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Breeden Lays the Foundation for Crescenta Valley Success

New coach stabilizes program, leads overachieving Falcons into Division I-AA quarterfinals with positive attitude.

February 24, 2001|DAVE DESMOND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LA CRESCENTA — The new girls' basketball coach at Crescenta Valley High has chirped the term "Falcon Pride" to his players so often that he's about to sprout wings and a beak.

A more appropriate motto might be "Please Pardon Our Dust."

There's been a lot of rebuilding on campus.

The school is set to open a $5 million gymnasium next month and Bruce Breeden is the fourth coach in five years for a team that embarked on the season with low expectations and without a returning Times All-Valley guard for the first time in a decade.

Through all this construction, Crescenta Valley (17-11) has managed to advance to the Southern Section Division I-AA quarterfinals, where tonight it hosts top-seeded San Clemente (25-3).

"We're so thankful for where we're at," said Breeden, whose team has won eight of its last nine, including playoff upsets of Palmdale and Valencia. "I thought we owed it to the seniors, who had gone through all these coaches and all the ups and downs, to get them to the playoffs."

The program that produced All-Valley guards Sarah Hagman, Michelle Greco, Amirah Leonard, Tara Gregory and Sinnamonn Garrett and reached the Division I-A final in 1997 has no such superstar, only a gung-ho 46-year-old rookie coach and a band of overachieving role players.

"We don't need a superstar because we have five starters and 15 girls who work hard and carry each other," said Emily Novak, a senior reserve forward.

Freshman Jeanine Deno, might be Crescenta Valley's next standout. She is averaging 18 points and scored 38 last week in a 60-54 first-round victory over Palmdale.

Figuring Deno would be targeted by Valencia in the second round, Breeden said he used Deno as a decoy. Deno scored nine points, but Ashley Powell scored 18 and Emily Forsythe added 17 in a 61-55 victory.

"The biggest reason we are where we are is because we play as a team," Forsythe said.

It took more than half the season for the lineup of Deno, Forsythe, Powell, Ashley Pappas and Argineh Margharian to jell.

Breeden assured the players he was at Crescenta Valley for the long haul, repeatedly spinning speeches about how he had longed to be a Falcon, even when he attended rival Hoover High.

Breeden, who has a seven-year-old daughter, insisted he was on "the 12-year plan," wanting to coach through her senior year.

"After being through so many coaches, we were like, 'We'll see,' " Novak said. "But it was music to our ears."

As Breeden and the Falcons familiarized themselves, they struggled to a 9-10 record and lost their first three Pacific League games.

Then they finished with a flourish, winning six of their last seven league games to tie Pasadena for second place with a 6-4 record.

It hasn't been pretty at times.

Crescenta Valley is shooting under 40% from the field. It has improved its team free throw percentage from 38% to about 59%.

"We've got a scrappy bunch of girls," Breeden said. "This one might shoot 25% and that girl might shoot 30%, but we've found a way to win."

What else would you expect this year at Crescenta Valley, where hard hats are required in some areas?

Despite facing a San Clemente front line that includes three 6-footers, Crescenta Valley, with no starter taller than 5-9, is talking upset.

"A lot of people here in La Crescenta, and a lot of administrators at school, didn't think we'd do much this year," Pappas said. "Now, teachers I've never spoken to in my life come up to me at school and congratulate us for what we've done and wish us luck."

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