MLL SEASON BEGINS TONIGHT

January 16, 2003 11:00 pm

By DAN GOLDMAN

After watching other leagues around the Sac-Joaquin Section begin conference play two weeks ago, the Summerville High School boys' and girls' basketball teams will finally get a chance to see how they stack up against their own when the Mother Lode League portion of their schedules begins tonight

Because the MLL is down to six teams from last year's seven after Brookside Christian of Stockton's switch to the Southern League, teams from around the MLL will be playing their first conference games of the season tonight while a majority of teams from surrounding leagues will be into the fourth game of their league schedules.

Making the late start all the more frustrating for Summerville is the fact that both the boys' and girls' teams are coming off of strong preseasons and have legitimate shots of repeating their dual successes of 1991, when both teams won MLL titles with records of 10-0 and 9-1, respectively.

Although Summerville's boys are off to a 12-5 start, including quality wins over Sonora and Hilmar and a strong performance in a loss to defending Sac-Joaquin Section champion Encina of Sacramento, they may have a tougher row to hoe than the girls because of the league's overall strength.

"Overall, this might be the strongest the league has ever been since I've been here," said Marlen Ronten, who has coached the Summerville boys' team since 1975. "Usually, there are a couple of teams that are down, but this year, everybody looks really good."

Perennial contenders like Summerville, defending champion Amador (9-5) and Bret Harte (8-9) have all fared well playing bigger schools during the preseason. But they expect to be pushed by up-and-coming Linden (9-6), Argonaut (6-11), and, more than any other, Calaveras (11-4).

"Calaveras looks like it could be the surprise team," Ronten said of the Redskins, who won the Linden Tournament and finished second in their own. "They used to have a great basketball tradition, and now I think they're starting to turn the tide again and becoming pretty competitive."