For seniors, more at stake than winning state
There's only one guarantee for the CIF state finals - all of the seniors will have mixed emotions before and after their games.More than the winning a championship or finishing second, this weekend will be the last time the seniors will wear their school uniform as their high school careers ends at Arco Arena in Sacramento. Imagine what's going through the mind of the Inglewood girls' basketball team who start four seniors. Two weeks ago, their fate was up in the air after a disappointing loss to Santa Ana Foothill in the Southern Section Division III-A finals.Now they're on the way to state and perhaps no one is happier than senior forward Taylor Champion, who rebounded from scoring four points against Foothill to tying her season high with 13 rebounds as her aggressive start set the tone for the Sentinels' victory over Marlborough in the Division III regional."We wanted something to show for this year," Champion said, referring to team winning a regional and Ocean League championship. Fellow seniors Makeda Beadle and Renee Golliday (29 combined points against Marlborough) will need similar outputs if the Sentinels wish to upset St. Mary's (Stockton), but the excitement of heading into what Sentinels coach Tony Scott called "uncharted waters" is hard to hide."It's something that's never been done before at our school," Gollliday said.Those are words that Windward senior Darius Morris can relate to. Last year, his team was bounced in the sectional quarterfinals and now, he and fellow seniors Malcolm Washington and Anthony Stover have the Wildcats poised to win the school's first state championship.Earlier this season, the Michigan-bound Morris was given high praise by Windward coach Miguel Villegas as the player who put the program on the map and ending his career would be an even bigger boost for next year's club, which could see greater contribution from standout sophomore Wesley Saunders.For established veterans Long Beach Poly and Westchester, the finale may be familiar but it still feels new especially for Westchester, whose last state title (2005) came a year before this senior class arrived."We all had one goal [this year] and that's to get to state," senior guard Dominique O'Connor said.While O'Connor and juniors Jordin Mayes and Dwayne Polee have gotten most of the attention, you can't say enough about the depth and balance of the Comets (34-2). It's only fitting that perhaps the deepest team in Southern California - if not the state - survived one of the toughest playoff brackets in state history.As Coach Ed Azzam spoke on the maturity of this team after their regional victory over Riverside King where they held to the lowest score in the Division I regional final (39 points), he started with his three seniors whom he credited with provided this mostly-junior team with direction."Deshaun McCoy and Dominique have been great leaders on and off the floor and Warren Moore has done some great things in practice," Azzam said.For the Poly girls team, it's been a difficult season as they battled injuries. Coach Carl Buggs said that Saturday's win against Ontario Colony was the third game all season where his full team has been together.It's also a young team that has battled immaturity most of the year which is why Buggs was grateful that senior Kelli Thompson - who has spent all four years on varsity - returned after missing eight weeks with a broken left wrist and provided a spark off the bench (seven points) against Colony.But here they are. One win from joining Bishop Montgomery (2000-03) as the only girls' school to win four consecutive state championships in a single division and from making Thompson one of a select few players to have four state titles under her belt."It means a lot, having been all four years," Thompson said. "It never gets old going to state."It could be a historical weekend for Southern California teams at state - including Brea Olinda's girls basketball team going for a ninth state title, breaking a tie they have with Crenshaw for most all-time - but for the seniors, their focus could best be summed by what Dominique O'Connor said after Pauley Pavilion emptied last weekend."I want to win my last game," O'Connor said.