Culver Girls Defeat Mira Costa
By Fred Altieri
Meet the Culver City High girls basketball team: the hottest team in town and the newly crowned 2014 CIF Southern Section Division 2AA champions.
The Centaurs captured their first Division title since 1979 with a determined and resolute win over Mira Costa High of Manhattan Beach, 55-49, last Friday night at the spacious and impressive campus of Godinez Fundamental High in Santa Ana.
Culver completed unfinished business from the past two years when they made it to the semifinals and finals respectively but came home empty-handed each time.
Head coach Julian Anderson was ecstatic: "Winning the title was a little surreal. I'm very proud and happy for the players as they've sacrificed their time and effort to be a part of something special. It was a big win for the community.
"It was my fifth time there as a player and as a coach but it was my first win so I was as excited as a kid."
The Centaurs won their 16th consecutive game and are now 30-4 for the season as they prepare for the CIF State Championships beginning this week when they host Roosevelt of Los Angeles in the first round.
Anderson: "We won against very good competition. Elsinore, Eisenhower, Foothill, Norco and Mira Costa, all of these teams have a history of being solid. And we're not talking about teams that do a lot of heavy recruiting. They deal with what they have which to me makes them even more special."
Mira Costa opened up a 7-3 lead. Culver responded with a three-pointer from Kelsey Ueda and two swishing jumpers from the corner by Kailey Tooke, who started the game despite nursing a very-sprained ankle. That spirit along with strong board play and scoring from Michelle Curry led the Centaurs on a 19-4 run and a 26-17 halftime lead.
But Mira Costa was not going away.
Anderson on Tooke's injury: "The athletic trainer, Marcos White, we told him, "You're probably the MVP of this one," because he worked around the clock getting Kailey ready and she did all the necessary steps. She showed a lot of maturity and absolutely stepped up and proved that she definitely had the heart to go with it."
Curry and company came out of the blocks in the third and built the Centaur lead up to 37-22 within minutes. The defense was effective according to Anderson: "Our goal was to stay out on the shooters. I didn't think they could beat us off the dribble.
Coach Tom Nakayama went out and got film on Mira Costa. They're a really good shooting and driving kick team. We didn't want them to beat us by allowing them things that they're used to doing. We were willing to give up a few baskets to maintain the pressure on them outside."
Culver had an early fourth quarter lead, 42-32, when the gates opened for the Mustangs. With Curry in foul trouble Mira Costa started controlling the offensive boards. Combined with intense pressure they forced several turnovers and put Culver on the ropes in a matter of minutes. With 3:24 left in the game a 13-0 run gave the Mustangs a sudden and jarring 45-44 lead.
Anderson prepared his team: "We talk about the storm. And the team with the biggest storm or the team that can withstand the other team's storm is usually the one that has a better chance of winning. We did a good job when the storm hit us hard and we came back with our own storm."
Culver maintained its composure. Ueda pushed the ball up the right side and hit Tooke with a laser pass for a textbook fastbreak layup. It was the lightening bolt that decimated the Mustangs' comeback aspirations. On cue, a pressing defense forged a 10-4 closing run and appropriately put the finishing touches on a remarkable tournament sweep by the Centaurs.
The impact of the hundreds of Culver fans who made numerous long treks to support their girls throughout the season was not lost on Anderson:
"The fan support was the best and it was huge for the Centaur baseball team to come out and support us from the stands. It was like: here we're into a fight and we have some backup. As for the families it's a huge milestone in their lives.
"We have parents and extended family that want to share that moment with their daughters. Even though the location was far away people made sure they got there. Our fan base has been great all year."
And like all championship teams dream about but few get to realize, the Centaur players, coaches and parents cruised a few miles north and continued their celebration into the night at a very noteworthy location.
"After the game we went to downtown Disney at the Rainforest Cafe, ate together, had a good time, enjoyed themselves and basked in the moment."
Introducing your 2014 champion Culver City High girls basketball team: Alexis Aquino, Alexis Arancibia, Gwen Machado, Kailey Tooke, Kate Suyetsugu, Katie Lin, Kelli Tademaru, Kelsey Ueda, Lindsey Tanita, Megan Yoon and Michelle Curry; team manager Megan Montez; student trainers Cynthia Herrera and Jocelyn Torres; athletic trainer Marcos White; coaches: Julian Anderson, Mark Kitabayashi and Tom Nakayama.