SAMOHI — A pair of third-round playoff defeats in a row has junior point guard Thea Lemberger frustrated.
In her third year on varsity, she would love nothing more than to make it to the quarter finals of the Division I-AA California Interscholastic Federation’s playoffs — and perhaps even further.
“For right now, we just need to get through each game,” she said. “I want to get past the third round and hopefully get us a ring.”
This year offers the Santa Monica High School girls basketball team its best chance in years. Samohi finished the season second in the Ocean League and earned a no. 2 seeding in the postseason. The Vikings will parlay the lofty position into a home playoff game against Anaheim High School today at 7:30 p.m.
The Vikings, who finished the season 20-6 overall and 8-2 in league play, will be taking on a team that barely qualified for the playoffs with a 8-13 overall record and 3-7 record in Orange League play.
Head Coach Marty Verdugo said he doesn’t know much about Anaheim, but is confident his players are focused on the task at hand.
“We understand that this is the playoffs and it brings out the best of other teams,” he said. “Records mean nothing at this point. Everybody is going to come out and do their best.”
The Vikings success this season was not without its disappointments. After starting the season 13-2 overall, Samohi began a three-game losing streak including two losses to Ocean League rivals. That hiccup gave the Vikings reason to reassess their situation and regroup.
From that point on, the Vikings finished the season in high gear going 7-1 down the stretch and secured a second place finish in the Ocean and setup what could be a fruitful run in this season’s postseason.
“People have grown into their roles,” Verdugo said. “They realize their piece to the puzzle.”
Verdugo added that understanding each player’s role has been the key to overcoming that mid-season slide.
Center Brenna McNamara is a prime example of filling a role. After starting the season on the bench, injuries to junior Lilly Feder and freshman Sabrina Norton forced McNamara into the starting lineup where she has become one of the team’s primary contributors on defense.
“Personally for me, energy is a huge thing,” McNamara said. “I like to be loud and get people going.
“Talking and communication would be my role.”
Verdugo said that, aside from bringing energy to the team, McNamara has been particularly tough on the boards and defense. He said she grew into a legitimate inside presence that has been invaluable for the Vikings this season.
Senior forward Ellesse Brandis too has grown into one of the most dynamic players on the team.
“When she is bringing her ‘A’ game, we are at a different level,” Verdugo said.
If everything comes together for the Vikings this could be the year the team finally raises a banner to the rafters of the school’s gym.
“We know how good we can play, we know how bad we can play,” Lemberger said. “If we take care of business, it is on us.
“If we play our best, we can’t lose.”