "We all worked together to pull off something that we've never done before.
"No matter what happens (against Buena), I'm going to take a lot of good memories from my senior year."