Thea Lemberger from The Santa Monica High School girls varsity basketball team goes for a layup at Mater Dei High School, the host site for the DIvision 1A CIF Southern Sectional girls basketball championship last week. Samohi beat Summit 69-63 to win the title. (photo by Morgan Genser)

SAMOHI — A season of historic firsts will continue for Santa Monica High School’s girls basketball team.

Just days removed from winning the school’s first California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section title, the Samohi Vikings have been named the No. 3 seed in the southern draw of the Division 1 CIF State Championships. The Vikings will host No. 14 seed Narbonne of Harbor City in the first round at 7 p.m.

It will be the first time a Samohi girls basketball team will host a state playoff game, school officials said.

Making the feat all the more historic, if Samohi (26-6 overall, 10-0 in Ocean League play) can advance to the second round, it will host another state game against the winner of the Canyon Springs/Etiwanda game.

“We wanted the second [seed], but we’re happy with the third,” Samohi Head Coach Marty Verdugo said. “If the stars align right, we have a chance to win this thing.”

This is the second straight year Samohi has qualified for the state playoffs. After losing in the semi-finals of the CIF-SS Division 1A playoffs last year, the team had the bad luck of drawing eventual state champion Long Beach Poly. The Vikings were routed, but it served as a boost that helped propel the Vikings to these unprecedented heights, Verdugo said.

Poly is the No. 1 seed in the tournament this season. Clovis West of Fresno is No. 2.

This will be the second meeting of the season for Narbonne and Samohi. The Vikings, playing with a dramatically different lineup from the team that will take the court tonight, had enough to win, 59-48. Senior guard Thea Lemberger led all scorers with 24 points. Lilly Feder added 17.

The biggest difference from that team is the addition of a pair of transfers from Arizona that helped Samohi win the CIF-SS title this year. Juniors Moriah Faulk and Bianka Balthazar, both standing at 5-10, have given the Vikings the inside presence that was lacking in years past. Both have helped make up for the void left by the transfer of sophomore center Sabrina Norton, who left the team in the days leading up to the playoffs.

“We have gotten bigger,” Verdugo said. “We’re night and day from where we were.”

Samohi boys take to the road

Santa Monica’s boys basketball team will join the girls in the state playoffs tonight, but they have a more difficult road ahead.

Coming off a loss in the CIF-SS Division 1A final on Saturday to Leuzinger, the Vikings had hoped to draw a first round home game and a decent seeding in Division 1. They drew the No. 7 seed, but will have the misfortune of traveling to No. 10 Clovis East of Fresno, a lower seed.

“We’re just happy to still be playing,” Samohi Head Coach James Hecht said. “We know we can play better than we did on Saturday [in the CIF-SS Division 1A title game].”

Due to quirks in the CIF’s seeding system, the higher-ranked Vikings would have to wait until the second round to reap the benefits of being seeded in the top half of the 16 team field. Rules have it that the San Diego and Central Valley section winners automatically are granted first-round playoff games.

If the Vikings can advance past Clovis East, they will play the winner in the matchup between No. 2 Westchester and No. 15 Colony. If Westchester wins, the Vikings would play on the road. If Colony can pull off the upset, the Vikings will host.

Hecht said that the game against Clovis East will be a matchup of similar styles. Both teams like to push the ball in an up-tempo style.

“It’s going to be like going against each other in practice,” Hecht said. “We both like to get after it.

“This should be interesting.”

Rallying behind the Vikings

Samohi’s athletic department has organized a 5 p.m. rally outside of the north gym on campus, just before the girls’ first round state playoff game against Narbonne. The first 200 attendees will be given a gold Samohi shirt.

Head Coach Marty Verdugo said that he wants to see “an ocean of gold” when his team takes the court.

“Our fans have been really terrific all year,” he said.

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