Mater Dei's Madison Johnson, foreground right, hugs Nicole Freeman after the Monarchs advanced to the state title game.

Mater Dei girls turn heartbreak into 'special' victory


LONG BEACH – Kevin Kiernan has said repeatedly this is the most fun he has had coaching a group of girls at Mater Dei in his eight years on campus.

Seniors Katie Lou Samuelson and Andee Velasco are right there with their head coach, adding that the team chemistry is the best the Monarchs have had in years.

Fortunately for Mater Dei’s players and coaches alike, the fun will continue for one more week.

The Monarchs avenged two previous losses to Chaminade of West Hills on Saturday night, using an 11-2 run in the final two minutes of the game to top the Eagles, 48-44, in the Open Division final of the CIF Southern California Regional at Walter Pyramid.

Mater Dei (31-2) will venture to Berkeley to play St. Mary’s of Stockton in Saturday’s state championship game at 6 p.m.

In order to extend its season, the Monarchs had to get past the team that had beaten them twice already this season by one-point margins.

“We have respect for Chaminade, but it was really heartbreaking to lose a CIF championship,” Kiernan said, recalling the team’s 64-63 loss to the Eagles two weeks ago. “We really thought we had that.

“It wasn’t so much revenge, because we can never get that back, but you have to prove something to yourself. Can we beat this team? We’re a good team. We can play with the best teams in the country. We should be able to beat this team. It still wasn’t easy, but we did it.”

The Monarchs took a 34-31 lead into the fourth quarter despite Samuelson – named the Gatorade National Player of the Year on Thursday – being 0 for 8 from the field and having only seven points, all from the free-throw line

A 9-0 run by Chaminade (27-4) midway through the fourth put the Eagles ahead, 42-37, for the first time since the first quarter.

“We huddled up in the fourth quarter and we said, ‘We are not leaving this until we win,’” Velasco said. “It wasn’t an option for us to lose.”

With Mater Dei trailing by five with 1:59 to play, Samuelson drove the lane, sank her first basket of the night and finished a three-point play with the free throw.

After a pair of Chaminade free throws, Samuelson tied the score at 44-44 with her only 3-pointer of the game. Bianca Velasco reclaimed Mater Dei’s lead with a pair of free throws with 51 seconds to go, and Samuelson (16 points) secured the victory with two more free throws.

“To win it with this team especially, it’s really big,” Samuelson said. “I love these girls. I’ve had more fun this year than any of the years I’ve been playing with them. It’s really special that we get to go up (to Berkeley), but we’re not done.”

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