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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

For Starters, Eagles Will Not Be Overlooked Next Season

March 11, 2001|JOHN KLIMA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

INGLEWOOD — Now, Cinderella's slipper is on the other foot.

Playing the role of underdog throughout the season, the Oak Park High girls' basketball team set a program record for victories, won its first Southern Section championship and appeared in its first Southern Regional final.

Despite being overwhelmed by La Jolla Bishop's, 66-41, Saturday in the Division IV regional final at the Great Western Forum, Oak Park will not be able to surprise opponents next season.

Not with four returning starters.

"We're no longer the underdogs," said forward Holly Stewart. "Look how far we went this year. We're looking forward to next year."

Stewart, Michelle Bregar, Shir Raanan and Jannel Buckley will return for Oak Park. Raanan, a freshman, led Oak Park with 10 points against The Bishop's.

"Next year will be different," Stewart said. "We're a team people are going to want to beat. We want to show this wasn't a fluke."

Coach Lindsay Strothers wants the state playoffs to be an annual stop for the Eagles.

Though Oak Park should be favored in most of its games next season, the Eagles likely won't forget their underdog roots.

"When I first started playing here, it was Oak Park who?" said Kim Bryan, the team's only senior starter.

But shedding the label of a Cinderella team came at the price of humiliation against Bishop's.

The Eagles played the role of the small public school cutting its teeth against the perennial private school power of the San Diego Section, whose wins included a victory over Fullerton Troy.

How outmatched were the Eagles?

Troy defeated Buena, the region's best team, to win the Division I-A section final.

The wounded Eagles limped off the court. March is made for dreams. Oak Park fulfilled one dream when it took the court at the Forum and opened another when it walked off with a 25-point loss.

It's another step to a new level for the Eagles.

"No one walks in and plays with the Lynwoods and the Troys the first time around," Strothers said. "Those schools have tradition. We're establishing it."

The Eagles want to win next season to prove Cinderella wasn't daydreaming.

"You can't stay in the same place forever," Strothers said. "This is a painful way to lose. Even though we got [routed], this was a growing experience. The only way we would have played a team like this would be to play them in a game like this."

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