2009 NIKE EXTRAVAGANZA
At Mater Dei HS, Santa Ana, Calif.
Friday Girls (state rankings)
— No. 31 St. Paul (Santa Fe Springs) 14-8 vs. No. 185 Dana Hills (Dana Point) 13-10
— No. 40 Santa Margarita (Rancho Santa Margarita) 12-10 vs. No. 28 Villa Park 16-6
— No. 5 Foothill (Santa Ana) 21-1 vs. No. 175 Long Beach Wilson 9-15
— No. 1 Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 24-0 vs. No. 3 Cajon (San Bernardino) 23-1
Friday Boys (state ranking)
9 p.m. — No. 365 JSerra Catholic (San Juan Capistrano) 11-13 vs. No. 341 Dos Pueblos (Goleta) 11-12
Morning Session (state rankings)
— No. 107 Colony (Ontario) 18-6 vs. No. 32 Sonora (La Habra) 21-2
— No. 429 Servite (Anaheim) 5-18 vs. No. 14 Los Alamitos 22-1.
— No. 87 Santa Margarita 16-7 vs. No. 304 Troy (Fullerton)
— No. 4 King (Riverside) 17-2 vs. No. 71 Ocean View (Huntington Beach) 18-6
— No. 39 Orange Lutheran (Orange) 21-4 vs. No. 72 Campbell Hall (North Hollywood) 16-6
Afternoon Session (national rankings)
— No. 4 Westchester (Los Angeles) 22-1 vs. No. 251 Rainer Beach (Seattle, Wash.) 11-4
— No. 27 Fairfax (Los Angeles) 18-3 vs. No. 129 Whitney Young (Chicago) 17-6
— No. 59 Dominguez (Compton) 19-4 vs. No. 76 De La Salle (Concord) 20-1
— No. 1 Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 23-0 vs. No. 9 St. Benedict’s Prep (Newark, N.J.) 22-1
* Records through Thursday
* All cities in California unless noted
* All boys and girls rankings are MaxPreps/National Guard computer-generated
* See also MaxPreps human-generated Xcellent 25 boys and girls rankings.
* TV: ESPNU
By Mitch Stephens
SANTA ANA, Calif. — They’re 24-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country by just about every national media outlet out there.
They share the ball. They play amazing defense. And they’re beautifully coached.
And, believe it or not, they are the “other” team on the Mater Dei (Santa Ana) campus.
It’s not necessarily because they are a bunch of dames that the Monarchs' girls basketball team sometimes gets lost in all the glory.
It’s just that the boys team, one with virtually identical credentials and ranking, is frankly quite a bit more established.
The male Monarchs have won five state and 10 Southern California crowns since 1990. Mater Dei's girls have never won a Southern Section crown.
So when boys coach Gary McKnight, who has guided Mater Dei to an 820-74 mark with 25 league and 19 Section crowns over the last 26 seasons, says this very well could be his greatest team, well, the lady Monarchs sometimes get a little shunned.
No worries, second-year Mater Dei girls coach Kevin Kiernan said. His team’s time will come.
“We’re definitely trying to build something very special here,” he said. “We’re just a little ahead of schedule.”
It’s not exactly like Kiernan built Rome in a day. But, judging from 49 wins in his first 53 games as coach for the Monarchs, he might get it done in 48 hours.
He did similar magical wonders at nearby Troy High in Fullerton, where he won three state and five Southern California titles in 11 seasons.
The 49-year-old demands passion, discipline and a family atmosphere, all reasons why he gladly took an invitation from Mater Dei.
His host team takes on 21-1 Cajon (San Bernardino), No. 15 nationally in the MaxPreps.com Xcellent 25, in today’s premier game of the Nike Extravaganza. Cajon is No. 4 in the MaxPreps/National Guard computer-generated national ranking.
“I guess after 11 seasons I was just looking for a different challenge,” Kiernan said. “I won’t lie, they were building a great facility here. That was enticing. But I also was attracted to all the tradition here at the school and all the sports.”
With little ego and a giant thirst to learn, Kiernan also knew he would expand his basketball knowledge by watching McKnight every day. And according to Kiernan, McKnight was eager to mentor.
“As long as he was open, why wouldn’t I pick as much information as I could from a great coach like that,” Kiernan said.
Clearly, Kiernan already had a tremendous skill set for coaching. His reputation was impeccable before he even arrived. He was expected to turn the lady Monarchs, a program that had largely under-achieved and was a combined 28-27 the previous two seasons before him, into a Southern Section power.
But national power? By early in his second season?
