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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | Alemany Basketball:
State Final

Deep-Seeded Success

Title Game Writes New Chapter in Alemany's Storied History

March 19, 1998|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MISSION HILLS — So long ago and still so fresh in Paula Moran's mind.

It was 1972, Moran's freshman year at Alemany High, and the Indians were rising fast in girls' basketball.

Then came perhaps the defining moment of the surging program.

"We played Connelly and they absolutely kicked our butts," said Moran, now a women's assistant at San Francisco State. "For [Coach] Nancy [Graziano], it was a revelation and she never let that happen again."

In those days, it was no shame to lose to Connelly, an all-girls school in Anaheim that featured future Olympians Ann Meyers and Nancy Dunkle.

But it was a painful thorn that Alemany promptly removed before embarking on a prosperous journey that could reach the summit when the Indians (27-6) meet San Francisco Sacred Heart Cathedral (21-10) for the Division III state championship Saturday at 1:15 p.m. at Arco Arena in Sacramento.

Surprisingly, it is the first appearance in a state final for Alemany, which has produced several outstanding college players despite being a relatively small school.

Since Coach Melissa Hearlihy took over the program in 1985, the Indians have won 299 games and 10 league titles, including the Mission League co-championship with Harvard-Westlake with a 9-1 record this season. But the strong roots already ran deep before Hearlihy arrived.

"Our games [with Alemany] always went down to the wire," said Brian O'Hara, a Glendale attorney who coached rival Louisville until the mid-1980s. "I remember once we ended up losing to a team because Alemany was coming up the next week and we were looking ahead."

The Alemany program's foundation was laid by Graziano, who guided the Indians to 13 consecutive San Fernando Valley League titles before resigning after the 1984-85 season to become a women's assistant at Idaho State.

She left Alemany after Louisville ended the streak in the last game of the 1984-85 season. The Royals consistently fielded powerful teams under O'Hara and usually were Alemany's most serious threat in the region.

"It was always a game we got up for," said Andrea Knapp, a former Louisville and Nevada Las Vegas player.

Graziano fostered a tradition that gained strength every year.

"The young women I had the opportunity to coach were extremely talented," said Graziano, Idaho State's associate athletic director for compliance. "I was just glad to be part of a program that was growing.

"We would pack the Alemany gym for games. We would have the band and the students and the parents, that made all the difference in the world . . . I wouldn't trade my Alemany days for anything."

Under Graziano, whose Alemany teams won 285 games, the Indians stumbled only occasionally.

In 1975, Alemany lost to Garden Grove Santiago in the Southern Section Division 4-A final and Moran was selected the division's player of the year. The Indians lost to Alta Loma in the 3-A final in 1982, the first of Charli Turner's three seasons on the team.

"I was supposed to go to Grant [High] but that's when they were doing a lot of [mandatory] busing and they were talking about cutting out girls' sports to pay for the busing," said Turner, the Arizona State women's coach and a former Stanford guard. "I wanted to play basketball and started shopping around. I checked out Alemany. I didn't want to go to an all-girls school.

"Coach Graziano was just a great motivator. Once you've established a winning tradition, you go there and you're a winner. That's the mentality. They have high expectations every year."

They also had the backing of the Alemany administration, which Moran said was always supportive.

"I never felt we weren't as good as the boys, and the girls were never shortchanged there," said Moran, who later became the first woman to earn an athletic scholarship to Cal State Northridge. "The school placed such emphasis in girls' sports and in making them equals."

Moran and Turner said they got a solid start on their playing and coaching careers by learning from Graziano, a coach who Dudley Rooney, Alemany's athletic director the past 16 years, said left quite a legacy for Hearlihy to continue.

"They're two different styles of coaching," Rooney said. "Nancy was a quieter coach. Melissa is intense. But the one thing they had in common is they both knew basketball and they both knew how to motivate players. Their teams were always well-disciplined."

They were also respected by opponents. Hearlihy, who coached Alemany's junior varsity team and was an assistant to Graziano in 1984-85, quickly learned she had big shoes to fill after getting the varsity job the following season.

"We went to a tournament in my first year and I remember hearing a gentleman in the bleachers say, 'There's Alemany, but Nancy Graziano is not there, so they won't be the same,' " Hearlihy said. "Yes, I felt the pressure."

Hearlihy soon passed the test. Alemany has won 20 or more games 10 times under Hearlihy, including a 30-1 record in 1993-94 when the Indians were Division II-A champions and runners-up in the state Southern Regional.

On Saturday, she can take Alemany to new heights and celebrate with former and current players.

"I'll be there," Moran said. "I'm putting my coaching hat away and putting on my [Alemany] letterman's jacket."

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