This year, the St. Monica Catholic girls basketball team is thinking big. Literally.
With two talented 6-foot centers anchoring the front line, the Mariners are hoping to take advantage of their size and skill on the interior in Don Burke’s first season as head coach of the program.
Indeed, those assets offer a potential edge on which St. Monica is still learning to capitalize.
“That’s never really been the focus before,” Burke said. “It’s sort of new territory. We want to get the ball in there. We want them to shoot. They’ve never been a focal point before, but this year they’re a big focal point. If you’ve got size, you’ve got to use it. It opens up every other aspect of the offense.”
It didn’t take long for Burke to realize the potential impact of his frontcourt. In the Mariners’ season-opening 59-45 win over Venice in the Brentwood tournament earlier this month, sophomore center Lauryn French amassed 17 points and 10 rebounds while junior center Brianna George tallied 13 points and 10 boards.
French and George will play important role as St. Monica vies for a league championship and a deep run in the playoffs.
The Mariners captured a section title in 2013, when Burke was an assistant in the program and when the roster’s current seniors were freshmen. The program then went 36-21 in two seasons under Kelly Evans, reaching the Division 4A quarterfinals in 2014 and returning to the quarterfinals in Division 4AA last year.
With Burke back in the fold at his alma mater following a short stint at Los Angeles-Bishop Conaty, St. Monica has won its first six games of the 2015-16 campaign by an average margin of 17.83 points. Burke is aided by assistant coaches David Barling, Christina Ferraro and Eric Santos.
“I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “It’s as if I never left. Everything I’ve asked these kids to do, they do it. They give me everything they have and a little extra.”
And while French and George have been instrumental to the team’ success so far, several other members of the team figure to make significant contributions.
One such player is 5-foot-9 guard Molly Tomlin, who adds offensive firepower and defensive intensity to the Mariners’ cannon of strengths. She scored 25 points in their 63-50 victory against Lawndale-Leuzinger in the Brentwood tournament Dec. 4.
“She brings basketball IQ, and she’s phenomenal on the defensive end,” Burke said. “And she’s a senior, so she been there before. She’s a great leader. This year, even more than in years past, she’s made a conscious effort to be a factor on the defensive end.”
Tomlin is part of a senior class that also features guards Gloria Scipioni and Sara Gobrial as well as forwards Elena Kostadinov and Kiana Leal. Scipioni, the squad’s floor general, is “the motor that makes it run,” Burke said.
As St. Monica prepares for Camino Real League play, which begins next month, Burke will work with the team to improve its rotations on defense and decision-making in transition.
“We get going so fast that we get a little out of control,” he said. “It’s all about, ‘Read what they give you and react.’ Sometimes we get a little ahead of ourselves. But I couldn’t be happier with the improvement we’ve had so far.”