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Not Too Bad, Not Too Bad at All

El Toro was expected to be terrible after losing most of its key players, but Yeck guided Chargers to 20 wins and playoff quarterfinals.


Irvine girls' basketball Coach Dennis Hurley has a succinct way with words, and after his team beat El Toro in the quarterfinals of the Southern Section Division I-AA playoffs, he was downright blunt in describing that night's opponent.

"Everyone thought they would be horrible," Hurley said.

And maybe that's all one needs to know about El Toro and what it accomplished this season.

Expected to be horrible, El Toro instead finished second in the South Coast League and won 20 games, including two in the playoffs. The short story is that it was done with only one returning starter, but the Chargers' saga isn't a short story.

For "saving the program," as Troy Coach Kevin Kiernan described it, El Toro's Greg Yeck is The Times' Orange County girls' basketball coach of the year.

Yeck stepped in this season, and into what almost seemed a mutiny. The former coach, Vincent Avitabile, resigned via fax from Japan. The county player of the year, Giuliana Mendiola, was off to Washington after her graduation. Two starters for El Toro transferred to top-10 programs at San Clemente and Huntington Beach.

And here was Yeck, given no chance for success with his shot-blocking center, Carrie Twaddell, and a group of players who got little court time the year before.

"The kids have been phenomenal," Yeck said after the loss to Irvine, which gave El Toro a 20-7 record. "They really wanted to prove they could play after all the movement. A lot of kids wrote these [players] off. They worked real hard, and I'm real proud to see them get to this point."

Other than Twaddell, the most proven and consistent player on the team, there was a different combination of contributors every night, typically culled from Tara Sickmeier, Alissa Tan, Candice Quiroz and Keri Garcia.

Few teams win 20 games with only one player, and Twaddell averaged only 14.6 points. Help had to be coming from elsewhere.

Nothing could diminish the accomplishments, or the effort, of his charges, said Yeck, whose performance came in a season in which there was no shortage of viable coaching candidates:

* Nicole Quinn, who guided Santa Ana Valley to the Century League title, its first outright championship.

* Richard Schaaf, who had only one starter back at Santa Margarita but surprised Rosary to win the Serra League title and rose to No. 8 in the Orange County rankings.

* Adara Newidouski, whose Ocean View team finished 9-17 this season after a 1-21 season a year ago.

* Steve Dunmeyer, who took over Tustin's program days before the season began and guided a team that finished 3-20 last season to a 10-16 record and second place in the Golden West League.

This wasn't Yeck's first coaching job. A geography teacher at El Toro, he coached the girls' basketball team from 1985-90 and compiled a 107-37 record, winning three league titles. He was bothered that the players who defected left without giving him a chance.

If respect is something that is earned, Yeck certainly earned it this season.

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