1976-80 Varsity Basketball Champs
Sender: Jim Hammer
Email: calvinjameshammer@yahoo.com
Posted On: 01/20/2015
Year: 1975-1980

1976-80 Varsity Basketball Champs

MVHS Basketball Coach John Dahl took his team to the playoffs 33 times and won the league championship 14 times. The first time was in 1975. They went 15-1 in league and lost by one point in the first game of the playoffs…a little bit of first-time jitters.

1975-76 promised to be a good year. The league MVP, 6’4” Alphonse Winters was returning, moving from forward to guard. The 6’5” McGhee twins, Carter and Craig were returning to post…kind of like having two centers. Top rebounder Steve Strutz and hot-shooting Doug McGuire started as forwards. And a host of talent sat on the bench waiting for serious playing time: the exciting little guard and expert ball-handler, Jimmy Williams; the high-leaping, Paul Ricci (slam dunking wasn’t allowed, but Paul could make the jump), and many others.

They won league again with a 14-0 record, and the crowds began to swell to standing room only. They won the first playoff game by 35 points. The next team had a 7’ center, but the Vikings won by 13. But now the time for home games was over. They were on the road against tougher and tougher opponents. MV squeezed out a win, 67-65 in the quarter finals, and were now in the semi-finals, one win away from the championship.

It was like something out of a movie. The small town of Sunnymead, with only one high school, and one junior high was poised to make national news…to win a championship. I have never seen a more talented team in the history of MVHS.

But it was not meant to be. I remember walking into that gym, so far from home, stunned by the size of the building, the height of the ceiling, but pumped up by the signs: “Go MVHS!” “Win it all, MVHS!” “MVHS is the greatest!” But they weren’t ours. We were playing Mission Viejo High School, and all the big, beautiful banners belonged to them.

We were out of it from the tip off. Everyone seemed off their game, except Doug who pumped in about 20 points in a losing effort, 68-43. I still think we were the better team that day, but winning is not always about talent. We found that out again four years later.

Coach Dahl took a much smaller, slower team into the finals with a little guard, Vince Cason. Vince’s older brother, Videll Cason was a 1976 graduate. Videll was an undefeated league championship wrestler, but I don’t remember ever seeing him with a basketball.

Coach Dahl had to wait for Vince. On paper and in person, he didn’t look like he had chosen the right sport. Short and stocky, and “deceptively” slow, he looked out of place on a championship court. And the other team had talent, and speed. Really now, they should have won, if the better team always wins.

In the final seconds, John Dahl moved Vince to forward. Now it really looked ridiculous. Everyone towered above him…and watched him soar up to snag rebound after crucial rebound, get fouled, and pump in the game winning points.

In an interview later, Coach Dahl said he learned from his previous trips to the playoffs and it helped his decision-making. It was sheer genius, and played with guts and determination. I remember thinking, “That’s it. Dahl has it figured out. He’ll be back in the finals year after year playing for the championship.” But that was the last one. The competition is always fierce, and guts and determination…and talent are spread wide and far.

Vince Cason gave us his best and brought home a championship. I don’t know if he was MVP in the league, but he was MVP of the championship game.

Al Winters and his teams also gave their best, one league twice, and took us to the semi-finals. For his play and leadership, Al won league MVP for the second time his senior year in 1976, and then went on to play for Riverside Community College for a couple of years.

He had a scholarship to the University of Hawaii, but the RCC coach convinced him to stay close to home.
He played a lot for the Tigers his Freshman year, but his playing time seemed to fade his Sophomore year, and that was the last time I saw him.

I hope things worked out for him and the rest of those MVHS championship players. They gave us lots of good times, good memories…and great dreams.

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