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1996-97 GIRLS' BASKETBALL PREVIEW

Back on Top : Brea Olinda Ready to Reclaim Its Status as the Premier Program

December 10, 1996|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Timing is everything.

When Jeff Sink arrived at Brea Olinda from Alaska two seasons ago, he inherited a dynasty, a girls' basketball program that had won four consecutive state titles and had just been named national champion by USA Today.

The Ladycats haven't been on top since--not even in the county rankings, where Woodbridge became queen of girls' basketball.

That changes today.

Sure, Brea won two Southern Section titles in the interim, but section titles are fairly common on Wildcat Way. The Ladycats have won eight straight. And they haven't gone three years without a state title since 1988. There have been five since then, including four in a row leading up to 1994's state championship banner. It seems the only standard Brea's program can measure itself by is statewide. Or nationally.

And that's where the timing comes in. Brea has four starters back from last year's team, which finished a game short--for the second consecutive year--of reaching the state final.

And it doesn't stop there.

Joining Rochelle Anthony, Marissa Bradley, Jennifer Saari and Stephanie Wettlin are:

* A 6-foot-2 1/2 freshman with skill, Chelsea Trotter.

* A sophomore who started almost one-third of the team's games, Lindsey Davidson.

* A reserve who was among the leading shooters in the county, Erin Kelly (47.3%).

* A reserve defensive specialist whose 12 points, six rebounds, six steals and three assists sparked a come-from-behind victory in a state playoff game, Catherine Solorio.

It's easy to see why Sink's shoes would be pretty comfortable on any pair of feet. He knew the Ladycats would be good, but he didn't think they would be this good.

Ranked No. 1 by The Times Orange County Edition, they open the season at No. 7 in Street & Smith's national rankings and No. 8 in USA Today. Tournaments were already scheduled to give the Ladycats national exposure and every opportunity to rise even higher. All they have to do is win.

Timing is everything.

Less than 90 seconds into the Green and Gold game, the intrasquad scrimmage played before boosters, Trotter went down, maybe for the season, with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Another reserve, sophomore Cory Wink, already had strained her knee 60 minutes into the first day of practice and will miss the first month.

And so, eight days before the Ladycats play their first game, Sink cuts loose with the sarcasm: "We've had a great first week."

This is Brea Olinda basketball, where winning is inherent, as is the pressure.

But if the players thought they had something to prove in the past, escaping the shadow of the Nicole Erickson era (130-5, four state titles, No. 1 national ranking), they are feeling right at home now, comfortable atop the Orange County heap.

They are pushing themselves harder than ever. "Instead of wanting to live up to the tradition," Anthony says, "we want to do it for ourselves."

*

Saari and Bradley were freshmen during Brea's heralded 1993-94 season, the one that featured seven seniors, including point guard Erickson, center Colleen Hudson and forward Sarah Beckley. Saari and Bradley, in uniform for the playoffs, got a taste of the national spotlight.

They were in the interview room at the Oakland Coliseum Arena after the Ladycats had beaten San Jose Archbishop Mitty and the mother of three-point specialist Lee Moulin broke the news, "Pickerington lost." Pickerington (Ohio), at that time, was ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today, and unbeaten Brea was No. 2. Emotions ran high as the Ladycats reached the program's zenith.

Eight months later, Brea was ranked No. 2 in Orange County.

"It was different," said Bradley, who had grown up in the Polcat feeder program. "It was the first time I was looking up instead of on top looking down. But it made us work harder and reach our goals and not take things for granted. We had to prove ourselves. It was like starting over."

And Brea did just that. With a new coach, the Ladycats went 30-3 and won their seventh straight section title. But they were beaten by state champion Woodbridge in the final of the Southern California Regionals. For the first time in four years, there was no state championship. For the first time in seven years, there was not even a state championship appearance.

Eight months later, Brea was ranked No. 5 in Orange County behind Woodbridge, Mater Dei, Fountain Valley and Edison.

"Girls' basketball was different when Brea wasn't on top, like there was a chance for the rest of us," said Laguna Hills Coach Lynn Taylor, whose team is ranked second in Orange County this season.

Despite the chance everyone else might have had, Brea won its eighth consecutive section title, but eventually lost to state champion Woodbridge in the regional final. A game short once more.

"The last two years, there was a ton of talent," San Clemente Coach Mary Mulligan said. "Mater Dei, Woodbridge and Fountain Valley had tremendous talent. Now, it's back to the status quo."

The status quo: Brea, back on top, state title in sight.

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