The Westchester High School Comets have taken a different path this season but they have risen to a familiar place — the top of Los Angeles City boys basketball.
The Comets (24-6) captured their seventh Los Angeles City Section Championship in the last eight years with a 68-58 victory over Taft High School of Woodland Hills at the Los Angeles Sports Arena Saturday, March 4th.
Westchester then defeated Ventura High 67-56 in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) State Division I Southern California regional playoffs first round game at home Tuesday, March 7th.
In a season when the Comets lost many star players from last year’s city title squad and they came up short in capturing the Western League title, some may have questioned Westchester’s chances to defend the city crown.
But that all changed when fourth-seeded Westchester knocked off Western League champion and the top-seeded Fairfax High School Lions with an impressive 79-63 semifinal victory February 24th.
The mostly young Westchester team got revenge against rival Fairfax after losing both regular season games to the Lions, and the Comets were not about to let third-seeded Taft (23-6) prevent them from earning another city title.
“It was awful special because they’re such a young and inexperienced group and they really performed,” Westchester coach Ed Azzam said of the city title.
“The players were elated because they proved everyone wrong,” he said.
“It’s a great feeling when you can tell people that you’re not as bad as they thought.”
In last year’s successful season, Westchester captured the city title after first winning the league championship, and the Comets also eventually went on to win the Division I Regional and State championships.
Although this year’s Westchester team lacked the experience of last year’s squad and the players “struggled early on,” they have gradually improved over the season to achieve their goals, Azzam said.
“Our goal from the beginning of the year was to get a little better every game,” he said.
“We have gotten better every day and at this time of the year we’re pretty good,” he added.
Azzam attributes the rise of his team’s level of play throughout the season to its “extremely effective” defense, including stopping the ball, penetration and rebounding.
The city championship victory over Taft was no different, as the Comets took over the lead early in the first quarter and prevented Taft from regaining the lead for the remainder of the game.
Senior guard Ahmaad Cook was a big factor on offense by scoring 17 points, including 12 points in the first half, to help Westchester take a 36-23 lead at halftime.
Taft was able to trim the deficit to six points in the third quarter, but Westchester remained in control and halted any comeback effort.
Junior forward Dane Suttle led the Comets with 22 points and six rebounds.
Westchester senior forward Brett Goodwell finished with 11 points and ten rebounds and junior forward Isaiah Jenkins added eight points and eight rebounds.
While the Comets are ready to carry their momentum into the state playoffs, Azzam said the Comets need to play for the entire game if they are going to defend their state title from last year.
“We have lapses where we lose focus, but if we can just learn to play the whole game we’ll be pretty good,” he said.