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, PAUL RODRIGUEZ, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Mater Dei senior forward Katie Lou Samuelson goes after her first state title today.

Mater Dei girls have eyes on the final prize

STAFF WRITER

Katie Lou Samuelson and Andee Velasco sat at the podium at Walter Pyramid last Saturday night beaming with smiles and – maybe more so than anything – overcome with a sense of vindication.

They had finally knocked the proverbial monkey off their back.

After two previous meetings with Chaminade of West Hills both ended in devastating one-point losses, Mater Dei finally toppled its tormentor in their third encounter, 48-44, to win the Open Division championship of the CIF Southern California Regional.

In avenging its only two losses of the year, the Monarchs advanced to Saturday night’s CIF State championship game, where they’ll take on St. Mary’s of Stockton at Cal's Haas Pavilion.

“The kids are excited,” Coach Kevin Kiernan said of the trek up north. “We’ve seen St. Mary’s play a lot this year. We follow each other and play in a lot of the same tournaments. They’re a great team – faster and more athletic than us. It’s not a great matchup physically, but in a one-game situation, you never know.”

Whether or not they come out victorious Saturday night, the realization is starting to set in that this will be the last time Kiernan coaches both Samuelson and Velasco, two of the best players he’s guided over his eight-year career at Mater Dei High.

While he’s repeatedly said this group of girls has been his favorite to coach in his time on campus, Kiernan has also been consistent in saying that they’ve put in the work and won “the right way.”

“I don’t look forward to the season ending,” he said. “Last year I was ready for it to be over. But this year’s been such an enjoyable season and it’s something we really worked at. … It was nice to see the girls celebrate at the arena last week with the regional plaque. I’m glad they got to experience that.”

While Velasco was a freshman on Mater Dei’s 2012 CIF-SS and state championship team, last Saturday’s win in the regionals proved to be Samuelson’s first major postseason triumph, after suffering losses in back-to-back Southern Section finals as a junior and a senior.

“It was nice for Katie Lou to get that regional championship under her belt,” Kiernan said. “She could release a bit after that game.”

There certainly was a sense of redemption among the seniors after the Chaminade win, but even more than that, there was genuine excitement that this group of girls gets to lace it up one more time with a state championship on the line.

“It has been a dream of ours (to play for a state championship),” Velasco said of her and her teammates. “We talk about this all the time and it’s just exciting for us. We have one more chance to get what we want.”

Contact the writer: kconnolly@ocregister.com


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