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RANCHO ALAMITOS GIRLS CHRISTMAS CLASSIC: Gahr puts on a rebounding clinic against former league rival in championship game rout

Gahr Girls basketball team celebrates their victory at the Classic. Photo by Loren Kopff.

January 2, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

GARDEN GROVE-With only four returning players coming off a season in which Gahr High advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA championship game, head coach Alfred Howard wasn’t sure what the encore performance would be this season. As it turns out, the Gladiators are doing much better than anyone could have expected.

Gahr cruised past former Mid-Cities League rival La Mirada High 56-37 last Saturday in the championship game of the Rancho Alamitos Christmas Classic, wrapping up its non-league portion of the 2023-2024 season at 16-2 and owners of six straight wins. The lone setbacks have come to Millikan High, ranked 11th in Division 3A, by four points after Gahr began the season with eight straight wins. The second loss was to the top-ranked team in Division 2A, Lakewood High, by 20 points three games later. Gahr is the fifth-ranked team in Division 4AA.

“The plan is to get better, play the game and see what happens,” said Howard. “To say if I thought we would be at 16-2, I would be lying. But I thought we would handle business early in the season.”

“They gained a lot,” said La Mirada head coach Victoria Luong. “I was talking to [Howard] even beforehand. They got [sophomore Chloe Beard] from Mayfair last year, who just sat out her 30 day [transfer period]. Then they picked up [two] freshmen and he didn’t expect that because in setting up for the season, it was a rebuilding year for him. 

“I told my girls to come in and play strong out of the gate and be prepared regardless of who it is because we never know who is going to be in and who is going to be out,” she continued. “There could be injured players and there could be players who are sick or whatever.”

But with Gahr moving to the Gateway League this season, the months of November and December have motivated La Mirada to show why it should be the favorites to win the Mid-Cities League. The Matadores entered last Saturday’s contest on an eight-game winning streak and now sit at 10-3 with their previous losses coming by 11 points and 16 points to Savanna High and Fullerton High respectively.

Gahr never trailed in the game and raced out to a 6-0 lead less than 45 seconds into the affair on the strength of consecutive three-pointers from junior Simarpreet Sogi. The Matadores would cut that lead to 6-4 before the Gladiators finished off the final half of the stanza with a 7-0 run.

But it wasn’t just the scoring that was frustrating the Matadores throughout the game. It was the rebounding, where Gahr grabbed 13 in the first quarter and another 18 in the second quarter. Freshman sensation Ella Sims could not be stopped on the glass, accounting for 14 rebounds in the opening half while fellow freshman Rachel Fredenburg had 11 before halftime.

“Ella physically was going to be what you want to see in a basketball player, especially for a freshman,” said Howard. “But Rachel Fredenburg…you remember that name. She’s had multiple 14 and 15-rebound games and she’s just a monster down there. To be only 14 or 15 years old, her and Ella…I appreciate the effort they give.”

“It’s something we’ve always struggled with,” said Luong of the rebounding. “I’m not sure what it is, but my girls don’t want to jump. I always have to remember that out of all the girls, I think two of the girls grew up playing basketball and the others were brand new to organized sports their freshman year. But rebounding has always been a struggle for us.”

All five Gahr starters had at least four points by halftime with Fredenburg leading the way with nine points. But it wasn’t until Gahr had an 18-12 lead that it began to run away. The Gladiators closed the half on a 13-6 run and began the second half on a 7-0 run to lead 38-18 with 5:13 left in the third quarter. Gahr would score off seven offensive rebounds in the game which is one of the reasons why the Matadores scored consecutive baskets just three times in the contest. 

“I think that’s something we’re still struggling with as a team, is just mentally getting the girls focused and not just giving up,” said Luong. “I think it’s just having them fight all four quarters. The girls just haven’t learned emotionally how to deal with that. Yesterday, I had three of my five starters cry in the middle of the game, and we can’t do that. I don’t think they’ve learned how to control their emotions.”

Sogi led everyone in scoring with 16 points while Fredenburg added 14 points and 19 rebounds. Mims grabbed an amazing 25 boards while junior Jody Colbert and Beard each added eight points. As a team, Gahr recorded 61 rebounds while La Mirada, which shot 21 percent from the field, had 40 rebounds. The Gladiators, who had tournament wins over Fullerton High (76-39), Laguna Hills High (46-24) and Orange High (61-19), will play their first Gateway League contest on Friday at Lynwood High and travel to Warren High on Wednesday.

‘The honeymoon is over,” said Howard. “We came out and wanted to get some good looks early on in terms of our non-league. And now with league, we’re going to compete in every game like we have in every game this season and the plan is to go up there and be a force to be reckoned with.”

The Matadores were paced by senior Jirah Domingo (11 points, six rebounds, five steals) and junior Jael Arreguin (seven rebounds, six points, four steals). La Mirada posted tournament victories over Long Beach Cabrillo High (54-32), Santa Ana Valley High (54-36) and El Rancho High (52-49) as it began Mid-Cities League action this past Wednesday against Firebaugh High and will go to Mayfair High on Friday before entertaining Dominguez High on Wednesday.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Luong of her team’s 10-3 start to this season. “Our girls the past two seasons…we have our highs and lows. We either come in and play well, or we come in and they don’t perform. I think, coming into the season, I was expecting something similar to that where we weren’t sure how they would perform. But they’ve come in strong every single day fighting. I’m optimistic about the season. 

“Going back to last season, La Mirada is the hardest playing team in the Mid-Cities [League],” said Howard. “We always know we have to bring our ‘A’ game against them. Jirah is a hell of an offensive and defensive player. Jael never quits; fights hard and [Luong] is a class act. I love their program.”