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No Predictions From Talented Moorpark

Frontier boys: Musketeers, who return five senior starters, learned from last season's poor performance in league.


Having proven last season that predictions can be the setup men for embarrassment, the Moorpark High boys' basketball team will now let its actions do the talking.

Musketeer Coach Tim Bednar and at least one of his players announced 13 months ago that they thought the time had come for Moorpark to wrest the Frontier League title from 12-time defending champion Santa Clara.

Oops. The Musketeers had a 5-5 league record and finished third. That has led to an absence of chest-thumping this season even as Moorpark (13-4) again appears to be a title contender.

"We're just hoping we've learned from last year," said Bednar, whose team was 18-11 and advanced to the second round of the Southern Section Division II-A playoffs. "We had fairly good record [12-5] going into league last year and we faltered. Our goal this year is to be prepared to play every night."

The Musketeers, who host Santa Clara tonight in a league opener, certainly have the talent. Five senior starters return, led by Kevin Lawrence, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound forward whose offensive prowess has in the past been as marvelous as his defense has been suspect.

"Last year we didn't play the defense necessary to be a winner," Bednar said. "But we're a lot more consistent in that area now and Kevin's done pretty well defensively."

Lawrence, the program's career leader in points and rebounds, averaged 17.6 points and 7.3 rebounds last season. Point guard Keith Donahue, 6-2 and Moorpark's career leader in three-point shots, averaged 12.2 points and shooting guard Todd Tomlinson averaged 7.2.

That trio will carry the Musketeers this season, supplemented by 6-2 forward Byron Burnett and 6-0 guard Chad Willis. Senior forward Andrew Carlson, 6-5 and a standout defender, is recovering from a knee injury and could be back by the end of league play.

At Santa Clara, an enrollment as high as 830 in 1986 has plummeted to less than 300. That shrinkage, combined with the loss of All-Ventura County swingman Nick Jones to injury, could be even more than legendary coach Lou Cvijanovich can overcome.

"We're OK but nothing like we've been in the past," Cvijanovich said. "[The drop in enrollment] has caught up to us and we're on a downhill pull."

The Saints, winners of 113 of their last 114 league games, were thought to be ripe for the taking last season. But Jones emerged as a sophomore to average 16.5 points, 9.9 rebounds and five steals and Cvijanovich coaxed the team to the Southern Section Division V-AA title, his 14th section crown.

The Saints' 1997-98 season began on a sour note when Jones broke his foot on the first day of practice. It is hoped he can return in the next two weeks but he may see little time this season.

"Without Nick. . . . they're still solid defensively but they're not the same team," said Bednar, a former Santa Clara player under Cvijanovich who has not beaten his former coach in eight seasons at Moorpark.

But here is an annual truism: never, ever count out a team directed by Cvijanovich. In 40 years at Santa Clara, the 71-year old coach has won 29 league basketball titles.

And though Cvijanovich has talked down his team this season, the idea that it won't at least seriously contend for the league championship seems preposterous.

Santa Clara's current lineup features senior and first-year starter Bobby Martinez at point guard and 5-10 sophomore Anthony Camper and 6-1 junior B.J. Ward as swingmen. Senior Ryan McGill is a 6-3 senior center and Scott Sorich, the lone returning starter, is a 6-4 senior forward who earned all-league honors and averaged 5.8 points last season.

"We're up and down because of our immaturity," Cvijanovich said. "We can play real good defense when we want to but that's few and far between. And we make the same mistakes over and over again without learning."

Despite the grumbling, Santa Clara continues to earn respect. The Saints routed Oak Park recently, which then beat Moorpark by nine points.

"Santa Clara's not very big but they're fast and they work extraordinarily hard," Oak Park Coach Rob Hall said. "It's not going to be easy to score against them but I think the real question will be if Moorpark can defend Santa Clara."

Not to be overlooked is Santa Paula, last season's second-place finisher.

Cardinal point guard Joey Riccio, a senior transfer from Thousand Oaks, is averaging 23.4 points and 5.8 assists. Guard David Herrera and center Moses Gasio are first-year senior starters averaging 10.8 points.



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