Before Dick Katz began coaching the Westminster girls' basketball team, it had a procession of coaches--one a year for eight years. The only continuity in the program was its lack of continuity, helping account for a 1-99 record prior to Katz's arrival.
Westminster went 4-16 during Katz's first season and has improved steadily, going 7-16, 10-15 and now 14-9. Being in the Golden West League instead of the brutal Sunset League has helped the record this season, but the improvement is apparent.
Katz, however, credits senior post player Amber Farroux, not himself, with the turnaround. Farroux was a freshman on the varsity his first season.
"Where would we be without her?" Katz said. "Our goal was to change this program and gain some respect. She's the leader on the court and off. Her work ethic is excellent, and the other players saw that. There's no doubt she's the reason for the turnaround of this program.
"Now we have girls coming up through the lower levels who are having a positive experience."
In other words, girls who aren't losing all the time. And Farroux is averaging 15 points and nine rebounds. The Lions are two games out of first place with two games to play--including Thursday's game against league-leader Ocean View.
"We've never been in this situation at Westminster," Katz said. "These girls (including another four-year varsity member, April Ramirez) remember three years ago, they remember the 40- and 50-point losses, and they're very focused on what has never been done at Westminster--win a girls' basketball league championship. This group has made that their goal."
In its first year of operation, Fairmont, is 7-1 in girls' basketball. Although the Huskies are Division V-A, they had a Brea-like week; they won their three varsity games last week by a combined score of 171-13. Fairmont, competing against schools similar in size to its 70-student population, defeated Long Beach Praise Temple twice, 61-4, 53-3, and Walnut Christian Chapel, 57-6.
"It looks like we're running up the score, but we're really not trying to," Coach Scott Eskelson said. "We just have more talent than they do. We only have six girls--it's not like we can play with four."
The Huskies won't be in the playoffs, though; they didn't play enough varsity games to qualify.
Trabuco Hills' Rob Warnick might have good vision on the court, but, on the trail, he's far from 20/20.
Warnick, an Eagle Scout, took a group of his teammates on a nature hike a few weeks back. The results took a little time to heal.
Everyone, including Warnick, came down with a rash, thanks to some poison oak Warnick led them through. They've played with the condition for the last five games.
"Some Eagle Scout," Coach Rainer Wulf said. "He can't even recognize poison oak."
For those with their eyes on the Southern Section basketball playoffs, qualifying isn't as hard as you might think. Nor is it that easy.
There are 10 division brackets--I-AA and I-A all the way down to V-AA and V-A--and each bracket will have as many as 32 teams. If a team finishes in the top half of its league, it automatically qualifies for the playoffs.
If the brackets need further filling out, wild-card teams will be selected by section administrators. A team has to win at least 10 games to be eligible, and among the deciding factors are overall record and strength of opponents. Usually there are six to 12 wild-card teams in each bracket.
Teams from the same leagues do not necessarily participate in the same playoff bracket. Placement is based on enrollment. For example, Tustin plays in Division II-A while fellow Golden West League member Servite plays in Division III-AA.
All leagues must report their final standings after Friday's games. If there is a tie, and the league determines a playoff is needed, those games must be completed by 5 p.m. Saturday. The section will announce the boys' pairings on Sunday and the girls' pairings on Monday.
In addition, boys' and girls' soccer and wrestling pairings will be announced Monday.
There's no doubt about the pivotal game of the season for two girls' basketball teams in the Orange League. Western was two games over .500 a few weeks ago and trailed Magnolia (which was 13-3) by six points entering the fourth quarter; the Pioneers outscored the Sentinels, 19-0, to win. Western's victory pulled it into a second-place tie with Magnolia at 4-1 in the Orange League; the teams are still tied (at 5-3) and play tonight at Western with a probable automatic playoff berth on the line. This time, it's Magnolia (15-6, 5-3) that's in a must-win situation because it plays unbeaten Brea Olinda (22-2, 8-0) on Thursday while Western (11-8, 5-3) plays winless Anaheim (3-15, 0-8).
Pacifica's 37-35 victory over Garden Grove assured that for the second consecutive year, the Garden Grove League girls' basketball champion would not go unbeaten--in marked contrast to previous years. The league champion had been undefeated the previous eight seasons; La Quinta was unbeaten the first four years, Rancho Alamitos the next four years. La Quinta and Rancho Alamitos tied last year with one loss.
Pacifica tries hard to recruit young fans. Before every boys' basketball home game, as the starters are announced, they go into the stands and give a youngster a team shirt.
"We want to be a part of the community," Pacifica Coach Bob Becker said. "It's kind of like Brea Olinda, where you have all those little girls who want to grow up to be Ladycats."
Times staff writers Chris Foster and Mike Terry contributed to this story.