SAMOHI — It may have been just one night, but a victory over Culver City on Wednesday has Santa Monica High School’s girls’ basketball coach Marty Verdugo thinking the worst may be behind his Vikings.
Samohi (16-8 overall, 5-2 in league) had suffered through a rough stretch that saw the Vikings lose six of 10 games, giving the impression that this season may be tougher than expected for a squad that began the season 9-0.
Samohi came into the season as the defending California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division 1A champs, moving up to the more competitive Division 1AA this year, which features national powers Brea Olinda, Long Beach Poly and Mater Dei. After losing to both Poly and Mater Dei, Verdugo knew that making it back to the top of postseason heap would be tough, but was surprised to see his team lose to Ocean League rivals Culver City and Inglewood, who are in lower divisions.
He feared that his team was believing its own hype and didn’t do the little things to ensure a return to the playoffs. But, that changed Wednesday at Culver City.
“It was the first time that I saw the girls talking about the things that they wanted to get done,” he said. “We’ve heard about our potential, now it was time to live up to that potential.”
The Vikings came out strong in routing Culver City 53-30. So strong that Verdugo had the chance to empty his bench during the second half, giving his starters a little well-needed rest.
With the season winding down and the playoffs approaching, Verdugo said that the Vikings appear to have come around. But, he knows there is work to be done for Samohi to again make a deep run into the playoffs.
“We’re going to use these next three [league] games to get better in areas that we’re weak in and that we need improvement in,” he said. “I have it down to better defense, offensive movement and shooting.”
He said those three areas are what helped the Vikings win the title last season and looks forward to seeing that kind of execution in the coming weeks. A mid-season experiment that put sophomore Briana Harris at the point guard position wasn’t getting the type of movement that he liked so he reinstated Kristina “KJ” Johnson as the floor leader after shifting her to shooting guard.
Johnson gives the Vikings better flow on offense, he said, giving scorers like Harris and UCLA-bound Moriah Faulk better shots.
“I think we’re going to be in a good place when the playoffs come around,” he said. “I like the way we look with that lineup.”
But, before the Vikings can punch their ticket to the dance, they have to take care of business against league opponents starting tonight at Beverly Hills.
“They are down from years past,” he said of a Beverly Hills team that has struggled to a 13-12 overall record. “But, we know that they have the potential to hang around at the end of games. We just can’t let that happen.”