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Miller: Fountain Valley (1-25) the ultimate underdog in playoffs
FOUNTAIN VALLEY – It wouldn’t be a basketball tournament without a dream-inspiring underdog, and here’s a bunch so Cinderella that the glass slippers already had been packed away for another year.
Of course, who can blame the coach for assuming his team wouldn’t be advancing to the postseason?
It is an unusual next step after you’ve just gone 1-25.
It is so unusual, in fact, that Fountain Valley coach Barry Migliorini thought the call Sunday informing him of the Barons’ berth in the Southern Section girls playoffs was a prank.
“I was just sort of playing along at first,” he says. “Somewhere along the way, I realized that the person I was talking to was being serious.”
Still not completely convinced, Migliorini had a school official contact the CIF to double check that the phone call and the postseason bid that came with it were legitimate.
Once confirmed, something else unusual happened, unusual at least for any coach whose team just made a stunning, wholly unexpected run into the playoffs. Migliorini found himself feeling less than thrilled by a thrilling development.
“I was concerned about these young ladies who worked so hard all year now getting a bunch of heat,” he says. “In the era of social media and with club teams, I was afraid they were going to run into a bunch of their friends who would say, ‘You’re not deserving.’
“I wasn’t happy because I also knew there were going to be schools saying, ‘Hey, Fountain Valley’s not deserving. We’re a better team than them.’ At the end of the day, I guess those teams should have also had their athletic directors apply.”
An application, that’s how all this started, an application Migliorini says he didn’t even realize the school was submitting.
Because so many teams had been picked to play in the Open Division, the CIF needed at-large entries to fill out the 1AA bracket.
Migliorini says he was told by a Fountain Valley official that the school’s policy is to pursue at-large berths whenever it’s applicable and leave it up to the CIF to determine which teams are worthy.
The Barons – 1-25 record and all – were deemed worthy. They play at Redondo Union on Thursday night.
Maybe all this sounds a little warped to you, and Migliorini confirms he has heard as much from other coaches. But aren’t high school sports supposed to be about opportunities and experiences?
These are still teenagers, almost every one of them playing for right now, knowing they have the rest of their lives to not be part of a team, a team made up of some of their best friends.
All Fountain Valley did was follow the rules – one of the most basic of life’s lessons – and get rewarded for it, even if those directly involved were caught off guard by the results.
“After thinking about it more, I’m excited about the opportunity,” says Migliorini, a longtime coach from the professional ranks on down in his first season with the team. “I’m looking forward to the chance to play a really good school like Redondo Union. We have a young team and you can’t buy experiences like this.”
First, though, Migliorini had to unpack the uniforms he already had collected from his players, collected and laundered.
He also had to reconvene and refocus his team, Migliorini having told the Barons to take 10 days off, to not think about basketball and instead concentrate only on being high school students again.
“We had a really difficult year,” he says. “I wanted them to clear their minds. It’s a long season.”
He admits the possibility of passing on the CIF bid was discussed. That decision, however, likely would have resulted in the game Thursday night being a forfeit.
So, even if you think this Fountain Valley team shouldn’t be playing Redondo Union, the matchup is certainly a better alternative than two groups of high school athletes not playing at all.
Perhaps the inclusion of a 1-25 team isn’t in the truest spirit of any postseason. But that’s hardly the fault of this particular team, which erred only if you think seizing chances in life is a mistake.
“We know we’re in way over our heads,” Migliorini says. “But we’re not going there to lose. We’re going there to play our hardest and try and get a win.”
Still, it is worth noting that the coach was so convinced the Barons wouldn’t be an at-large candidate the school didn’t even regularly submit its results to the CIF this season.
That probably explains why it was has been reported this week that Fountain Valley finished 0-26. The Barons actually did win a game, in a December tournament, against Diego Rivera Learning Complex of Los Angeles.
So, a young team – Fountain Valley’s roster Thursday night will include 15 freshmen and sophomores – will take another step in its development, a step completely deserved by the rules, if not entirely earned on the court.
“In the next two years, we’re hoping to be back in a gym like Redondo Union, hopefully playing in the third or fourth round and not the first,” Migliorini says. “That’s when this could be a really good story. That story would be better than this one. That could be a made-for-TV movie.”
Until then, the Barons and their coach have at least one CIF playoff game, capping their suddenly surprising season, one that reads like a made-for-reality fairytale.
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