SAMOHI — The first game of the season may be nearly five months away, but the Vikings’ girls basketball team isn’t taking the summer off.
The squad from Santa Monica High School is proving that last season’s trip to the semifinals of the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division IA playoffs wasn’t a fluke. With star guard Thea Lemberger leading the charge the Vikings went 5-0 at a team camp at UCLA this past weekend giving Head Coach Marty Verdugo confidence that next season may be a success in the making.
“I think we’re going to be very good in a different way,” Verdugo said. “We had to slow it down last season.”
He looks to up the pace for a team that returns a strong backcourt built for speed. Lemberger and junior Kristina Johnson paced the team during a camp that saw the Vikings defeat South Torrance, Burroughs, Monte Vista, San Pasqual and Hart high schools.
The trip to UCLA was particularly significant for Lemberger who has been extended a scholarship to play for the school after her upcoming senior season.
Lemberger, who has also drawn interest from Santa Clara, New Mexico, Oregon and Cal State Fullerton among others, is undecided on the offer, but is leaning toward accepting it.
“I like UCLA and New Mexico right now,” she said. “I’m just waiting to see what my options are after July. I want to see what comes up then make my decision from there.”
Verdugo, who has coached the team for four seasons, is excited to produce the program’s first NCAA Division I prospect and hopes that success carries over to other players.
He said that the team currently has two other top prospects in addition to Lemberger. He said that Johnson and sophomore Sabrina Norton, daughter of former UCLA and NFL standout Ken Norton Jr., are also drawing the eyes of major college recruiters.
Developing viable prospects is just one way Verdugo hopes to continue his program’s success. He added that it encourages other, younger players to dream big and gives them the confidence that what they achieve is not done so in a vacuum.
“The job for me is to get them ready to play at that next level,” Verdugo said. “It makes me feel good as a coach. You hope to get girls to that top tier.”
That aspiration appears to have taken shape at Samohi as the girls team has quickly become one of the most successful programs at a school that takes its sports seriously.