Mercury News

Coaching basketball players who are more concerned with academics than athletics presents a unique set of challenges for Lynbrook's Darrin Garcia. On the plus side, his players have a high IQ and rarely need to be taught a technique or idea more than once.

On the negative side are the cutting critiques Garcia receives after giving the girls a motivational talk.

``I'll be giving them my best Vince Lombardi speech and they'll let me know how many grammatical errors I had in it,'' Garcia said with a laugh. ``But they are so smart on the court, it allows us to do things at the spur of moment.''

The Vikings, with a team GPA close to 3.85, are winning with a mixture of skill, intelligence and hard work. They beat Lincoln 40-34 on Friday to win the Cupertino Holiday Classic.

Lynbrook also won the Sandi Stober Classic and finished second in the Monta Vista Invitational, where the Vikings (11-1) suffered their first loss of the season to Burlingame.

Two years ago, Lynbrook won the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League's El Camino Division title, earning a spot in the stronger De Anza Division.

Last season, the team goal was to maintain its position in the upper-tier league, and the Vikings did that by reaching the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs, finishing the year 13-13.

``This year we have much higher aspirations,'' Garcia said. ``We tell the girls it's OK if we get beat, but we are going to make our opponents work their hardest to beat us.''

Junior forward Laura Crisler was named the most valuable player of the Cupertino Tournament after scoring a game-high 12 points in the championship game. She averages 8.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

Senior point guard Vickie Chien runs the offense.

``Vickie is an excellent athlete with great court vision and ball-handling ability,'' Garcia said. Chien leads the team in assists with 6.5 per game and is second in scoring (9.1 points per game).

The Vikings are getting the job done without senior Nikki Chang, who led the team with 13.3 points per game last season, earning all-league honors. Chang has been sidelined with a knee sprain, and Garcia said he hopes she will return to the court when league play begins Jan. 7.

One of the biggest surprises has been the emergence of senior Tiffany Pan, who leads the team in scoring with 9.8 points per game and is one of the top three-point shooters in the Central Coast Section. Emily Shen has been strong on the boards with 8.9 per game, while leading the team in blocked shots.

Katie Yamauchi and Gloria Sue have also been solid contributors, Garcia said.

The players weren't totally focused on hoops last week, with finals on their minds. Chien said she was awake until 3 a.m. one night preparing for a test.

But the senior said basketball and books go hand-in-hand. Her application to the UC system included an essay on the impact basketball has had on her life.

``I mentioned how it has taught me a lot about leadership and teamwork, which is why our team has been so successful,'' Chien said. ``We work hard academically, and that transfers onto the basketball court. We don't slack off in the classroom or at practice.''

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