Pali Rec Center All-Stars Beat North Weddington for Second Straight Minor Division Title
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
From the instant Jake Vander Veen’s three-pointer swished cleanly through the net on the opening possession there was little doubt which team would win Saturday afternoon’s championship game at the Westwood Recreation Center.
Having made history last year with its own version of “March Madness,” the Palisades Recreation Center’s Co-Ed Minor Division All-Star basketball team, with only two returning players, came back for more and emerged Valley/Shoreline Region champion after a 53-34 triumph over North Weddington.
“For you to repeat, I’m so proud of you and the whole community is proud of you,” Pali Rec Center Director Erich Haas said. “You’ve given all of us basketball fever!”
All eight players scored at least one basket in a team effort that only exemplified the squad’s unselfishness and cohesiveness throughout the two-week tournament. Afterwards, they admired their medals and took turns kissing and holding the shiny gold trophy, which was almost as tall as most of them.
“We just picked a group of boys that were passers, scorers, rebounders and had solid all-around games,” head coach John Jacobs said. “We kept things fairly simple, they played with hustle and heart and it’s been a real pleasure coaching these kids.”
Jacobs guided the Mavericks to the winter league championship and ironically they defeated the Kings, piloted by all-star assistant coach Ken Vander Veen, in the finals.
The roster of local 9-and 10-year-olds consisted of forward Jake Vander Veen from the Kings, guard Quincy Watson from the Clippers, forward Connor Petoyan and guard Luke Jacobs from the Mavericks, forward Henry Simon and guard Sean Findley of the Spurs and center Kai Klein and guard Julien Harnoncourt from the Lakers.
“The first one felt a bit better but this one feels really good because I knew my team before we started,” said Klein, who attends Corpus Christi School and led the way with 13 points Saturday after scoring seven points in Palisades’ 35-33 victory over Tarzana in last year’s regional final.
“Last year was special because it was the first time representing my City and we had good chemistry but it’s the same this year,” added Harnoncourt , a fifth-grader at Roosevelt Elementary who had eight points against North Weddington. “In their last game they went on a 19-0 run so we couldn’t let up.”
With six seconds remaining in the first half, Palisades drew up a play and Simon made a three-pointer at the buzzer to give his team a commanding 28-13 lead at intermission.
Klein opened the second 20-minute stanza with a blockk and a steal that led to a bank shot by Vander Veen and the defending champions were off and running. An 8-0 spurt by North Weddington trimmed the lead to 36-21 at the 13:17 mark, but Petoyan drained a three-pointer from the corner shortly after to widen the margin to 21 points.
Marquez Elementary students Vander Veen, Petoyan and Jacobs finished with 10, nine and two points, respectively, Watson and Findlay of Palisades Elementary added five and two points, respectively, and Simon (Curtis School) had four.
Asked which was better—the regular season title or the region title—Petoyan didn’t hesitate: “Winning this for sure! This trophy is a lot bigger.”
Vander Veen is used to winning, having claimed the Rec League championship three times in a row (Bantam and Minor) before reaching the finals with the Kings this season.
“Our pressure, effort and intensity won it for us,” he said. “I had the jitters at first. It takes a little time to get into the game.”
Palisades began its all-star run March 10 with a 43-25 victory over Cheviot Hills A. Two days later it won its pool with a 34-26 victory over Penmar 1.
The team hit its stride a week later in an 83-21 rout of Cheviot Hills 1 and earned a return trip the finals with a 38-22 triumph over Balboa 1.
Another championship banner will soon hang in the gym to recognize the team’s accomplishment, but there is more basketball to be played. Palisades will meet the Metro or Pacific Region winner for the Los Angeles City-wide championship next Saturday, April 7, at 9 a.m. at Westchester Recreation Center.
Palisades beat Shatto of Koreatown 32-26 last year at Yosemite Rec Center in Eagle Rock to win its first City championship and this year’s team seeks to duplicate the feat.
“We’re really excited,” Petoyan said. “We want to follow in their footsteps.”