The Santa Monica High girls basketball team has two weeks off and won’t play again until January 9.
But when the team resumes practice on January 4 Coach Marty Verdugo said he expects everyone to be present.
That would include guard Thea Lemberger, the Vikings’ highest profile player who has signed a letter of intent to UCLA. Lemberger didn’t make the team’s December trip to the Nike Tournament in Arizona due to what Verdugo calls “a private matter.”
Although Verdugo declined to reveal details he did deny speculation in another newspaper that there was an issue between he and his star player.
In Arizona, the team showed it could be highly competitive without Lemberger, who leads the Vikings in scoring and assists.
“We began by beating Pinnacle, which was ranked sixth in Arizona,” said Verdugo. We played four games and won three. I’m very pleased.”
Samohi defeated Pinnacle 57-39, lost to Vanden of Fairfield, California 57-43, then defeated Washington High of the LA City Section 63-47 and Villa Park 47-37, resulting in a fifth place finish in the 16-team field.
Washington had 6-foot-3 junior center Lashanda Gray, who is being watched closely by Division 1 schools, but Verdugo liked the defensive job his team was able to do against her.
Verdugo praised several Viking players.
Normally Kristina Johnson and Lemberger divide point guard duties but Johnson played most of the way and was effective throughout the tournament, he said.
Sabrina Norton was solid as a rebounder. Lilly Feder provided savvy and leadership and freshman Brianna Harris played well.
Then there was Moriah Faulk, a transfer from a high school in Arizona, who gained her eligibility from the CIF during the tournament and made a difference.
“We played her at small forward and she gave us another bigger player, meaning we had three inside players and two guards instead of three guards,” said Verdugo. “That really helped our defense.”
Another transfer from the same Arizona high school, Bianka Balthizar, hopes to become eligible at Samohi too but has not yet been cleared.
Verdugo believes the two weeks off are necessary.
“The girls have been working hard since the start of the season and I think a break is warranted,” he said. “It will give everyone a chance to rest and get refreshed to play again.”
Coming up is the Ocean League schedule and a Saturday extravaganza at Samohi when the opponent will be powerful Mater Dei.
Inglewood, which won the Ocean League last season, is strong again.