PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Amy Okonkwo, Etiwanda, Junior, Forward
The first time I saw Amy Okonkwo play this season, I was convinced she was the Player of the Year. Of course, I didn’t see her play until she dropped 27 points on the No. 1 team in the country to lead Etiwanda to a one-point overtime win in the semifinals of the CIF playoffs. Etiwanda’s victory over then-undefeated Santa Ana Mater Dei was certainly the defining moment of the season, but the Eagles had a quarterfinal win over eventual state champion Long Beach Poly and played in the first CIF final in the program’s history, among other accomplishments. It wasn’t a coincidence that this happened in Okonkwo’s first season at Etiwanda.
By all accounts, the junior transfer from Los Osos was just one piece of the puzzle. Her averages of 15.7 points and 9.5 rebounds are modest by some standards. Though the 6-foot-1 forward had range that easily extended beyond the 3-point line, she rarely dominated the ball, taking over only when needed. For example, with Etiwanda trailing by nine, Okonkwo scored 10 of her 27 against Mater Dei in the fourth quarter. By the way, the Eagles graduate just two players in the rotation, neither of which were starters.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Anders Anderson, Etiwanda
The fourth-year head coach not only led the Eagles past the quarterfinal barrier for the first time, but to the first CIF final in school history. Etiwanda beat eventual state champion Long Beach Poly in the quarterfinals of the CIF-SS Division 1AA playoffs, then handed a Santa Ana Mater Dei team ranked No. 1 in the country at the time its first loss of the season in the semifinals. The best season in school history ended with a 28-4 record as Etiwanda fell to Corona Santiago in the CIF championship game and Long Beach Poly in the state tournament.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jordan McLaughlin, Etiwanda, Junior, Point Guard
It was hard to imagine Jordan McLaughlin entering his senior year without having won a Player of the Year award – similar to how it’s hard to believe Kobe has only won one NBA MVP in 17 seasons – but Jeremy Hemsley and Malcolm Drumwright were certainly viable candidates for the 2013 All-Valley Player of the Year award. Hemsley led Damien to the first CIF championship in school history and Drumwright was an easy direct comparison after his Rancho Cucamonga team defeated Etiwanda in their final meeting to share the Baseline League title.
McLaughlin was edged for the award last season by La Verne Lutheran’s Grant Jerrett, a Freshman at Arizona this season who was not only the All-Valley POY, but the California Gatorade Player of the Year in 2012. Etiwanda’s point guard, who already has a plethora of scholarship offers, didn’t have any gaudy statistics this season (15.6 ppg) but his team’s defensive style doesn’t lend itself to such things. McLaughlin ended any debate, however, by leading his team to the CIF-SS Division 1AA championship by defeating a Mater Dei team that would go on to win its third straight state title.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Dave Kleckner, Etiwanda
His 17th season at Etiwanda was arguably the finest coaching job of Kleckner’s career as the Eagles claimed their first CIF championship in eight years and second in the program’s history. Perhaps the best defensive team ever fielded at Etiwanda held teams to 42 points per game in capturing the CIF-SS Division 1AA title as the sixth-seeded Eagles defeated No. 1 seed Mater Dei, 54-51. Etiwanda finished with a 28-3 record and made the school’s second ever trip to the semifinals of the CIF state tournament before falling in a rematch with eventual state champion Mater Dei.
The awards seem to keep rolling in for Etiwanda point guard Jordan McLaughlin. After leading the Eagles to the CIF-SS Division 1AA championship, the lastest honor is a spot on MaxPreps.com’s Junior All-American fourth team.
The honors, exclusively for juniors, included one other player from the CIF-SS. Stanley Johnson of Mater Dei, the team Etiwanda defeated in the CIF-SS championship game, was selected to the first team and named the National Player of the Year.
As it turned out, the Etiwanda and Santa Ana Mater Dei boys basketball teams each ended the season with a championship. Perhaps it’s only fitting that the teams’ star players share Southern California’s top individual award.
After leading the team to the school’s first CIF title in eight years, Etiwanda’s Jordan McLaughlin (right) was named the CIF-SS Division 1AA co-Player of the Year along with Mater Dei’s Stanley Johnson on Monday.
