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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Kazay Expands Role, Team Rolls

Career bit player looks to score more and helps Harvard-Westlake girls reach section final against Bishop Montgomery.

March 02, 2001|DAVE DESMOND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

STUDIO CITY — It's kind of like a bit actor accepting the Academy Award.

Chantal Kazay has spent almost four seasons as a role player at Louisville and Harvard-Westlake highs.

She'd do the dirty work, defend top post players, crash the boards, set picks . . . and yield the stage to others at crunch time.

No more.

Kazay is finishing her career with a flourish and is a primary reason Harvard-Westlake (25-5) will play defending state champion Bishop Montgomery (25-5) for the Southern Section Division III-AA girls' basketball championship today at 4:45 p.m. at The Pyramid in Long Beach.

"She's been huge throughout the playoffs," Coach Melissa Hearlihy said. "She's become one of our lead players and, with every level we get to, she has stepped up a little bit more."

Never as much as last week, when the 6-foot senior forward scored a career-high 19 points and had 10 rebounds in the Wolverines' 64-59 upset of No. 2-seeded Fullerton Rosary in the semifinals.

Kazay is averaging 8.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots this season, but she is averaging 12.7 points in the playoffs.

That doesn't mean she is overlooking her other responsibilities.

"Scoring is great, but that's not my main issue," she said. "I would rather play tough defense and have 10 or 12 rebounds. I ask myself, 'How can I help the team and how can we win?' "

In two seasons at Mission League-rival Louisville and last season at Harvard-Westlake, when All-Valley guards Brooke Porter and L'Tanya Robnett led the Wolverines to their third consecutive state playoff berth, Kazay only occasionally scored in double-figures.

She just kept her head down and played hard.

"Before, it wasn't like I was supposed to be a go-to player," she said. "That was the case at Louisville and it was the same last year, when it was the Brooke and L'Tanya show here. I just knew what my role was."

That began to change this season, when Hearlihy took over the program.

As coach at rival Alemany, Hearlihy observed Kazay for three seasons.

"I told her that, in order for us to be successful this year, she was going to have to be a bigger factor," Hearlihy said.

But it took time.

"That talk had a lot to do with my performance," Kazay said. "I appreciated it, but I was still getting used to the coach and getting used to the system."

Kazay is a quick study. She has a 3.67 grade-point average and has narrowed her college choices to New York University and Grambling.

The tallest player on the team, Kazay worked at becoming a bigger presence, using her frame to post up and be an inside threat to complement the outside play of wing Karina Siam and point guard Lyndsey Medders.

"Her transformation has been wonderful to watch and has helped us so much this year," said Siam, a Times All-Valley player and the Wolverines' leading scorer. "You watch her and you can see that she wants the ball more now than she did before. She's demanding it. And she's converting."

Hearlihy calls it an "awakening." Siam says it's an "evolution."

Kazay just figures she's doing what's best for the team, like she has always done.

"It helps when you don't have one, certain player you go to all the time," she said. "We have Karina, Lyndsey, me, Nyasha [Bralock], Jade Logan, Stefanie Clark. You never know what day or who is going to step up, and teams and opposing coaches don't know who they have to stop."

The Wolverines have qualified for a region-best fourth consecutive state playoff berth and third final in four seasons.

But playing for the division championship is new to Kazay.

"This is amazing," she said. "I have wanted this since my freshman year and words cannot describe the feeling of actually making it this far."

Top-seeded Bishop Montgomery routed Harvard-Westlake in the semifinals last season.

Kazay is unfazed.

"Don't ever underestimate the underdog," she said.

Or the role player.

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