Despite the flurry of holiday tournaments, at least one person in Orange County is already looking forward to December 1996.
Brea Olinda girls' basketball Coach Jeff Sink, who admits his team is pointed toward next season, has managed to land the fourth-ranked Ladycats in The Great Eight tournament in Pickerington, Ohio.
Pickerington was the No. 1-ranked team in the nation two years ago when it lost its final game, enabling Brea Olinda to assume the mythical national title on the day it won its fourth consecutive state championship.
"It's great exposure--they try to bring in eight of the best teams around," said Sink, who is beginning his second season at Brea. "Regardless of your chances, if you have a reasonably good team, and you want to get better, I think you need to showcase your talent and have other talent showcased to your kids. I think that's why everyone flocked to Las Vegas this year. We were thrilled to play Oregon City [in the finals]. It was a great motivational tool for our kids, for our four juniors who start, who came back rejuvenated and ready to work."
Oregon City (Ore.), ranked No. 1 in the nation, won the tournament; Woodbridge (then ranked No. 1 in Orange County) and Edison (ranked No. 5) were the other two semifinalists.
"I'm sure Mater Dei went to Texas for the same reason," Sink said. "The top programs realize the mutual benefit to their players' future of being showcased to college scouts, and the program itself, which realizes it's not the center of the universe just because it plays in the Orange League.
"It allows kids to see that they have to stretch, that they can't be complacent because there are other kids out there with enormous talent. It's fun, it's scary . . . but I think the good programs demand it."
One team that did that this season is fifth-ranked Laguna Hills, which stepped up in competition at the Marina tournament, reached the championship game after victories over El Dorado, Marina and Ocean View, and established itself as one of the county's best teams after years of playing an average schedule.
With 17 seconds left in a girls' basketball game, and host Aliso Niguel holding a 46-45 lead, Loara's Paola Flores went to the free-throw line. Then the scorer's table buzzed the horn for a substitute player. The horn didn't go off. After 20 minutes of trying to fix the horn, the game was moved to an auxiliary gym on campus. So Flores, 30 minutes after the foul, hit the second of her free throws to tie the score.
On the ensuing inbounds pass, an Aliso Niguel player stepped over the end line, giving Loara possession. The Saxons got the ball to Flores, who then scored the game-winning basket with eight seconds left in a 48-46 victory. Flores finished with 18 points.
"They're a new school and they found a new way to ice the shooter," joked Loara Coach Vicki Mallett. "You'd think with all that money, they'd have a horn that works."
The Saxons, who won only three games in the two seasons before Mallett's arrival, won seven games last year and already have won nine this season.
Geoff Abrams, one of the top junior tennis players in the nation who recently signed with Stanford, will return to Newport Harbor High for the last semester of his senior year, his mother Nancy Abrams said.
Abrams, who recently won the U.S. Tennis Assn. boys' 18 Indoors tournament in Dallas, has been attending Palmer Tennis Academy in Tampa, Fla., for the last year.
Nancy Abrams said Geoff will play high school tennis for Newport Harbor on a limited basis. Abrams is a close friend of Newport Harbor Coach Charlie (Tex) Bleiker.
"He wants to graduate with his friends and do some of the normal things kids do," Nancy Abrams said. "I think Geoff would enjoy playing Ojai."
Nancy Abrams said her son is not sure if he will play in the Southern Section individual tournament.
One of Orange County's premier wrestling events begins Friday at Fountain Valley High.
Five Counties, perhaps the second-best wrestling event in the state next to the state finals, has always attracted California' best. But top-ranked Calvary Chapel has decided to bypass Five Counties this year for the first USA Today Reno Invitational.
The Reno tournament, in theory, is supposed to include the top three teams from each state. Defending California champion San Jose Independence will be there, as will Bakersfield.
Despite the absence of California's top three teams, Five Counties still promises a top-notch affair with many of California's best wrestlers competing.
"It's still going to be a great contest," El Modena Coach Alan Clinton said. "There's still going to be a lot of great schools there, and I can't think of a better way for our guys to test themselves before state finals."
However, Coach Joe Marks of second-ranked Anaheim is not as enthused about the tournament as Clinton is.