Etiwanda defeated Mater Dei in the CIF-SS championship game only to lose two weeks later in the CIF State tournament semifinals to a Mater Dei team on the way to its third straight state title. Etiwanda’s Dave Kleckner was granted sole possession of the CIF-SS Coach of the Year award after leading the No. 6 seed to the first championship since current NBA players Darren Collison and Jeff Pendergraph helped the Eagles to the 2005 CIF title.
This time it was the Etiwanda boys basketball team with the No. 1 seed next to its name in the program. And it was two-time defending state champion Santa Ana Mater Dei that avenged a loss in the CIF-SS Division 1AA championship game two weeks earlier with a 60-37 win over the Eagles in the CIF State Southern California regional final Saturday night at Citizens Business Bank Arena.
Etiwanda’s hot shooting was a huge factor in staking the Eagles to a 17-point fourth quarter lead in an eventual three-point victory over then No. 1 seed Mater Dei March 2 for the CIF-SS title.
The Eagles went cold Saturday night.
The roles are reversed this time. Or are they?
After Etiwanda toppled then-No. 1 seed Santa Ana Mater Dei in the CIF-SS Division 1AA championship game two weeks ago, the Eagles are the only team in tonight’s CIF State tournament SoCal Regional final with some 2013 hardware. Of course, Mater Dei is a two-time defending state champion and a program of such stature it’s difficult to ever call the Monarchs underdogs.
Entering tonight’s rematch between now No. 1 seed Etiwanda and No. 2 Mater Dei for the right to play the Northern California representative in the March 23 state championship game, both teams seem to only be gaining steam.
CIF STATE BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
BOYS, DIVISION III
No. 7 Damien (26-6) at No. 2 West Hills Chaminade (25-7), 7:30 p.m.
How they got here: In its last game alone, Damien was the victim and beneficiary of a buzzer beater. After a 40-foot bank shot pulled 10th-seeded Tulare Mission Oak even with Damien at the end of regulation, Jeremy Hemsley’s 3-pointer as time expired in overtime gave the Spartans a 74-72 first-round win on Wednesday. Chaminade had no such drama in its 42-point first-round victory.
Matchup: CIF-SS Division 3AA champion Damien will take on a Chaminade team that was the runner-up in CIF-SS Division 3A. Before losing it’s CIF-SS title game by 24 points to St. John Bosco, Chaminade won its previous four playoff games by an average of 37.5 points, a good indication of why it received the No. 2 seed in the state tournament. Damien’s confidence is certainly on the rise after winning a championship and capturing its first-round game in dramatic fashion. It will be interesting to see if Wednesday’s win was the perfect cure for Damien’s championship hangover.
There was the victory over Corona Santiago in December, the epic semifinal over the No. 1 team in the country and the quarterfinal win over nemesis Long Beach Poly. The Etiwanda girls basketball team would have likely traded it all for a win Friday night.
But the Eagles lost a rematch with Santiago in the CIF-SS Division 1AA title game, 70-65, at the Anaheim Arena.
Amy Okonkwo, the hero of Etiwanda’s overtime win on Wednesday over a Mater Dei team ranked No. 1 in the country by MaxPreps.com, followed her 27-point performance with 19 points and 15 rebounds for the fifth-seeded Eagles. But Crishae Rowe of third-seeded Santiago was up to the challenge with 25 points to lead the Sharks (29-2).
“My biggest fear was that the girls would consider their goal achieved after beating Poly and Mater Dei,” Etiwanda coach Anders Anderson said. “But they way they came out in the second half and the way they fought until the end demonstrated that they came to play tonight.”
It’s near impossible to argue that the Etiwanda High School girls basketball team’s one-point overtime victory Wednesday over a two-time defending state champion ranked No. 1 in the country wasn’t the most significant in school history.
The Eagles want a ring with which to remember it.
After preventing top-seeded Santa Ana Mater Dei from playing for a fifth straight CIF-SS championship, No. 5 seed Etiwanda will take on Corona Santigao Friday night for the Division 1AA title.