By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Sports Editor
DOWNTOWN.–So, just where is the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, anyway?
Well, it’s listed as a college preparatory school, and it’s on 18th Street in the in the Faircrest Heights district.
It’s most commonly referred to as LACES, but as of Thursday night, a new moniker might very well take hold: Title Town.
Or maybe Tanioka Towers.
The heretofore little known campus will be buzzing for sometime to come, after both their girls’ and boys’ basketball teams captured CIF championships in the City Section Div. IV finals, played Thursday at the downtown Roybal Learning Center.
And if two teams winning titles for the same school, in the same division, in the same year, on the same day on the same floor isn’t enough, dig this: both squads are led by point guards with the same surname.
Well, that’s natural, since they’re siblings. Better clear some space in the trophy case at the Tanioka house.
“They really support each other, and there’s a great camaraderie at home,” said Michael Tanioka, after daughter Sidney‘s LACES team defeated Animo South L.A. in the championship game, 46-34. “They always look to each other for advice, especially Sidney, with two older brothers in the house.”
One of those brothers, Dean, picked up where his sis left off, helping the LACES boys topple No. 1-seed Rancho Dominguez, 49-37, to win the boys’ Div. IV crown.
The night of glory didn’t come without plenty of hard work and dedication, according to Father.
“There were a lot of tournaments and club ball, lots of driving to practice when we didn’t want to go,” said Michael Tanioka. “It’s all a matter of staying focused.”
In the early game on Thursday, defense was the focus for LACES. The Lady Unicorns pressured the taller, stronger Animo players into shot after hurried shot, stymieing any momentum they might momentarily seize.
The result of LACES’ efforts in the game could well be summed up with one eye-popping statistic: Animo shot a woeful 5 for 26 from the free throw line, a 19 percent success rate in a game that was ultimately decided by 12 points.
The contest was heavy on defense in the first half, with LACES barely cracking 20 and Animo scoring just 15 at the break. Both teams came out firing in the third period, with the score at 39-24 heading into the fourth.
“I think we just got tired in the first half,” said LACES girls’ head coach Dion Thompson. “I think the rest energized us for the second half.”
Sidney Tanioka agreed that her team was satisfied with their control of Animo’s scoring, but came out with a more balanced attack in the third quarter, deploying effective play structures, crisp passing and accurate shooting.
“We had good defense and pressure, but we were better focused at both ends after halftime.”
Tanioka, a sophomore, led all scorers with 14, while frosh teammates Ayleen Yamaki and Morgan Amis each had five.
“We weren’t going to give this one up,” Amis said after the victory. “This has been our goal since the very first practice.”
The girls will enjoy a short rest before the pairing for the State Tournament are announced next week. Yamaki said they’ll be back on the court Monday, getting ready mentally as well as physically.
“We’ll watch some tape, probably do a lot of running,” she explained. “We have to stay up after this. We can’t let our guard down now.”
Having seen their female schoolmates hoist the championship plaque mere moments earlier, the LACES boys no doubt felt some pressure to deliver as well. Theirs was a more formidable task, however, as they were facing a Rancho Dominguez team that boasted a pair of 7-foot post players and had gone undefeated on their way to the Crosstown League title.
When it was over, however, 7-0 William Brooks was on the bench having fouled out, and LACES celebrated the win.
And seemingly at the center of it all was a player with a familiar name. With 5:15 remaining in the third period, Dean Tanioka picked up his fourth foul, forcing coach Manasa Chanaiwa to sit his point guard for the remainder
of the quarter.
In the span of six minutes, LACES went from leading by 10 points to barely hanging on to a single-point advantage, with Tanioka twisting anxiously as he watched from the bench.
Tanioka came back into the game in the first minute of the fourth period, and the Unicorns almost immediately went on a run, scoring eight of the next 10 combined points, but he deflected any suggestion his presence had such an noted affect on the score.
“It wasn’t just me,” he said after the win, “We were all in there fighting, we were all in there working hard.”
He said he and his teammates have lived essentially as a unit, which shows in their cohesion on the court.
“We’re family, plain and simple. We practice together, we study together, we hang out together. We all just that close.”
A senior who hopes to follow older brother Chad onto a college roster – the eldest Tanioka is a standout on the Occidental College team – he said said there won’t be much of an issue over championship bragging rights with his sister. He sees this as the first of many titles to come for “Sid the Kid.”
“Hopefully, she carries this on, and brings home more championships,” he said. “She’s that good.”