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THE TIMES' 1995 ALL-COUNTY BASKETBALL TEAMS : Ball Bounces Gottlieb's, Peterson's Way : Girls: Mater Dei junior averaged 23.6 points and 4.8 assists.

March 21, 1995|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — She whizzes and whirls on the basketball court, a twisting, tumbling blur of red and white.

Melody Peterson has flair and panache, and she has talent.

And she is The Times Orange County player of the year.

There's no shortage of adjectives to describe Peterson, a junior who is Mater Dei's best shooter, dribbler, passer and--maybe--rebounder.

She deservedly gets much of the credit for Mater Dei's success, and it's easy to understand why--apart from her 23.6 points and 4.8 assists per game.

Her mere presence on the court creates bedlam within opponents. The heart beats a little faster, the adrenaline flows a little quicker, because there's always that threat--and often it becomes reality--that she's going to blow past them on her way to the basket.

Or she's going to pull up and nail a three-pointer.

Or pick the ballhandler blind and start the fast break.

Or . . . well, it's impossible to know just exactly what she's going to do because she keeps doing things on the court most fans are only accustomed to seeing in varsity boys' games.

Peterson has blurred the line between the sexes. A crowd can appreciate her skills as much as it can a Doug Gottleib or Ali Ton.

She led the county in "Oooohs" and "Aaaaaahs" and behind-the-back dribbling.

She has quick hands and feet and she has the interest of some of the top collegiate programs in the nation. She should be able to pick and choose which team she wants to help get to the Final Four.

But first, she'll have to finish high school. She still has her senior year ahead of her.

A week before Saturday's State championship game, Atherton Sacred Heart Coach Mike Ciardella paid Peterson the ultimate compliment.

"She's probably the best athlete we've faced this year," he said, "and we've played some pretty good teams."

They've played Brea Olinda and Fountain Valley, among others.

And most in the coaching community readily admit Peterson is more physically gifted than her predecessor, two-time player of the year Nicole Erickson from Brea Olinda.

Peterson's coach, Mary Hauser, knows the value of a great player, having been one at Mater Dei.

"Teams have to worry about her constantly on the court, whether she's on offense or defense, because she's so good at so many things," Hauser said. "If you leave other players open or available to do things, those kids will hurt you. But just being on the court, she creates other opportunities for the other kids."

That's right, she creates scoring opportunities, and isn't that what the game is all about?

Sometimes she creates those opportunities for herself, such as the night Mater Dei overcame a 10-point deficit and beat Marina, 69-62, and Peterson scored 19 points in one quarter.

Or the night Mater Dei trailed Mission Hills Alemany by 19 with two minutes left in the third, and Peterson scored 19 of the Monarchs' next 29 points--including the last 10--in a 56-52 victory.

It's the stuff of legends, or at least, players of the year.

"She's entertaining--people love to watch her play," said Hauser, who is among them. "They get mesmerized by the things she can do. I think that draws interest to the program."

Peterson has certainly helped the girls' basketball program step out of the shadow of the monolith known as the boys' program.

The Monarchs often go the way Peterson goes, and their record--28-2--indicates Peterson goes pretty well most of the time.

She has learned how to take over a game and she's learned to play within the Mater Dei system--a sign of maturity that was lacking last year. She's no longer out of control, but competes within the team structure.

"When she's playing well, she sparks the rest of the team," Hauser said. "When she's got her confidence, so does the rest of the team."

And she has her confidence most of the time. All you have to do is watch her play to know that.

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