Mater Dei High Coach Kevin Kiernan has one concern heading into the girls' basketball season.
Even though he returns almost every player from a team that last season won Southern Section 2A and state championships and was ranked best in the nation, he does have one unusual disadvantage.
His players didn't play together much as a team over the summer.
That's because three of his starters made the United States under-17 team that won a gold medal in France in July.
OK, so maybe that situation doesn't inspire loads of sympathy.
Said Kiernan, half-joking: "I can cry about it, but nobody would feel sorry for me."
The three players — Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Jordan Adams and Alexyz Vaioletama — could be considered the high school girls' basketball equivalent of the Miami Heat's "Big Three."
Mosqueda-Lewis is the top-ranked 2011-class player in the nation and has already signed with Connecticut's top-ranked program. Adams, a junior, is the top-ranked guard in the 2012 class. Vaioletama, who is headed to USC, is the sixth-ranked senior forward.
They're each at least 6 feet tall, and among them, they've amassed five gold medals in international play.
Still, it's a comparison Keirnan hopes is only partially true. "We're not as hated as Miami's Big Three," he said. "At least I hope not."
The Monarchs also have a strong inside presence provided by senior Jessica Duarte, who is headed to Cal State Northridge, and senior transfer Karina Alofaituli, a 6-foot forward who has committed to Arizona State.
Last season's team went 32-1 even though Vaioletama was sidelined because of stress fractures in both her shins. Kiernan said Mater Dei would be "a little bigger and more physical" this season.
However, the same can be said of Mater Dei's top competitors. Brea Olinda, which handed the Monarchs their only loss last season, returns UCLA-bound senior Justine Hartman, who sat out last year with a knee injury. And Long Beach Poly, as always, has a dangerous team that is 10 players deep.
The key to the Monarchs' success could be an intangible: chemistry.
Kiernan said the team should benefit from an infusion of five high-caliber and full-of-energy freshmen who may not play much but realize they have a rare opportunity.
Said Kiernan: "They're playing against girls who are going to UConn and USC every day in practice."