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Santa Margarita has three experienced seniors in, from left, Bella Maramica, Tori Anderson and Morgan McMullen. The trio helped the Eagles win a CIF-SS title when they were freshmen. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Orange County Register)

Girls basketball preview: Santa Margarita looks for a fantastic finish

STAFF WRITER

RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA – The bar was set as high as possible, and positioned there not longer after the trio arrived on campus.

Metaphorical in one regard, Santa Margarita seniors Tori Anderson, Morgan McMullen and Bella Maramica have walked into the school’s gymnasium each afternoon for the past 21/2 years and have looked up at the standard they set for themselves as freshmen in the form of a 2014 CIF-SS championship banner.

“That was such a great start to high school,” Maramica reminisced. “Just witnessing the whole thing, it got us pumped up and so excited. We all were thinking, ‘We’ve got three more years of this.’”

Because of the immediacy of their success, that thought process was understandable. But in the years since, the Eagles have not been able to relive that sense of euphoria they last experienced in March of 2014.

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With several new pieces filling areas of need, Santa Margarita’s three veterans feel as if they can end their high school careers the same way they started out.

“The seniors are the ones that are going to give us confidence night in and night out,” Eagles coach Craig DeBusk said. “They’re going to be expected to not only contribute in the ways they can offensively and defensively on the court, but in the locker room too. We’ve got some new players, some young players that are looking up to them.”

It’s a role reversal years in the making. And just as the senior trio was asked to contribute when they were freshmen, Santa Margarita’s newest batch of fresh faces will also be asked for instant production.

There was a stretch during last season where the Eagles suited up only seven players for games. In a game against Foothill, there were more assistant coaches on the bench then there were subs. Practices were even more of a challenge when a best-case scenario happened to be running three-on-three.

But with Anderson averaging 12 points a game, Maramica putting up 10 and McMullen chipping in with nine, Santa Margarita was able to stay competitive despite the setbacks.

“I think our record last year was very deceiving,” DeBusk said, referencing the team’s 14-12 finish. “There was a lot of adversity. We were playing with seven girls for most of league. ... We didn’t have any height either.”

Depth shouldn’t be an issue this season as the Eagles will likely go nine-deep this winter. Their rebounding concerns might actually turn into a strength given the fact 6-foot junior Renny Cribbin and 6-foot-3 freshman Jocelyn Ewell have drawn rave reviews early on in the frontcourt.

The other focus will be on closing out tight games. Santa Margarita was 1-6 in contests decided by five points or less last season. When looking at its 2-6 record in Trinity League play, a pair of those losses were by one point, while another came in overtime. That turned out to be the difference between finishing fourth and coming in behind Mater Dei for second.

“That’s our job this year, closing out those games,” McMullen said. “Those close games are going to fall on us getting our team ready and pushing it to the last minute.”

The toughest of last year’s one-possession losses came in the first round of the Division 1AA playoffs to Pacifica of Oxnard, 54-51. For Anderson, Maramica and McMullen, the loss signified the first time any of the three had failed to make the CIF title game. As sophomores, they finished as Division 3A runners-up.

This season, the Eagles have been placed in Division 2AA alongside league foes Rosary and JSerra, and other Orange County teams like Yorba Linda, Beckman, Tustin and University.

“Wherever you find yourself, you’ve got to go out and compete,” DeBusk said. “It’s a competitive division. I think we’re one of the top four teams in that division, but again, there’s a lot of basketball to be played to put yourself in that situation.”

Contact the writer: kconnolly@scng.com


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