After winning their own Mater Dei Hoops Classic with ease, the Monarchs went down to arguably the nation’s top female tournament and won it going away.
They won four games against national competition by an average margin of 31 points, including absolute routes over perennial national powers Highlands Ranch-Colo. (73-24) and Bishop Gorman-Las Vegas (63-42).
At least two national rankings put them all the way to the top after that and both MaxPreps National Guard computer generated and human-based Xcellent 25 have the Monarchs No. 1 in the country.
“I still say we’re a little overhyped,” Kiernan said. “We went down there to Arizona and caught fire just at the right time.”
They haven’t cooled off all season, having doubled their opponents score, winning by an average tally of 72-35.
As impressive as they are offensively, having scored at least 63 in every game but one this season, they are equally adept on the defensive end. They started the season by allowing less than 30 points its first four games. In the last two games the Monarchs have allowed 24 points in each game.
“This is the deepest and most talented team I’ve ever coached,” Kiernan said. “But frankly, we haven’t really accomplished anything yet. We’ve won two league titles which is great and last year we had a goal of winning 20 games and instead with had 25.
“But compared to the boys, we have a long way to go.”
As much as Kiernan preaches team ball, unselfishness and wide contributions, the undisputed leader and biggest reason the Monarchs have improved so greatly this season has been the play of Kaleena Lewis.
The 6-foot guard led the Monarchs in scoring last year at 15.5 points per game, but she’s upped that number to 23.5 per game. Lewis, an off guard, can either post up or shoot from the perimeter. She’s extremely skilled and Kiernan believes she’s unquestionably one of the top sophomores in the country.
“The major thing is her confidence has grown so much,” Kiernan said. “Last year she was just a freshman and not always comfortable to take the big shot. This year she’s our leader and she knows we need her to score.”
She also knows distributing her the ball is one of the country’s top freshman, 6-foot point guard Jordan Adams (8 point, 7 rebounds, 6 assists per game.).
Adams is one of three freshmen on the 16-person roster, which also includes four sophomores, five juniors and three seniors. .
“In meaningful games we’ll play 11 or 12 players,” Kiernan said. “They always seem to come together at the right time.”
As far as Adams goes, Kiernan said: “She’s really long and is an amazing ball handler. She’s well beyond her years. She rarely gets rattled.”
Adams also finds a pair of nine-point-a-game scorers in 5-8 guard Kathryn Haugen, a senior, and 6-1 senior Mya Olivier who has signed a letter of intent to Cal State Fullerton. Olivier missed all of last season with a knee injury. “She’s another big reason for our improvement,” Kiernan said. “Kathryn is the glue that really holds us together,” Kiernan said. “She’s a really good shooter and extremely steady.”
Lauren Rock, a 5-8 junior, is much like a Gibraltar on defense and likely will guard one of the nation’s best backcourt players Layshia Clarendon, a 5-8 senior for Cajon averaging 18.5 points, 8.1 assists, 8.1 rebounds and 4.5 steals per game. “She’s our stopper,” Kiernan said. “She’ll have her hands full because (Clarendon) can do anything on the court.”
Alexyz Vailotama, a 6-1 sophomore who started all of last season, leads the charge off the bench. The Monarchs come in waves and have plenty in the tank by the fourth quarter.
Not that many games have even been competitive by then.
The team’s closest margin was 49-41 over La Jolla Country Day on Jan. 24 and other than that no one has come closer than a 75-60 win over Eastlake (Chula Vista) on Dec. 26. Other than those two games, the closest margin has been 21.
That’s why tonight’s game is so vital. The Monarchs need to be involved in a competitive game.
“We see (tonight’s game) as a win-win situation,” Kiernan said. “If we play well and win it solidifies that all we’ve been doing has been legitimate. If we lose or play poorly it will be a wakeup call heading into the playoffs.”
Though the Cal-bound Clarendon is clearly the team’s superstar, Darshae Burnside, a 6-3 senior post, is the Cowboys’ leading scorer. The Arkansas-bound standout averages 18.7 points per game, 15.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per game while shooting 54 percent from the field.
Cajon also has scoring threats in 5-7 freshman Sophia Bhagin (8.3 points per game), 5-9 senior Maya Darby (7.8) and 5-7 sophomore Kori Walker (5-7).
“It’s a great team we’re playing and a great challenge,” Kiernan said. “By the end of the night we should see just how mentally tough we are.”
Mitch Stephens will be on-site throughout the two-day event. Look for tournament notes and game previews throughout the day. E-mail Mitch Stephens at email@example.com.