GBK: Lions have continued to roar under Quiroz

It was the unspoken goal of the players on the Providence Hall girls basketball: Get back to the CIF Finals.

The Lions advanced to the Division 6 title game for the second straight year on Saturday by routing Hesperia Christian 61-29 in the semifinals on the road.

Providence Hall senior Sydney Hedges has averaged 30 points during the Lions' CIF playoff games.

Providence Hall senior Sydney Hedges has averaged 30 points during the Lions’ CIF playoff games.

They?ll play against Rio Hondo Prep for the championship on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana.


Last year, Ariana Gnekow guided the Lions to the title game and came up short against Orangewood Academy, 34-31.

Ernesto Quiroz took over this year?s Providence Hall team after Gnekow left to pursue a career in the health care industry. Quiroz is an experienced coach. He has been coaching girls basketball in California for more than 25 years, most recently at Fillmore High and Laguna Blanca School.

At Fillmore, he guided the Flashes to a Tri-Valley League co-title with Oaks Christian in 2008 and was named the TVL coach of the year.

In his first season at Laguna Blanca, he took over a program that was coming off a 1-17 campaign and finished 11-7 in 2009. The next year, the Owls won the Condor League title and advanced to the semifinals. Natalie Nomura, his assistant coach at Providence Hall, played on that Laguna Blanca team.

Providence Hall Athletic Director Keith Luberto said Quiroz?s success and experience made him the right choice of the job.

Providence Hall Athletic Director Keith Luberto

Providence Hall Athletic Director Keith Luberto gives former head coach Ariana Gnekow a hug while presenting the CIF Runner-Up trophy in 2012.

?We knew going into last season that Ariana would not be returning,? Luberto said. ?After the season I posted the opening on the CIF web site and had about 25 inquiries. Ernie stood out.

?The transition was very smooth, and I give all the credit to Ernie,? Luberto added. ?Ernie and Ariana are so different, and the girls loved Ari.? Ernie stepped in and has done a wonderful job getting all the girls on board to his game plan.?

Quiroz recalled when he was interviewed and hired for the job that returning to the finals ?was definitely a goal for the adults at the school,? he said.

After all, he was taking over a team that returned most of its starting players.

For the girls, though, he said the idea of making the finals again ?was an unspoken goal. They certainly spoke of what had happened (last season) and how they came so close, but I have emphasized a mentality to believe in the moment. I have continually stressed how they need to deal with the task at hand, with the goal in mind to play hard for 32 minutes. I didn?t want them to live in the past and dwell on what could have been. I have continually focused on the here and now.?

It?s been evident in the postseason. Seeded second in the tournament, the Lions have roared through their side of the bracket. Their closest game was a 65-49 quarterfinal win at Joshua Springs.

?I have associated our playoff run with our tournament play earlier in the season: four games, with each opponent getting a little tougher, and how we, as a team, responded to that challenge.?

Providence Hall senior captain Lacey Gonzalez

Providence Hall senior captain Lacey Gonzalez

Quiroz has been fortunate to have three senior leaders on the team: Sydney Hedges, Lizzy Beebe and Lacey Gonzalez. They not only provide leadership, they put up good numbers, too. Hedges leads the team in scoring with a 22.8-point average, Beebe is the top rebounder (11.7 rebounds per game) and Gonzalez leads in assists (3.4 per game).

?All three of them are team captains and all three of them understand how important it is for them to be team leaders,? Quiroz said. ?Their experience is evident in how they conduct themselves during practice and games. They are all very respectful of their teammates and have really bought into my philosophy of trusting your teammates. We have some less experienced, less skilled players on the team, but these three keep the motor running.?

Hedges, Beebe and Gonzalez have been playing together since the 8th grade. They were teammates on the Blazers club basketball team, coached by former UCSB star Carrick DeHart.

Quiroz also cited juniors Olivia Johnson, Olivia Barroca, and Hannah Park, who have played together for three years.

?Their experiences from last year provide a reference point, but they also recognize that we play a different style this year and they have really embraced it.?

Elizabeth Beebe

Elizabeth Beebe is the Lions’ leading rebounder averaging 11.7 per game.

Hedges is the centerpiece of the Lions? attack. She can score inside and out, and play tough defense.

?Sydney has certainly been a joy to coach,? Quiroz said. ?She has responded to my challenges to expand her game by developing her perimeter skills. ?What I have been most impressed with is her love of the game. ?It is not often you get the opportunity to coach someone as talented as Sydney who has a genuine respect for what I do as a coach and what her role is in the success of the team.

“It’s refreshing to see a player who recognizes that her success is predicated on her ability to mesh with her teammates. It’s also something to coach someone who understands she is in the spotlight, but isn’t overwhelmed by it.?

Quiroz said it?s been a rewarding experience coaching this group at Providence Hall. He noted how the players all get along with each other and work hard.

?They all respond to my challenges to improve their games and understand that I am there to help them be better players and, more importantly, better people. I share my experiences with them and let them know why I enjoy coaching them,? he said.