Coming off a challenging pre-league season schedule, the Santa Monica High School Vikings girls basketball team appears to be starting out on the right path in Ocean League play.

After playing through a pre-league schedule consisting of tournaments that pitted them against several tough opponents, the Vikings came out with a winning record of 8-7.

First-year Santa Monica head coach Marty Verdugo said five of the pre-league losses were to ranked teams, including Long Beach Polytechnic High School, currently the number-one ranked team in the Southland by the Los Angeles Times, and 19th-ranked Mira Costa High School.

But Viking junior forward Katy Keating said the challenging games of the pre-league were key factors in helping to prepare the Vikings for the Ocean League schedule as they aim to defend their league championship.

“The preseason gave us a lot of experience playing against tougher teams,” Keating said.

Santa Monica (10-7, 2-0) currently leads the league standings after opening league play with a 58-41 victory at Morningside High School Wednesday, January 10th, and then capturing a 71-53 victory in its league home-opener against Inglewood High School Friday, January 12th.

“We’re off to a good start but we’re taking it one game at a time,” said Keating, who finished with 13 points against Inglewood, including three three-pointers. “It’s good to come out with two wins against some of our toughest (league) opponents.”

Although Santa Monica narrowly led 11-10 at the end of the first quarter, it was the Inglewood Sentinels (10-7, 1-1) who got the faster start on offense.

After senior guard Emily Foshag, who finished with 14 points in the game, hit a three-pointer to put the Vikings ahead 3-2, Santa Monica trailed Inglewood for most of the first quarter.

Until sophomore guard Jennie Harding put the Vikings back in the lead in the final seconds of the first quarter, Santa Monica got all of its previous points in the quarter on three-point shots by Foshag, Keating and Harding.

While the Vikings started off rather slowly on offense in the first quarter, Verdugo said he was confident that his team would take care of the early deficit once it got warmed up and began to play its game.

“With our shooting and style of play we can get back in the game,” Verdugo said. “The key tonight was making sure we could stop them from hitting the boards, because that’s what (Inglewood) does well.”

The two teams traded scores until the game was tied at 16-16, but then Santa Monica began to pick up the pace on offense in the middle of the second quarter.

Santa Monica stretched its lead to six points on the first of two three-pointers in the second quarter by junior guard Daisy Feder, who led the Vikings in the game with 17 points, including eight points in the second quarter.

The Sentinels were able to stay close behind Santa Monica in the second quarter with the help of sophomore Tayler Champion, who scored seven of her game-high 18 points in the second quarter and also grabbed 15 rebounds in the game.

Following a late foul shot by junior Karlia Batalla, Santa Monica went into halftime with a 29-23 lead, which it would not give up for the remainder of the game.

Nearly all of Inglewood’s points in the third quarter came off of free throws, while the Vikings continued to make shots, including back-to-back three-pointers by Harding and Feder to take a 42-33 lead with 2:44 left in the third quarter.

The Vikings went into the fourth quarter with a 48-35 advantage and cruised to the league victory on the heels of Foshag, who scored nine points in the final quarter, seven of which came off of free-throws.

Santa Monica will next face host Culver City High School in a league game at 6 p.m. Friday, January 19th.

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