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January 20, 2006|DAN ARRITT;MARTIN HENDERSON;LAUREN PETERSON

A weekly look at some of the Southland's top high school athletes:

BOYS' BASKETBALL

NICK PALMER

Sr., Ventura

* Then: Won the Channel League title as a freshman on the junior varsity team and earned a starting role on varsity as a sophomore, but his season was cut short by academic issues. He emerged as one of Ventura County's top players last season, when he averaged 16.1 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds. He scored the final eight points of a 62-57 come-from-behind victory over visiting Santa Barbara, helping Ventura earn a share of the league title with the Dons. He was a Southern Section Division I-A second-team selection.

* Now: With first-place on the line tonight, when the Cougars (16-4, 3-0) play host to Santa Barbara (15-3, 2-0), Palmer appears to be playing at his best. The 6-foot-4 forward scored a career-high 31 points in a 78-53 victory Friday at Goleta Dos Pueblos. Two days earlier, he had 23 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals in a 60-57 victory at Santa Barbara San Marcos. Palmer is averaging a team-high 17.1 points and 7.8 rebounds for the Cougars, ranked No. 22 in the Southland by The Times.

* Quote: "He plays like he's about 6-8 or 6-9," Coach Dan Larson said. "He's a very quick jumper and has a nose for the ball. The knock on him has been his outside shot, but that has been getting better every year."

--DAN ARRITT

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GIRLS' BASKETBALL

BRANDIE McCANN

Sr., Perris

* Then: Perris had never reached a Southern Section championship game until McCann arrived as a freshman. The only team to beat Perris in the playoffs the last three seasons is Fullerton Troy, the Southland's best team, and twice it happened in section finals. McCann was the point guard both of those years, but as a sophomore was the shooting guard and averaged 17 points. That season, Perris lost in the quarterfinals, 62-59, to Troy, the eventual state champion.

* Now: Back at shooting guard, McCann has averaged 19.8 points and Perris (15-4), ranked No. 22 in the Southland by The Times, is 8-2 in games decided by five points or fewer. Higher-profile colleges have courted McCann, but the Inland Empire's best player signed early with California Baptist in Riverside. "The only part of the game she lacks is the physical strength of the bigger guards, but she neutralizes them with her quickness," Coach Marvin Williams said of his 5-foot-6 leader. "She's also very coachable." Her work ethic and attitude have begun to rub off on her five freshman teammates.

* Quote: "I don't want to say she's the reason we go to the finals," Williams said, "but since she's been here, our game has changed because we're good at the guard spot."

--MARTIN HENDERSON

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BOYS' SOCCER

SCOTT LARRABEE

Sr., Los Angeles Loyola

* Then: Played outside halfback the previous two seasons after being promoted to the varsity for the playoffs as a freshman. He started 10 games, scoring three goals and recording five assists as a sophomore. He was an All-Mission League first-team pick and an All-Southern Section Division II third-team selection last season after 13 goals and 14 assists. He helped the Cubs advance to the Division II title match each of the last two seasons. They lost to Thousand Oaks, 1-0, in 2004 and tied the Lancers, 1-1, last season.

* Now: Larrabee has stepped into the center-midfield position vacated by Patrick Morrison, who was the Southern Section Division II player of the year in 2003-04, and Andreas Andrews, who earned the same honor last season. An energetic player with great stamina, touch and tenacity, Larrabee, who plans to play at Georgetown, takes the team's corner kicks and many of its free kicks and has team-high totals of 10 goals and 11 assists. Loyola (16-4-3, 4-0-1), ranked No. 11 nationally by Student Sports magazine, will meet Encino Crespi with first place in the league on the line Saturday.

* Quote: "I really feel like it's my responsibility to carry a lot of the offensive load," Larrabee said of his move to center midfield. "I get the ball a lot, and I can just keep the game flowing."

--LAUREN PETERSON

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