ST. MONICA — After losing the first three games of the season, Head Coach Therese Charkut was a bit surprised by the way her Mariners began the season.

Despite returning three starters from last year’s team that advanced to the second round of the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section playoffs, St. Monica’s girls basketball team came out of the gate with a whimper instead of a roar.

“This season hasn’t been what we expected it to be,” Charkut said. “Good thing the end of the year is more important.”

Apparently, her Mariners aren’t waiting for the season to progress any further to get right. A win over Notre Dame Academy on Thursday gave St. Monica its second win in a row and reason to feel comfortable going forward.

“It was a big win for us,” Charkut said before practice on Friday. “We came from behind.”

Returning starter Cory LaGuardia, who has been averaging double digits in both points and rebounds this season, again led the Mariners in the victory. Charkut said that the returning second team All-CIF honoree will again be asked to lead the team if St. Monica is to return to the postseason.

Now that the Mariners (2-3 overall) have put their losing ways behind them for the time being, Charkut said that it will be the leadership of her returning starters that will enable them to ride out bouts of poor play and begin their climb to possible Camino Real League supremacy.

“They want the same things,” Charkut said of her players. “They seem really motivated to put the team first.

“It doesn’t matter who gets it done as long as it’s getting done.”

Included in that group of team leaders are four-year starting guards Leslie Flores and Kaitlin Wilcox, who give St. Monica steady hands in the backcourt.

While the starters figured big in the win over Notre Dame Academy, the bench was able to respond to keep St. Monica in the game after falling behind early. Charkut played a total of eight players, but said that won’t be the case during tough games. She said, like most high school teams, the starters will be doing the bulk of the work.

That work continues next week when St. Monica travels to Arizona to take part in the Nike Tournament of Champions. They will be joined in the tournament by Santa Monica High School’s girls varsity team, although both teams will be playing in different divisions. Nearby Palisades High School will be in the same division as St. Monica.

“This is our first time [playing in the Nike tournament],” she said. “We’ll see how we do, we’re pretty excited.”

The tournament will feature teams from across the region in what both Charkut and Samohi Head Coach Marty Verdugo said will be the most competitive tournament either team will participate in this season.

“I think we should be ready,” Charkut said.

Once St. Monica completes the Nike tournament, the Mariners will be off until Dec. 26 when the Mariners take on El Camino Real on the road.

Crosstown rivalry?<P>

Both the boys and girls basketball teams at private schools New Roads and Crossroads will face-off next week in what could be called the battle of Santa Monica.

Crossroads will host the double dip on Dec. 15 with the girls beginning the action at 5:30 p.m. The boys will tip-off at 7 p.m.

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