Los Angeles Preps: Melissa Zornig

LA South & Orange County: Wideman
beats Zornig in Bishop Amat's upset

March, 13, 2010
SANTA MARGARITA – Melissa Zornig may have been the best player on the floor Saturday night in the Southern California Regional Division III girls' semfinals, but Arielle Wideman was right there.

As in, right there when it counted.

Wideman, the Nevada-Reno bound guard for La Puente Bishop Amat, scored 17 points and had eight rebounds to lift the Lancers to a 58-48 upset of top-seeded Santa Margarita. Wideman scored 20 in Bishop Amat's 70-61 upset of fourth-seeded Agoura two nights earlier.

“She's a D-1 college player for a reason,” said Bishop Amat coach Richard Wiard, whose 26-7 team will play third-seeded Inglewood (29-5) on March 20 at the Galen Center.

Wideman was part of the Lancers' 2007 team that reached the state finals but wasn't much of a contributor when it mattered. Things have changed.

“I had limited minutes, and to lead and be a part of it is great,” Wideman said after scoring back-to-back buckets when Zornig and Santa Margarita (25-7) rallied. “We tried to build a cushion. I just had to score, try to take over and be a leader.”

UC Santa Barbara-bound Zornig finished with 28 points. She scored 13 of her team's 15 points in the fourth, including a three-point basket and three-point play on consecutive possessions to make it 47-41 with 3:41 to go, but Wideman connected from 18 feet and then scored inside to bump the margin to 10.

Wideman also had a clutch supporting cast. Holding a 36-33 lead, Gina Henderson hit a three-point basket with four seconds left in the third quarter that ignited an 11-2 run. Zornig then scored 11 of her 13 fourth-quarter points in the final 4:20.

Henderson scored 14, and Leticia Galarza scored 15 for Bishop Amat, which out-rebounded the taller Eagles, 26-19. Galarza, listed at 5 feet 9 inches, gave up 12 points to 6-foot-4 Elise Lorenz but limited her to only three rebounds.

Bishop Amat led at halftime, 24-22, but blossomed in the third quarter when its smaller but quicker lineup started driving to the basket against the slower Eagles. Bishop Amat was 12 of 19 from the field in the second half, including six of eight in the fourth quarter while Santa Margarita was shooting seven of 14. That kind of performance will prevent a comeback.

Wiard had high praise for his defense, which was prepared by assistant Brandon Ertl. Andrea Villanueva and Vianai Austin made Zornig work for everything she got, and also kept her off the free-throw line: She was three-for-five from the line.

“Zornig is indefensible as [former Ventura Buena coach] Joe Vaughn said, but we did a great job on everyone else,” Wiard said.

LA South & Orange County: Bishop Amat is
legit threat to D-III favorite Santa Margarita

March, 13, 2010
One of the intriguing girls' basketball matchups in the Southern California Regional semifinals will be top-seeded Santa Margarita (25-6) against La Puente Bishop Amat (25-7) in Division III on Saturday.

In particular, rookie coach Matt Houser against venerable Richard Wiard.

Houser is hoping to become the second member of his family to win a state basketball championship. His younger sister, Whitney Houser, started for Laguna Hills during its 1997 championship season. Santa Margarita has enjoyed a lot of success but has never played for the state title.

Wiard has guided Bishop Amat to four state title games; the Lancers won in 2005 and 2006, lost in 2004 and 2007. It was in 2007 that Amat overcame a fourth-quarter deficit to beat Santa Margarita in the regional finals.

One thing is certain, Houser's advantage is that he will have the best player on the floor, UC Santa Barbara-bound Melissa Zornig. Earlier this week, former Ventura Buena coach Joe Vaughn -- the winningest girls' basketball coach in state history -- said that Zornig was indefensible.

It will be interesting to see what Wiard concocts to try to shake Zornig off her game. Amat just defeated fourth-seeded Agoura, 70-61; Agoura beat Buena in the section semifinals, 67-55. Santa Margarita beat Buena on Thursday, 42-39.

Cause for alarm at Santa Margarita?

“The scary thing about us is we tend to play to the level of our competition,” said Houser, who has three players -- Zornig, Denise Fernandez and Elise Lorenz -- who played in the 2007 loss to Bishop Amat for then-coach Richard Schaaf.

