They work hard. They play hard.
The Mater Dei Monarchs of Santa Ana, Calif.) also celebrate hard. Moments after pulling out a wild 74-69 win over St. Mary’s (Stockton, Calif.), one of their award plagues hit the hardwood. Just like that, a hush fell over the team. A few seconds later, they laughed it off and continued to belt out screams of delight. (An ‘Iolani Classic official replaced the slightly broken plaque.)
Mater Dei, ranked No. 18 nationally by the USA Today, almost didn’t get to the final of the ‘Iolani Prep Classic. Just one day earlier, the Monarchs nearly lost to host ‘Iolani, hanging on for a 60-57 win. They will leave the islands with a 12-1 overall mark.
“Just in time for finals when we get back,” coach Kevin Kiernan said.
Kiernan came into the tourney with a career win-loss mark of 344-42, but never seemed to let the intensity of the two big battles alter his mood. On Thursday, day one of the Classic, he said the Monarchs play their best when they share the ball and move. Their 6-foot-3 junior, Brooke Demetre, dished out eight assists and point guard Kaia Elisandez had six dimes as Mater Dei continually fought off the comeback runs of St. Mary’s.
Her classmate, Meaali‘i Amosa, benefited with 16 points, including a few layups on passes from Demetre.
“I think it’s just we’ve been playing together since freshman year, so three years. Just trusting each other,” Demetre said. “She’s a big body and I know when she gets it, I’m going to cut, and when I have it, she’s going to cut.”
The balance of Mater Dei’s lineup is crucial. Ayana “AJ” Johnson is a consistent slasher and offensive rebounder. She finished with 12 points, eight in the crucial fourth period. Anna Bradley finished with 11 points, including two first-quarter treys, and Alyssa Frescas had eight points. Demetre was named the tourney MVP, joined on the all-tourney team by Amosa and Frescas.
The title game began, more or less, with a gash to Demetre’s head with 3:24 left in the first quarter. She was pressing on the ball in the backcourt while her bench yelled for her, it seemed, to back off. The collision with a St. Mary’s player resulted in blood gushing from above her left eye onto the hardwood at ‘Iolani gym.
“I thought it was sweat at first. When I saw it was blood I didn’t want it getting on my jersey,” she said.
Rules prohibit the use of a jersey with blood on it.
“I wanted to keep playing. I had a lot of adrenaline so I didn’t feel it. There’s six stitches, but they’re butterfly stitches. They’re like bandages, but I’m going to have to get real stitches after this,” said Demetre, who has never received stitches before. “It missed the eyebrow. That’s all I care about.”
The Monarchs lost in their previous tournament last week, one of the three preseason events they’re played in.
“It’s a far trip. We came together. We lost last weekend, so winning this is really good for us,” Amosa said.
They’ll be hard to beat back in the CIF. Of all the ‘Iolani Classic champions since the girls tourney began in 2007, the Monarchs might be the best passers as a team.
“For us, whenever we make the extra pass, that’s how we get our best shot,” said Amosa, who is 6-1. “Whether it’s us cutting, finding Alyssa for a 3, Caia (Elisandez) for a drive-and-kick, that’s what works best for us.”
“And it gets more energy going, too. If I make a nice pass to Mea, I’m, ‘Yeah, Mea! And she’s pointing back to me, now,” Demetre said.