Athletics Hall of Fame Inductee: 2011 Girls Basketball CIF Champions

When Orange Lutheran’s girls basketball team won the CIF-SS Championship in 2011, it was more than just a victory.


The program’s first CIF title since 1981, the Lancers’ road to becoming champions once again was not without significant challenges. The team had endured a series of crushing playoff defeats, the death of their head coach and nearly two years of mental and emotional upheaval leading up to the 59-42 victory over Bonita of La Verne at the Anaheim Convention Center in March 2011.


In recognition of their perseverance and all they accomplished in the face of adversity, the 2011 Lancer girls basketball team will be honored this summer as one of 11 inductees in the Orange Lutheran Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2023.


Leading up to the 2011 championship, the last time OLu girls basketball had made it to the CIF title game was in 2009 when the Lancers dropped the final contest to Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks, 45-36. The heartbreaking loss was the end to an otherwise stellar season that saw the program achieve new heights, including a new single season high for wins (25).


The group was poised and ready to continue their upward trajectory into the 2010 season, but devastating news in spring 2009 of the unexpected and sudden passing of OLu girls basketball head coach of ten years, Tony Matson, brought a new level of challenges to the program.


As the team and the larger OLu community mourned the loss of Matson, the assistant coach at the time, Tom Howard, was handed the reins as the team’s interim head coach. After a lengthy search and interview process that spring, Howard was officially offered the girls basketball head coaching position and was entrusted to guide the girls through unchartered territory and into the next season.


“I think for myself and the assistant coaches, a lot of it was just trying to get a read on where the girls were at and how they were going to process, how were they going to respond to it,” said Howard. “My mentality and the way I operated all the time was, we have today. Let's try and be really good today and get better and we'll see how things play out over the long term. It was taking things day by day, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, athletically. We proceeded like that.”


In the Lancers’ 2010 season, in the face of grief, the team again saw a tremendous amount of success during the regular season but came up short in their quest to win another championship.


While holding a slim lead late in the CIF semifinal game, OLu suffered a crushing final minute loss. The following week, while still processing the defeat, the team was informed that they would be the first from the school’s girls basketball program to play in the CIF State Tournament. The Lancers again ended their season in heartbreaking fashion with a last-second loss in their first-ever state playoff game.


With the arrival of the 2011 season came a new look to the roster. Only two players from Matson’s 2009 team remained, seniors Natalie Luzar and Krissy Karr. Talented sophomores and juniors joined the roster, and Howard knew this was a special group.


“We had a real healthy mix,” said Howard. “The two seniors were our best players (Luzar and Karr). “We had juniors like Marissa Straub (Hammons) and Kara Dismuke, who were both starters as juniors. And then we have this young, talented group of kids who were new and ready to go first year on varsity. They were fired up. Now we have a real chance to be good.”


The Lancers opened the 2011 season with 12 straight wins. After a strong showing in the prestigious Nike Extravaganza tournament, OLu was elevated to #3 in Orange County, a first for the program and the highest ranking ever achieved by Lancers girls basketball to this day. They finished second in Trinity League and went into the CIF-SS Division 3A playoffs as the #1 seed.


After gutting out a tight win in a physical semifinal contest led by Karr’s strong performance, the girls not only earned the opportunity to return to the CIF championship game after the heartbreaking loss in 2009, but they got the chance to play on the big stage at Anaheim Convention Center.


Luzar won the opening tipoff against Bonita and put the Lancers up 2-0 within the game’s opening seconds. The senior never looked back, scoring 23 points in OLu’s 59-42 CIF title victory, a championship performance that earned her CIF Player of the Year.


The victory was made sweeter for the Lancers as the girls’ win came the same day as OLu’s boys basketball team won the CIF-SS Division 4AA title in a 78-71 victory over Winward on the same court.


Filled with emotion from start to finish, Howard knew the win meant more than just a CIF championship for the program. It was the fulfillment of a goal that Matson set out to achieve when he arrived at Orange Lutheran in 1999.


“It was Tony's goal to win a CIF championship,” said Howard. “I thought it was a pipe dream when I first started coaching with him in 1999-2000…it just seemed like it was something that was too far beyond reach. But he got us so close. And to be able to get [the title] with players that he coached…it was a fulfillment of his goal.”


The legacy of what Matson began at OLu didn’t end with the team’s 2011 CIF win, but continues to this day through the Matson Classic, a tournament held each January that showcases the best girls basketball talent in Orange County.


But beyond that, the 2011 victory signified the beginning of an era of dominance for Lancer girls basketball, which no doubt started with Matson’s vision for the program and the players’ achievements on the court.


“It was the fulfillment of one era and the transition to another era, with the same principles and the same goals and the same values running through it all,” said Howard. “I think it was the perfect bridge in that sense.”


The Orange Lutheran Girls Basketball CIF Championship Team roster includes: Kara Dismuke, Jami (Hahn) Ellis, Abbey Goodsell, Marissa (Straub) Hammons, Taylor (Kelso) Holland, Sydney Jacobs, Krissy Karr, Courtney Lofink, Natalie Luzar, Taylor Messick, Sarah Morner, Jessica Salottolo, Tayler Walsh, Jesse (Spittel) Wright

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