Ventura inducts state champions into Hall of Fame

Ventura College inducts its state champion women's basketball teams from 1996 and 1997 into the Ventura College Athletic Hall of Fame on Feb. 4, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Ventura Athletics)
Ventura College inducts its state champion women's basketball teams from 1996 and 1997 into the Ventura College Athletic Hall of Fame on Feb. 4, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Ventura Athletics)

The complete story (by Joe Curley) | Watch induction (video)

VENTURA, Calif. - The 1996 and 1997 women's basketball state champions became the first teams in school history to be inducted into the Ventura College Athletic Hall of Fame. Their induction ceremony took place immediately following the men's game and preceded the women's game against Allan Hancock College at the Athletic Event Center. 

They are approaching 40 now, having built careers and families from a foundation laid during what was, in the scope of their lives, a fleeting moment.

Whether they were from Ventura or Oxnard, Washington or Mexico, they all became Pirates during what is now, 20 years later, the midpoint of their lives.

"It was a great experience," said guard Marina Torres-Reyes. "Not even a million dollars could pay for that."

From 1995 to 1997, the Ventura College women's basketball team was nearly unbeatable, winning 71 of 72 games and delivering the program's first two state championships.

"I still have the newspaper clippings," said guard Tori Anderson. "That's something that nobody can ever take away from you. It's like being in a sorority. Nobody else knows what it was like to accomplish what we accomplished with that group of players."

They were young women building confidence in themselves and each other, routing their opponents by an average margin of 35.7 points.

"It prepared me in a unique way," forward Cindi (Jensen) Burton said. "It was such a good experience. I can't really explain what it was like to walk in a gym and know you were going to win every day. Most people don't know what that feels like."

"It's kind of rare when a team is that dominant. It definitely gave me a lot of confidence."

The 1995-96 team finished 35-0, beating all but three opponents by double figures, and digging out of a halftime deficit to top previously unbeaten Saddleback, 69-62, in the state final at San Jose State.

The 1996-97 team finished 36-1, ferociously responding to an 81-75 loss to San Jose City in the final of the Gilcrest Invitational at College of the Sequoias that snapped a 42-game winning streak.

"I'm still mad about that game," Jensen said. 

They didn't just win their final 29 games. They put up 100 or more points a school-record seven times, including a school-record 124-33 victory over Los Angeles Pierce.

"We needed to lose," point guard Rebecca (Zuniga) Hines said. "It straightened us back up… Nothing in life is easy."

Nine players transferred to play Division I basketball. All 17 still fondly recall their time in California Community College.

"Ventura is by far the most fun I've ever had in my life," said guard Amirah Leonard, who won the ACC tournament and reached the Sweet 16 at Clemson before starring on a reality show Fear Factor and playing in the Lingerie Football League.

"I think about it all the time. I wish I could go back to those days. It was just a great experience."

Some stayed in the community. Some moved on to build their lives upon their experience.

Torres-Reyes and Sara (Phelps) Hannah recently watched their daughters play against each other in the Ventura Youth Basketball Association.

"I wish I could go back in time and do it all again," said Torres-Reyes. "I would probably have more fun. I was very serious. Basketball meant everything to me."

They will celebrate their Hall of Fame induction during a reunion on Feb. 4, the first time they have gathered since their graduations. 

"What was unique about it, we were from all over the place and we spent two years together, almost every day and we all spread back out again," Phelps said. 

"I have such fond memories. We had so much success and what comes along with that was really special. I think of them as the glory years when I learned so much, and became the woman I am."