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PREVIEWS : MISSION LEAGUE BOYS

Chaminade Jumps Into Favorite's Role

January 06, 1998|PAIGE A. LEECH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Forget about Harvard-Westlake High's 26 consecutive Mission League victories. Coaches are saying the Wolverines' reign is over.

Six-foot-10 twins Jason and Jarron Collins have moved on to Stanford and only one starter returns from a team that finished 36-1 and won the state Division III title.

For the first time in three seasons, Harvard-Westlake is not the team to beat in the Mission League, according to six of the league's seven coaches, including Harvard-Westlake's Greg Hilliard.

The front-runner label has been passed to Chaminade, which finished second last season. Five returning starters, including two-time All-Mission League forward Scott Long, and two key newcomers have fueled an 11-1 start for the Eagles.

"Everyone must be in agreement that it's Chaminade," Hilliard said.

Well, everyone but Chaminade Coach Jeff Young, who is wary of being thrust into the favorite's role.

"[Harvard-Westlake's] holding the crown right now," Young said. "I think [Harvard-Westlake] is fantastic. With the exception of Jason and Jarron, I think they are as good as last year's team."

The Wolverines are much better than anyone--including Hilliard--thought. Harvard-Westlake is off to a 12-2 start behind the frontcourt play of Victor Munoz, the team's only returning starter, and Russell Lakey. Combined, they are averaging 36 points, nearly 10 assists and about eight steals a game.

Before the season, Hilliard predicted a fifth-place finish for the Wolverines in league play. His team has since managed to change his opinion.

"We may be a little higher than that, but we're still on the outside looking in as far as I'm concerned," Hilliard said. "We've played a lot of games, but we haven't really [defeated] anybody."

Chaminade's only blemish was a 15-point loss to Simi Valley--The Times' top-ranked team in the region--in early December. The Eagles, with balanced scoring and a backcourt featuring three players 6-5 or taller, responded with eight consecutive victories and won the championship of a prestigious tournament in Hawaii.

With a deep bench and plenty of talent, Chaminade, the region's No. 2 team, appears poised to win its first league championship since the inception of the Mission League in 1990-1991.

"We feel pretty confident going into league," Young said. "[But] up until [Hawaii], we hadn't played the type of competition we needed to compete in our league."

Parity should prevail among the other Mission League teams.

St. Francis and Crespi have no returning starters, but are off to .500 or better starts. Notre Dame has three returning starters, but has struggled to a 7-6 record.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

AT A GLANCE

* THE PROVEN: Harvard-Westlake High point guard Victor Munoz, who last season set school career records for assists and steals, is best in a crop of talented guards. . . . Chaminade's Scott Long and Justin Stewart are the centerpieces that make the Eagles the team to beat in league. Long, a 6-foot-5 senior forward, recently was named the most valuable player in a tournament in Hawaii. Chaminade continues to receive plenty of handouts from junior point guard Cayce Cook, who is averaging 4.8 assists.

* THE PROMISING: Chaminade's Scott Borchart (6-7) isn't playing like a freshman. He's averaging 12.3 points and 7.6 rebounds. . . . Harvard-Westlake sophomore Russell Lakey (5-10), averaging a team-high 20.3 points, already has made a name for himself as a sharpshooter with only 14 varsity games under his belt. Teammate Alex Holmes (6-4), also a sophomore, looks more like a football lineman than a forward, but is averaging 11.2 points. . . . Crespi senior point guard Andy Owings beat out the Celts' only returning starter and is averaging 3.2 assists. . . . Crespi's Jon Bird, a 6-5 junior forward and one of four returning lettermen, is averaging a team-high 10.3 points. . . . St. Francis point guard Richard Fields, a backup last season and the team's only returning letterman, is averaging 16.1 points and 5.8 assists. The Golden Knights are getting plenty of production from its frontcourt newcomers, junior forwards Shaun Scranton (6-2) and Derek La Velle (6-1). La Velle is averaging 20.3 points and 10.7 rebounds; Scranton 13.2 points and 8.3 rebounds.

* FAST FACT: Harvard-Westlake has a 26-game winning streak in league play.

* 1996-97 STANDINGS: 1. Harvard-Westlake 36-1 overall, 12-0 in league; 2. Chaminade 20-8, 9-3; 3. St. Francis 16-11, 7-5; 4. Crespi 10-16, 6-7; 5. Notre Dame 15-13, 5-8; 6. Loyola 8-16, 3-9; 7. Alemany 2-20, 1-11.

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