Last Chance for Glory
California has something to be proud of.
by Clay Kallam
California’s a basket case. The economy’s in shambles, the infrastructure’s worse, there’s not enough water, and the political system is a disaster.
But if it’s any comfort at all to the beleaguered residents of the once-Golden State – and it probably isn’t – girls’ basketball has never been better.
Just check out the ESPN RISE national rankings: Right there at No. 1 is St. Mary’s of Stockton, led by the senior guard duo of Chelsea Gray (Duke) and Afure Jemerigbe (Cal); Brea-Olinda at No. 3, and conceivably in the top spot if 6-3 post Justine Hartman hadn’t missed the season; Mater Dei of Santa Ana at No. 4, led by junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, maybe the best player in the country and already committed to UConn; and four-time defending Division I (largest schools) state champion Long Beach Poly, which will go for a record fifth straight CIF title late this month.
And down in the 30s in the national rankings are Harvard-Westlake (No. 32, with its only loss to Brea) and Bishop O’Dowd (No. 35, with at least three BCS and seven DI players overall). And then just last week, Santiago of Corona slid in to the No. 49 slot, with high-scoring Hanford and Berkeley, which led St. Mary’s by 11 in the Campolindo Shootout, knocking on the door.
But true to California’s dysfunctional reputation, four of the ranked teams are in different divisions, which means now that state playoffs have begun, they won’t go head-to-head on the court. Brea and Mater Dei are both considered Division II schools by the Southern Section (one of 10 state sections), though their enrollment would make them Division I in other sections, and they will most likely meet in the Southern California Regional finals, with the winner advancing to the state championships in Bakersfield March 27 and 28.
Meanwhile, St. Mary’s and Bishop O’Dowd are on a collision course in Division III, and are expected to meet in the Northern California Regional finals March 20 at Arco Arena in Sacramento.
Long Beach Poly, as mentioned, is Division I, and that means Santiago is a likely opponent in the SoCal playoffs, while Harvard-Westlake, is Division IV, and though the Wolverines will face some difficult competition in California’s playoffs (there’s depth up and down the state), at least there are no nationally or regionally ranked contenders in sight.
Still, the national champion will very likely be determined in California’s long postseason (with more than 1,200 high schools, the state titlist in each division could have to win nine straight games to be able to cut down the nets). The complicated logic goes like this:
*St. Mary’s beat Brea in the Nike TOC in Phoenix;
*Mater Dei beat St. Mary’s in the same tournament;
*Brea beat Mater Dei in the Tony Matson Memorial Classic.
Right now, the reasoning is that Brea beat Mater Dei, so the Ladycats are ranked ahead of the Monarchs – but since St. Mary’s beat Brea, that means the Rams are No. 1. But if Mater Dei knocks off Brea this weekend, then the Monarchs will vault to the top spot because of their win over St. Mary’s.
Then again, Bishop O’Dowd could derail the Rams’ express this weekend, thus opening the door for the winner of Mater Dei and Brea, regardless of who it is. Unless of course, unbeaten No. 2 Ben Davis of Indianapolis then is awarded its second straight national title.
But that would hardly seem fair. California doesn’t have a lot going for it right now, and it would be cruel and unusual punishment to take away one of the state’s few bright spots. And who knows? If the budget problems continue their death spiral, high school sports could be a casualty of next year’s cutbacks, so this may be California’s last chance for glory for a while.
Unless, of course, the biggest state deficit ever counts as a positive.