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SoCal High School & Prep Report

High School Preview: South Coast League
Mater Dei--(December 4,1997)

Mater Dei is one of those powers that sometimes defies description. It's really a legendary program. Coach Hilliard at Harvard-Westlake has been known to simply call Mater Dei "the program." And he's not alone. Santa Ana Mater Dei has achieved in ways that others can only dream of. 12 CIF Southern Section Titles in Division I-A. Three State Championships. A coach who's established a record of 454-35 in 16 years. A team that might have won it again last year had they not run into Crenshaw, which was on it's own way to a state championship.

Mater Dei plays in the South Coast League with Capistrano Valley, Dana Hills, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, and Trabuco Hills. Last season they established a 32-3 record, going undefeated in league play. They won the Southern Section Division I-A title last season by beating Etiwanda 88-70 after Etiwanda had defeated Glendora in the semifinals. They were ranked last year by USA Today at No. 12 in the USA. But they've had a lot to contend with since last year.

Twelve seniors graduated. And they had a few transfers too, including Troy Sims, a 6-2 senior guard who left to go to Ocean View. Coach Gary McKnight is being realistic about the season. He truly believes it's a "rebuilding" year, not a "down" year. He told the Orange County Register yesterday, "It's not a 'down year'. A 'down year' is when you win five or 10 games. I think we're capable of winning 15 to 20 games, and for most schools that would be a fine year."

That's a big admission from a guy who in sixteen years has lost only 35 games. That means he's figuring to lose somewhere between 10 to 15 games. . . For McKnight that's not a "down year", that's a nightmare. But we do admire his optimism. "We'll be OK by the time the season ends," McKnight told the LA Times recently.

The roster includes:

Mike Bayer (6'-6" Jr. F)
Steve Scoggin (6'-2" So. G)
Eric Soderberg (6'-7" Fr. F/C)
Christian McGuigan (6'-2" So. G)
Ryan Stacey (6'-6" So. G)
Derek Mansell (6'-2" Jr. G)
David Rivera (6'-0" Sr. G)
Tom Welch (6'-4" Sr. F)
Imran Sufi (5'-10" Jr SG)
Adam Foster (6'-1" Sr SF/PF)
Steven Hilferty (6'-2" Jr SG/SF)
Cedric Boseman (6'-3" Fr SG)
Sal Munoz (6'-3" Jr PF)
Steve Henderson (6'-4" So SG)

The Orange County Register described Mater Dei their Preseason Profile of the team, perhaps a bit harshly as follows: "This could be the most beatable Mater Dei team in seasons--until the Monarchs mature. . ." We don't know whether to agree or disagree, because at least on paper, it looks like it could be a good team. But then teams don't play on paper, and McKnight's guarded comments lead us to believe that perhaps the Register is correct, and McKnight's not really understating the problems Mater Dei could have.

Junior Mike Bayer and sophomore Steve Scoggin are the lone returning varsity players, and neither was a starter last year. Bayer, a power forward, has a lot of skill, but according to most information available, has been troubled by a stress fracture suffered this summer, and will be a little on the weak side until he is fully recovered. Scoggin has a lot of raw talent, but has been given the task of running the offense from the point guard position. "He's a very talented young player," McKnight said. "He will be one of Mater Dei's stronger players down the road."

Junior Derrick Mansell is the oldest of the other three starters this year. Mansell's strongest asset are his defense and his ability to drive the lane. Sophomore Christian McGuigan and freshman Eric Soderberg fill out the starting five, and lend some much needed height with Soderberg's 6'-7" frame, and McGuigan's fine shooting touch. Ryan Stacey, a sophomore who has played for some of the best AAU traveling teams, is a very mobile kid who plays very tough under the basket, and he has the capacity to be a pretty good player. Stacey can hit the J well and has good footwork inside. He will be the key to McKnight's rebuilding. Sufi is a very good shooter, and will see some time off the bench. David Rivera, a senior, and Tom Welch also a senior provide a bit of depth on the bench. One player who people were talking about a lot before well before the season started was Cedric Boseman. Folks are saying that he's a real player, possibly another Miles Simon. We'll see. Maybe he'll get into the game. Maybe he won't. None of the media guides are talking about him, so McKnight is staying pretty quiet, keeping him under wraps.

Mater Dei will play tomorrow in the Wooden Classic against Crespi. From our perspective, the jury's still out on this game. Crespi is young, and they've got a new coach. Should be interesting.

Mater Dei will also play at the Orange County Holiday Classic, at the Tournament of Champions December 8-13 at Ocean View High School, and after years of attending the Reebok Holiday Prep Classic in Las Vegas, Mater Dei, in a burst of realism has elected to skip the tournament, and instead will play in a small tournament in San Luis Obispo. They will however, attend a national tournament after they've gotten some experience under their belt, the Nike Extravaganza where they'll face St. Patricks from New Jersey, and they will also play back in SoCal at the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Challenge on January 19, 1998.

Could be a great rebuilding year. We still figure they'll win their league, and go deep into the Sectionals. It is Mater Dei, after all.

The Swish Award

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