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ANA VENEGAS, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Mater Dei's Katie Lou Samuelson is considered by many the nation's top girls basketball player. But she's never won a CIF-SS title.

Will Mater Dei's Samuelson finally get her crown?

STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA – She remembers how shocking the last 10 seconds of the game played out, the celebration that ensued and the genuine elation her sisters showed as they embraced when it was over.

“They won on a buzzer-beater,” Mater Dei senior Katie Lou Samuelson recalled, referring to the 2011 CIF-SS Division 1A girls basketball championship game. “Bonnie stole the inbound pass, turned and made a shot. It was so crazy.”

Katie Lou was an eighth grader four years ago when she watched her two older sisters – Bonnie and Karlie – win a CIF title with Edison in dramatic fashion.

In the years since that night, she has become the most sought-after high school recruit in the country and quite possibly the best girls basketball player in Orange County history.

Lou – as she is commonly referred to – has achieved more than most on the court: McDonald’s All-American honors, a Gatorade State Player of the Year award and multiple gold medals won with Team USA’s youth teams.

The only thing that has eluded the Monarchs’ star senior? That would be a CIF-SS championship of her own.

Samuelson and her teammates have an opportunity to capture Mater Dei’s first CIF-SS trophy since 2012 when they play Chaminade of West Hills on Saturday night at Azusa Pacific University in the Open Division championship game.

“It’s time to win,” the county’s two-time player of the year said simply. “Especially at Mater Dei. We’ve been so close each time.”

Samuelson’s postseason heartaches stem all the way back to her freshman year at Edison. (She transferred to Mater Dei before her sophomore year.) Playing alongside her sister Karlie, the Chargers were unable to repeat as champs in 2012, getting bounced from the playoffs in the quarterfinals.

Switching to Mater Dei’s scarlet-and-gray jerseys the next season, Karlie and Katie Lou took the county basketball landscape by storm, leading Mater Dei to a 28-0 record, a national No. 1 ranking and reached the 1AA semifinals, but that is where they lost to Etiwanda.

More than two years removed from that outing, it’s a wound that’s still not fully healed.

“That Etiwanda loss two years ago ...,” Samuelson thought aloud, shaking her head in clear disapproval. “It was my last year playing with my sister, and I had a chance to tie the game late, but I missed a free throw.”

Because it was her last opportunity to share a similar embrace with Karlie as Karlie had experienced with Bonnie in 2011, the 73-72 overtime loss to Etiwanda still eats at Katie Lou.

“That’s probably the most heartbroken I’ve ever been,” she added.

With only the youngest of the Samuelson sisters on the roster last season, Kevin Kiernan and the Monarchs again rolled through the regular season, advancing to the inaugural Open Division championship game.

Talent, as it turns out, can get you only so far.

Chemistry issues plagued last year’s team, and the Monarchs lost to Windward of Los Angeles in the Open Division final, before being blown out by Long Beach Poly in the state tournament.

“We didn’t have much leadership last year,” Kiernan acknowledged. “That’s just not on the players. That’s on us, too, as coaches.”

By all estimations, there are no chemistry issues this year. Roles have been accepted, the rapport between players and coaches has never been better, and the overall morale of the team is at an all-time high.

“Really happy that we’ve made it back to the Open Division final and we’re No. 1 in the country,” Kiernan said of his current roster. “We lost a lot of talent from last year, but we’re a whole different team chemistry-wise. For me, it’s been my most enjoyable year since I’ve been at Mater Dei, and this is my eighth year.”

Because expectations are always so lofty, two years seems like a severe drought when it comes to unveiling CIF championships at the Meruelo Athletic Center. That can all change Saturday night.

With a loss to Chaminade being the one hiccup in Mater Dei’s 28-1 record, the Monarchs have an opportunity to avenge that defeat while also capturing a CIF-SS title.

For Samuelson, it could solidify one of the best high school seasons the county has ever witnessed – male or female.

Averaging just shy of 30 points a game, the UConn-bound star understands phrases like “next time” don’t apply to her at this point in her career.

“Being so competitive and getting so close, it’s a horrible, horrible feeling to lose,” she said. “I’m ready to go out there and get this done.”

When asked if a CIF-SS title is the only thing her sisters, who now play for Stanford, have on her, Samuelson swiftly responded, “Yeah, but hopefully not for long.”

Contact the writer: kconnolly@ocregister.com


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