The battle for basketball supremacy between the two rival high schools in Woodland Hills — Taft and El Camino Real — has been pretty much a mismatch, with Taft winning every game for more than 20 years.
Times are changing. Before a packed gymnasium at Taft on Wednesday night, El Camino Real made it clear that the new City Section powerhouse rests on Valley Circle Boulevard, not Ventura Boulevard.
The Conquistadores (19-2, 5-0) routed Taft, 77-48, to take control of the West Valley League race and win for the first time against the Toreadors (9-11, 2-3) since 1992.
Coach David Rebibo, whose record against Taft had been 0-10, began to see signs of change three years ago, when Maleke Haynes, Julian Richardson and Evan Wardlow enrolled as freshmen. Haynes' brother, Calvin, was an All-City guard at Taft.
Then Michael Thomas transferred from Taft to El Camino Real before his junior year. And when Coach Derrick Taylor left Taft for Bellflower St. John Bosco after the 2011 season, the Conquistadores started to gain momentum.
"This is something when I took the job we wanted as a coaching staff and program," Rebibo said. "They were considered the best for such a long time, and we're happy to compete."
On Wednesday, Richardson scored 23 points, Thomas had 16 points and 12 rebounds, Wardlow had 11 points and 10 rebounds and Haynes contributed nine points and 10 assists.
The only holdover from Taft's City Section Division I championship teams from 2011 and 2012, Kris Yanku, finished with 23 points. Things haven't been going well for the Toreadors off the court. When center Anthony January lost his appeal in September from the City Section seeking another semester of eligibility, it was a big blow. And last month, Taft lost three players to academic ineligibility, making it tough times for first-year Coach C.J. Williams.
El Camino Real is in position to earn the No. 1 seeding for the Division I playoffs. The Conquistadores have a top big man in the 6-foot-7 Thomas, a solid point guard in Haynes and a developing perimeter player in Richardson.
"I don't think we're playing at the top of our game," Rebibo said. "There's still a lot of room for improvement."
And Rebibo will have to remind his players there's still a second game with Taft next month.
"There's no changing of the guard until we win league and they don't," he said. "It's 100% theirs until someone takes it from them."