East County Sports

Grossmont College Holiday Tournament starts Friday


East County Sports staff report

EL CAJON (28-2018) – The annual Grossmont College Holiday Tournament begins a 3-day run on Friday (Dec. 28), but just how old is this prestigious tournament?

Officials with the Griffins state the tournament is beginning its 31st season — that means the start of its fourth decade — but others note this is actually the event’s 38th season, dating back to 1978-89 school year.

“It was the second season of state-sanctioned women’s athletics in California,” recalled Nick Pellegrino, a sportswriter in San Diego County since 1973. “The head coach at Mesa started it in his second season, but when he received an offer to become a full-time teacher and head basketball coach at a high school in Orange County, I was one of the people that helped run it.”

The San Diego Mesa Spring Invitational became so big, almost every power program in Southern California wanted to join.”

“Santa Monica won a pair of Southern California championships,  but only won the Mesa tournament once,” Pellegrino recalled. “Except for four forfeits, Santa Monica lost only one game on the court – to Mesa, 63-62, in front of big-name coaches.”

Representatives from more than two dozen NCAA Division I coaches filled Mesa’s small gymnasium. Names like Billie Moore (UCLA) and Joan Bonvicini (Long Beach St., when the 49ers were a national power). Of course, the big schools already made the switch to a winter schedule while California community colleges remained on a spring schedule a few years longer.

“That’s when everyone wanted in, including Fullerton, when they were coached by Colleen Riley,” added Pellegrino. “The tournament got so big, among the eight teams, seven were ranked in the Top 15 in the state — we had a better field than the actual state championships.”

When former San Diego State standout Kim Ellis resigned, Pellegrino joined The Daily Californian – the predecessor to East County Sports – and moved all eight teams to the same event, except it now called Grossmont College home.

“That’s when we expanded the tournament to 12 teams, then it eventually reached 16 teams – it came the largest community college women’s basketball tournament in the nation,” he added. “Schools from all across the  country and Canada were calling us.”

The first out-of-town team was Dixie College on St. George, Utah, which announced last month its intention to elevate to NCAA Division I play.

“American River College (of Sacramento) made a last-minute decision not to come to San Diego,” he noted. “I had to do something, so I drew a circle with a compass on a map, with San Diego in the middle and American River being the circumference.

All of the schools in California were accounted for. The same with Arizona. Then he noticed a school that was inside the circle.

“I got out the directory of every school in the country – there was no internet back then – and I called the Dixie coach,” he added, “All she could do was say,  ‘no.”

Dixie was already slated to play on those dates in a tournament in Montana, but Rebels coach Sherri Titus took Pellegrino’s phone number and would call him back. It seems the tournament in Montana already had a waiting list of four schools, so she called the tournament director to politely on her commitment to partake in the Montana tournament.

“Would you rather travel 8-to-10 hours north, through the snow for a tournament,” Pellegrino mused. “Or would you rather drive 8 hours south and play in San Diego during the dead of winter,”

She was looking to move to a bigger, larger coaching gig, discovering that Palomar’s coach, the late Judy Sanders, was suffering from breast cancer and the interim coach did not want the full-time gig.

Titus applied, won the job, coached the Comets to many Pacific Coast Athletic Conference crowns, and is now Palomar’s Director of Student Affaires.

Meanwhile, the Grossmont Tournament rolls on. Despite changes in uniforms (from sleeves to sleeveless; from shorts to baggy-style), and the game itself (3-point entering in 1986-87; halves to quarters and use of a smaller basketball), the tournament remains an identifier for the sports.

Grossmont will play Victor Valley at 5 p.m., while the other in the Griffins’ bracket finds Cuesta College of San Luis Obispo meets Santa Ana at 7 p.m. In the other half to the draw,  Citrus meets Cypress to start at event at 1 p.m., then L.A. Trade-Tech meets Southwestern at 3 p.m.


Fullerton 73, San Diego Mesa 56:  In a rematch from the 1983 Southern California championship game, the Hornets again held the upper hand in defeating the I Olympians in Thursday’s (Dec. 27) first round of the Riley Memorial Tournament

In a ballgame of two truly different halves, Mesa held leads of 22-16 and 37-35 by the end of the first two periods, but the Hornets took over the second half with double-up margins 20-10 and 18-9 in the ensuing periods to pull away late.

For Fullerton (7-5), Jaelyn Alderete scored 7 of her team-high 18 points in the third from off the bench to key the turnaround, while starting guards Moriah Serrano and Fia Tailele-Latu each added 15 points.

Mesa received a game-high 18 points from forward Lavinia Moa, while center Yusra Gharram and guard Samantha LeMay-Zambrano added 15 each.

East L.A. 86, Imperial Valley 50:  At Monterey Park, the state-ranked Huskies had little trouble with the visiting Lady Arabs in Thursday’s (Dec. 28) non-conference contest.

For the Huskies, guard Jaelynn Curley hit 6-of-11 shots from beyond the arc for a game-high 23 points, while guard Jennifer Pool re six steals, part of 30 turnovers by the Arabs.

For Imperial Valley (5-8), Keren Hogue led the club with 17 points, while Destiny Salgado came off the bench to add 12 points and a team-best 8 rebounds

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