It should be a good game as Arielle Wideman of Amat tries to lead her team to the regional finals against the winner of third-seeded Inglewood (28-5) and second-seeded Spring Valley Mount Miguel (32-2). Besides Wiard, Wideman is the only link to the 2007 team that reached the state finals. She scored 20 against Agoura.

Tipoff at Santa Margarita is scheduled for 5 p.m.

As for Whitney Houser, who had a killer shot from the corner on a team that had all the elements, including 6-foot-6 Tayyiba Haneef (now a member of the U.S. Olympic volleyball team), she is now working in television production alongside point guard Mary Tims. Guard Tamara Inoue is an assistant coach at Santa Clara, and Erin Larsen is the softball coach at Trabuco Hills.

LA North & Orange County: Santa Margarita driven by embarrassing performance

March, 10, 2010
Santa Margarita rolls into its second-round Division III girls' basketball Regional on Thursday coming off a 71-46 victory over North Hills Monroe. The reason it was so decisive was the Eagles' shooting.

When the starters exited in the fourth quarter, they had made 25 of 42 from the field. After sleepwalking through the first half, they made eight of their nine three-point baskets in the second half.

Santa Margarita's hot shooting goes back to a Feb. 10 season-ending Trinity League loss to Orange Lutheran, 52-29, in which it made only 11 of 53 (20.7 percent). Since that time, Santa Barbara-bound Melissa Zornig (23.8 ppg) and Denise Fernandez (6.9 ppg) have made sure their teammates take extra shooting after practice.

"We thank our lucky stars that we had that kind of shooting game in league, and not in CIF or State," first-year coach Matt Houser said. "We got that game out of the way."

The Eagles' worst shooting performance since was against La Verne Bonita, 19 of 51, in the Southern Section Division 3A semifinals; throw that one out, and the Eagles have been shooting 47.6 percent from the field. More impressive, this isn't a team that lives off the layup.

In the six games since the loss to Orange Lutheran, three different players have complemented Zornig as the top scorer, and Madison McKinney (UC Riverside) even outscored Zornig against La Habra.

Santa Margarita (23-6) plays host to Ventura Buena (22-9) on Thursday, 6 p.m. Filming Santa Margarita against Monroe was former Buena coach Joe Vaughn, the state's winningest girls' basketball coach.

His postgame assessment to a reporter about Zornig can be paraphrased with one word: Indefensible.

LA North & Orange County: Uninspired
Santa Margarita has a hot hand in victory

March, 9, 2010
RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA – As the Southern California favorite to reach the State finals on March 27 in Bakersfield, Santa Margarita carries the weight of the Division III Regional on its shoulders. The Eagles weren't just playing to win Tuesday against North Hills Monroe, they were also positioning themselves for games Thursday and Saturday. They needed to win, but they needed to conserve their resources in what will be a brutally tough three-game week.

With generally uninspired play in the first half – it sure looked as if Santa Margarita was resting, if not on its laurels then its haunches – it was mission accomplished. Santa Margarita scored a 71-46 victory over Monroe, the Los Angeles City Section runner-up in Division 3.

Southern Section Division 3A champion Santa Margarita (24-6) must play better, and certainly more inspired, on Thursday against Ventura Buena, which won't cut the Eagles the same slack as Monroe's inexperienced team. Buena won easily over Lake Balboa Birmingham, the team that beat Monroe for the section title.

The saving grace for Santa Margarita was its extraordinary shooting percentage, 13 of 25 in the first half to build a 28-15 lead, and 25 of 42 by the time the starters left in the fourth quarter with a 66-30 margin.

“As soon as you win a championship like that, you get scared the girls will cut it off, like we're done,” said first-year coach Matt Houser. “The first half, we played like that.”

UC Santa Barbara-bound Melissa Zornig scored 26 points. She made six consecutive three-point attempts, wrapped around a turnaround jumper, in the second half as Santa Margarita came to life. Denise Fernandez added 15.

The visiting Vikings (23-9), for all their shooting woes and without a senior starter, were surprisingly close early. Just two of 18 from the field, Asiyat Avolabi's three-point basket made it a six-point game midway through the second quarter, 14-8, although that was the closest Monroe would get. Junior Ani Avanessian scored 14 for Monroe, which started two juniors, two sophomores and freshman Ayisat Afolabi, who scored nine.

“We understand the benefits of resting,” Houser said, “but you always want to start hard and rest in the second half. It's upsetting that we had to play starters longer than we wanted.”