LBHS Girls Basketball: Big turnaround, bigger plans for the future

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Beach High School may be the smallest public high school in Orange County, but its successful athletics program belies its size. The LBHS Breakers compete with – even dominate – teams from schools with much larger student bodies. So when the LBHS Girls Basketball team went 0 for 24 last year, needless to say, it didn’t generate a lot of buzz. However, in what has to be one of the most remarkable turnarounds one can point to in school history, this year’s team has amassed a very impressive mid-season 15-3 record as of press time.

Building a youth program for the future

Third year head coach Matthew Tietz knew he was going to have to build his team from the ground up. With no youth program feeding the high school team when he took over, some of his players arrive with very little background in the sport.

 “When I interviewed for the position, the first thing I asked was ‘What’s the youth program?’” explains Tietz. Hearing that, other than the Boys and Girls Club program that gets a lot of girls through third grade only to see them bleed off into other sports by sixth grade, there wasn’t one. “We started a youth program that runs out of here (LBHS) and Thurston. Lance Neal (LBHS Athletic Director) has bent over backwards to get us a gym and a team.”

Taking an 0-24 team to 15-3 in a season

So that will help in the future, but how do you take a team that lost every single game they played to one that has been dominating in the span of one year? “We had three starters come back,” says Tietz. “They’re really big on improving. I told them last year, ‘We’re going to learn this year to play better next year.’” And while that may sound easy, as a new coach who is trying to get his team to buy into his way of doing things only to have that team lose every single game, it is no small feat to get them to come back for more.

LBHS Girls Tietz and Brianna

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LBHS Girls Basketball Head Coach Matthew Tietz and his daughter and Assistant Coach Brianna

Credit goes to the players…

“It’s a credit to the girls,” he says. “They’re buying into it. When I first started, they weren’t as willing, but the ones who are here now…there are no selfish players.” Of course, that is true; the players do deserve much of the credit, but the coaches – Tietz and his daughter, Brianna – can’t be left out of the equation.

As well as the coaches

Tietz played basketball in high school, but says his main sport was football.  However, as he had a daughter, if he wanted to coach her, coaching football wasn’t really an option. Brianna was in third grade when Teitz started coaching her in basketball. He coached her all the way until she got to Northwood High School in Irvine. Even then he was offered a position to help coach her team there but opted out. “I didn’t want to cramp her style,” he says. 

Now Brianna is a college graduate and she and Tietz have helped teach the LBHS girls a lot of things, not the least of which is how to win. Tietz admits he created a schedule that would help with this, playing teams he felt his girls could beat. However, getting teams to play a team with an 0-24 record took some convincing. 

A 14-game streak comes to an end

Tietz will not have the same problem next year. Not only were the other teams caught off guard by the Breakers’ improvement, Tietz and his players were, as well. “I knew we’d improved, but we beat these teams by 30-40 points. The other coaches are looking at me and I just had to tell them we’re a little surprised by our success as well.”

The team had a 14-0 streak going before losing to a team Tietz says they could have beaten. “They’d like to play that one again,” he says of the girls, explaining that the pressure of the streak was definitely a factor in the loss. 

Hugely improved, but still a ways to go

Now, with the streak behind them, the team has the “opportunity” to play four teams from upper division schools. Corona del Mar was the first of these tests. I met with Tietz before the game and he was optimistic, but also realistic. “We can just relax and play our game and see what happens. They’re probably 30 points better than us, but we’ve got nothing to lose.” 

LBHS Girls team

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The LBHS Girls Basketball team:

(L-R in front) Rebecca Sanchez, Mia Pitz, Anna Cheng, Alia Hassan;

(L-R in back) Autumn Moreland, Claire Smithers, Julia Henry, Madi Garwal

Unfortunately, the end result was a sobering 13-60. Clearly, while great progress has been made, the team still has a way to go to compete with the bigger schools. Nevertheless, they are committed to this year’s goal of making it to the CIF playoffs. “We’re ready for that level already,” says Tietz. 

Vying for some student body attention

With such a drastic turnaround taking place, I asked some of the players if they felt the school was taking notice. Captains Madi Garwal, Julia Henry, Mia Pitz, and Anna Cheng were tempered in their responses. They acknowledged that their friends were definitely aware, but were less sure about the student body as a whole.

“It’s so much about volleyball and water polo and the schools those players are getting into,” explains Henry. “We’re not there yet, obviously.” She adds, “We’d love more student support.”

“Boys basketball games are an event,” says Henry by way of comparison.

Proud to be part of the journey 

But this is not to give the impression that the girls are in any way resentful of their place on the proverbial totem pole. They are all quite clear-eyed about the why’s and the how’s of building a program that generates the kind of excitement and pride that others do on campus. And while their success this year stands in stark contrast to their troubles last year, they understand it will take time to get the program to the level that their games are seen as events on campus. For the girls who are seniors, that change will come after they’ve graduated. Still, a legacy has to start somewhere.

LBHS Girls action

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Madi Garwal takes a shot in practice at the LBHS gym

Until then, they seem to be having a lot of fun. The practice I sat in on showed the girls definitely working hard but there was a joyfulness that was impossible to miss. The team had just come back from an overnight trip to Glendale where they played a game and then went to Magic Mountain. “There is no drama on this team. They all really get along,” says Tietz. 

All that’s needed is an interest

So for any girls out there who have an interest in basketball, contact Coach Tietz at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The club teams will be starting up in the spring and he hopes to have at least three teams for third to fourth grade, fifth to sixth, and seventh to eighth grade. The club will host four tournaments and they will be run as a fundraiser for the girls basketball team. ”If you have a desire to play, we can turn you into a basketball player,” says Tietz confidently. Based on his results so far, his confidence is more than justified.