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Samohi Basketball Teams Excel:

It’s good to be a Santa Monica High basketball fan these days.

The Viking boys have a 14-5 record and have won nine in a row. The Viking girls also have a 14-5 record and have won eight of the last nine. Both teams lead the Ocean League with 4-0 records. Last season both teams reached the CIF 1-A playoff semi-finals.

While the boys keep winning, the girls are actually making bigger news. After both teams won their games at Culver City Friday night, the girls boarded a bus Saturday, went to Troy High in Fullerton, and upset one of the elite teams in Southern California, 44-35.

Troy was 30-3 last season and was 17-1 this season.

The three best girls high school teams in CIF Division 1, the highest one, are supposed to be Mater Dei, Long Beach Poly and Troy.

This Saturday night at 8 p.m. Samohi will host Mater Dei in perhaps the highest profile girls basketball game in school history. Mater Dei, which has an 18-1 record, has been ranked No. 1 in the nation most of the season.

The game will conclude Samohi’s annual Extravaganza — six games matching Westside teams against the best from outside the area.

I saw both Samohi teams against Culver City. Here are some impressions.

The boys don’t have a big man but have four players around 6-foot-4, all athletic and experienced. The fifth player is Harry Horn, the shortest one at 6-2 and, ironically, he plays center.

With so many players the same size Samohi can switch on defense without being hurt in a mismatch, such as a guard ending up on a much taller player.

“The players have been together a long time and have great attitudes,” said Coach James Hecht. “It’s a pleasure to coach this group. And our defensive pressure really bothers opponents.”

The Vikings can discourage opponents with a dunking exhibition too, as they did at Culver City. Cory Walker, Danilo Toscovic, Solomon Singer, James Montgomery, and Horn all are drawing interest from mid-major colleges. Montgomery, an outstanding student, is a possibility for Harvard.

The reserve who caught my attention was Jerry Shevlin, a junior who’ll likely be prominent next season.

The girls have been good all season and took a big step by beating Troy.

“Everyone played well,” said Coach Marty Verdugo. “Lilly Feder hit some big shots, Thea Lemberger was a leader as usual ,and Moria Faulk, while scoring just five points, was dominant inside in rebounding and blocked shots. She blocked three.”

It looks to me that Faulk, who transferred from a school in Arizona and began playing for Samohi in December, is reluctant to take over games on offense. She’s trying to fit in and Verdugo has encouraged her to look for her shot more often.

By contrast, the UCLA-bound Lemberger is living up to rave notices about her play. She scored 27 points against Culver City and was a big factor against Troy.

Hecht is in his 16th year as the Samohi boys coach and hired Verdugo as an assistant.

“Marty is an excellent coach who takes a lot of pride in his work,” said Hecht.`”He didn’t have his teaching degree when he came to us but he went back to school for it.”

Verdugo, who was previously film co-ordinator for the San Antonio Spurs, is happy to be at Samohi.

“After San Antonio, I went back to school to get my degree and I liked Santa Monica so much I applied to be the girls head coach when that position opened up,” he said. “I owe a lot to James Hecht.”

While Verdugo is enjoying the team’s success he also recalls some advice he received several years ago.

“I was told to enjoy the good times in coaching because there surely will be difficult times too.”

Mitch Chortkoff

Mirror Sports Editorsports@smmirror.com

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