Hoop dreams

By Jack Davis and Alex Edel

The 2009 boys’ basketball team was, by any measure, one of the most successful basketball teams in Harvard-Westlake history. A history that includes two state championships, two professional basketball players, and nine CIF championships in the last 20 years. But next year’s basketball team figures to be even better, as they boast something none of those previously mentioned squads had. Five returning starters.

In fact, last year’s CIF champion team had only two seniors who got regular playing time and a sophomore won the team’s MVP award, Damiene Cain ’11. Last year’s starting lineup featured four juniors, as well as sophomore Cain, and they all seem to agree upon two things.

One, the experience they gained will prove to be invaluable. Two, they have unfinished business.

“Last year we started off really slow,” forward Erik Swoope ’10 said, referring to the squad’s 5-5 start. “It set us back a little bit, but now that shouldn’t be an issue because we know what to expect from each other. Right out of the gates we can play our best and get in that groove we were able to find late in the season,” Swoope said.

Once the Wolverines did find that “groove” Swoope talked about, they were pretty much unstoppable. After a 5-5 start, the Wolverines ran off 23 victories in 25 games, including 12 straight before finally losing to Ocean View in the state semifinals.

For the girls’ basketball team, there are no players graduating. After winning CIF last year and getting to the quarter finals in the state playoffs, the girls’ basketball team is looking forward to another season of wins.

The varsity team is made up of mostly juniors and sophomores. Next year almost the entire starting lineup will consist of seniors.

“They are not young anymore. I think as you get older, you feel that sense of urgency and that’s what is going to be fun about next year, there is going to be that urgency. Like after we lost the state game, the second round, they were like, well we have next year, well next year everything we do will be for the last time. That’s what is going to be the difference, and hopefully the driving force for us next year,” Coach Melissa Hearlihy said.

During the boy’s 12 game win streak, the Wolverines won every game but one by double digits, and absolutely decimated their competition in the playoffs.

In the first round against Gabriellino, they won by 33 points, following that victory with a 20 point destruction of Calabasas after being down seven early.

They then won by 14 over Bonita in the CIF quarterfinals, again overcoming an early deficit, before beating Sonora by 12 in the CIF semifinals, in a game that wasn’t as close as the score may indicate.

They easily dismantled Gahr 87-75 with a decisive third quarter in the CIF championship, before blowing out Ridgeview by 23 in the first round of state playoffs. That set up a rematch with Gahr in the state quarterfinals, which didn’t nearly live up to the hype surrounding the game.

Not that that was a problem for the Wolverines.

They jumped out to an early 12 point lead in the first quarter and never looked back, wearing Gahr down physically and emotionally enroute to a 97-77 victory.

After the game Coach Greg Hilliard said, “that was the best we have played all year. That is how I imagine us when we are playing at our best.”

However an 11-game winning streak that spanned 45 days finally met its match in the state semifinals, as the Wolverines fell to Ocean View 79-63 in the state seminfinals at Pauley Pavilion.

While the team was heartbroken after the loss, with many players in tears, an air of optimism lingered in the players’ post game comments.

“This hurts but we get to bring everybody back next year,” guard Nate Bulluck ’10 said. “There is no reason we can’t do all this and more next year, so I’m upset we lost but I know this isn’t our last shot.”

Next year girls’ team will have a very competitive schedule, competing in three tournaments over spring break. A 32 team tournament is to be held at Harvard-Westlake right before Christmas. These tournaments will give the team a good idea of where they stand as they approach playoffs.

Hearlihy said it is very hard to predict where the team will stand next season because CIF is going to be realigned. Because the team won CIF last year they are automatically bumped up a division, and the team also might be bumped because of the realignment. This would put the girls in Division 3A instead of Division 4A.

The team is gaining one more freshman next year, but is still lacking height.

“We have a young girl coming in that I am told is very good, but size wise to say that somebody is going to help us, they would have to be 6’2″ to 6’4″. Tiana Woolridge is working very hard so we are hoping that she is going to fill that void for us but size is what we are really looking for and this girl is not quite that big,” Hearlihy said.

“Someone who we are hoping will step in and offer us things early is Tiana Woolridge. The one thing that we were really struggling with this year was rebounding and I think she could offer that for us,” Hearlihy said.

Both the girls’ and boys’ basketball team have an all underclassmen starting lineup, and the majority of the soccer team are underclassmen. All three of the teams went to CIF finals and the basketball teams won CIF.

“I think it’s cyclical. That has been my experience, they go in cycles. You will have two classes that are really strong and then two classes that are not as strong and I think that that is across the board,” said Hearlihy.