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All It Takes Is a Touch of Seasoning

February 06, 2001|BEN BOLCH

It's funny, considering all the things great and small that can spark a turnaround. Sometimes it's a new coach or an infusion of new players, but usually a complete overhaul isn't necessary. Little adjustments can add up to big improvements.

Take Capistrano Valley. The Cougars finished 18-10 last season, making it to the second round of the Southern Section Division I-AA playoffs. A solid season, certainly, but not great; Capistrano Valley was never ranked among the county's top 10 teams.

This season, the Cougars (21-3) have risen as high as No. 3--their current ranking--and look like a team to beat heading into next week's playoffs.

What's been the difference? Experience and confidence, Capistrano Valley Coach Brian Mulligan said.

Last season, the Cougars played a mix of sophomores, juniors and seniors. This time around, the juniors and seniors have taken over, one year the wiser.

"My top three juniors were always pretty confident people because they were pretty talented kids and everyone knew it," Mulligan said. "They just had to get bigger and stronger and more mature."

Juniors Jeff Gloger (13.5 points per game), Jake Franzen (14.3) and Matt Sweaney (12.5) give Capistrano Valley balanced scoring, while others chip in with big nights when needed. Junior Pete DeCasas scored 21 of his 26 points in the first half in last week's big victory over El Toro.

The team's newfound confidence has helped it in close games--five of the Cougars' eight South Coast League victories have been decided by five points or less.

Sonora, Orange County's most improved team record-wise, has put together a 20-win season thanks to nothing more than maturity, Coach Mike Murphy said.

"That was our biggest stumbling block last year, the maturity factor," Murphy said. "If we started to lose, [the players] were such a competitive group they would get angry with each other. Now, it's just the opposite."

The Raiders are so unselfish, in fact, that they don't have a go-to guy. Small forward Robert Abreu, who averages 13 points, is the team's leading scorer, but he's not among the county's top 35 in scoring. The rest of the starters are averaging between eight and 12 points apiece.

"We've had some really good teams," said Murphy, who's been Sonora's coach for 11 years. "A couple of years ago, we had a starting lineup with four Division I players. But one through 12, I've never had a deeper team."

Discipline has been the difference at Tustin, where Richard Bossenmeyer is working some first-year magic. The Tillers only won three games last year; now they've already wrapped up a playoff berth.

"In the two games they played us, they played extremely hard and they seemed to know their roles," Ocean View Coach Jim Harris said. "[Bossenmeyer] makes sure they get the most out of every player."

Guard Duane Nix, a transfer from Rancho Alamitos, has been another big factor in Tustin's resurgence. He is averaging 10.9 points.


Harris realizes his team's playoff stock will dip considerably if it doesn't get swingman Torin Beeler back within the week. Beeler, who is averaging 16.3 points and 11.6 rebounds, has missed the Seahawks' last two games with mononucleosis.

Ocean View especially missed Beeler, its best defender, in its 63-56 loss to Woodbridge, when Warrior swingman Danny Lambert lit up the Seahawks for 27 points. Beeler usually guards the opponent's top offensive player.

Harris said he's hoping Beeler can return in about a week. He will undergo blood tests early this week to determine how soon he can come back.


Coaches of league champions might be tempted to ask, "What are you doing here?" to their cellar-dwelling colleagues next week once the Southern Section playoffs start.

In the Empire League, both first-place Loara and last-place Katella have already qualified for the playoffs with a week to go in the regular season. Loara is guaranteed entry as one of the league's top three finishers. And Katella? The Knights have won 12 games and are guaranteed entry by virtue of the section's 11-win rule.

Overall, 54 of the 87 teams from leagues comprised predominantly of Orange County schools, or 62%, have qualified for the playoffs. Nine more teams, with another victory or two, could qualify thanks to the 11-win rule, and an additional five teams could qualify by finishing among the top three of their respective leagues.

Buena Park, for instance, has only eight victories but is alone in third place in the Freeway League.


University (14-9, 6-2 Pacific Coast League) could clinch a tie for the league title tonight with a victory over visiting Corona del Mar (10-15, 4-4). Costa Mesa and Northwood, tied for second with 5-3 league records, will need some luck to overtake the Trojans.

The Olympic League title will be on the line Thursday when defending champion Orange Lutheran (11-10, 7-1) plays at Calvary Chapel (17-5, 7-1). The Lancers won the first meeting, 77-55.

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