Coaches like Long Beach Poly's Ron Palmer, Mater Dei's Gary McKnight and Poway's Wayne Branstetter take center stage in this week's edition of the best prep notes column in the state.

•Ron Palmer finished his prep basketball coaching career with 606 all-time wins. The Long Beach Poly coach, 63, who is retiring after this season, bowed out after the Jackrabbits were beaten in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Div. I-AA playoffs by Leuzinger of Lawndale, 65-63. This was after Poly won another Moore League crown.
Palmer retires as one of the top 10 winningest coaches in the state ever. He became the 10th coach in state history to reach 600 career wins in January, but will not be able to pass Jim Boyd from Vanden of Travis AFB (614 wins) for the ninth spot on the all-time list.
Great job, Coach Palmer, thanks for all your support over the years, and good luck in retirement.

•Glancing over the all-time coaching wins records for boys basketball also shows how fast Santa Ana Mater Dei's Gary McKnight is coming up the charts. McKnight is "only" in his 21st season as head coach of the Monarchs (since the 1982-83 season) and we currently have him with 636 reported wins heading into this weekend.
McKnight has passed both Jim Boyd and Tom Danley (Anaheim Katella) into the seventh spot on the all-time state list this season and should move up to No. 6 next season. If McKnight coaches another 10-12 seasons, he'll easily get to 1,000 and if he were to coach as long as say, a Morgan Wootten at De Matha Catholic of Maryland, it wouldn't be far-fetched to one day see McKnight No. 1 on the all-time national list. He's averaging more than 30 wins per season for his career so far and has lost just 58.

•Poway is always among the favorites in the CIF state wrestling championships each year and this time the Titans are sending 10 wrestlers in 14 weight classes to this weekend's meet in Stockton. What could be different this year is that Poway has three projected state finalists and many other medalist favorites.
Coach Wayne Branstetter's team has been ranked No. 1 in the state for most of the season and has been among the nation's top 10 as well. Leading Poway's hopes will be seniors Patrick Payne, ranked No. 1 in the state at 142 pounds and with an impressive 44-1 record, and Joe Baker, who is ranked No. 2 in the state at 121 pounds and who sports a 31-2 record. Paul Baird, who is No. 2 at 154 pounds with "only" a record of 42-3, is another force. All three were gold medal winners at last week's San Diego Section Masters Meet, along with sophomores Mick Ruis (23-0) at 103, Abraham Gross (36-7) at 127 and Elwin Warsh (34-10) at 132.

•If you've never seen Branstetter coaching, it's something else. All wrestling coaches are intense, but Branstetter does it with a capital I. He's been coaching at Poway since 1979 and among all coaches in the state, no matter the sport, he's the one who should be next to go into the National High School Hall of Fame. If Poway wins the team title this weekend, it would be the third for Branstetter. His others came in 1986 and 1999.

•Foothill of Tustin has won its fourth consecutive Southern Section Div I title in girls water polo and finished with a 30-0 record. It's a winter sport in that section but a fall sport in the Sac-Joaquin Section where Davis won its third consecutive Div I championship, finishing with a 31-0 season record, a 72-game win streak and a second consecutive undefeated season.
So who's the Cal-Hi state team of the year? We think Foothill for the 2002-03 school year and Davis for 2001-02 at 33-0 fits nicely. Foothill is also it for 2000-01 at 29-1. Somebody figure out a way to get these two together for a match.

•Too bad Ray Reed of Inglewood had to stomp on a poster of the opposing point guard after he scored 25 pts and led the Sentinels to a 70-64 win over state-ranked San Gorgonio in the Southern Section Div. II-A playoffs. That kind of poor sportsmanship will always be pointed out by this publication whenever it's seen or reported.
It reminds us of the time Long Beach Poly football players ripped apart a balloon display of Mater Dei's after the Jackrabbits won the 1997 Southern Section title. The passes of Chris Lewis and the hard hits of Herman Ho-Ching that keyed that victory are starting to fade from memory, but the way the team reacted afterward is recalled as if it was yesterday. That's too bad, but that's what poor sportsmanship does. It leaves a taste in your mouth that just doesn't go away.

•Whether it's from great competitive balance or a flawed seeding system, you still have to hand it to the Tokay High of Lodi boys as the Tigers, a No. 16 seed in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Div. I playoffs, upset No. 1 seed Downey of Modesto, 76-70, last week in a first-round game. We don't know if we've ever seen a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1 in any postseason sectional basketball playoff. It's certainly the first time it's ever happened in the Sac-Joaquin. Tokay came back from a 56-44 deficit at the start of the fourth quarter and was led by Bobby Caffese's 18 points.
Downey had won its first league title since 1964, which of course brings up memories of the movie American Graffiti. Director George Lucas went to Downey at around the time of that last league title. Cindy Williams also wears a "TD" (Thomas Downey) sweater in many scenes in the movie, although the name of the high school the movie is centered around is never named.

•This time Hoopes takes the Cake: St. Vincent of Petaluma outscored Rincon Valley Christian of Santa Rosa 71-60 in a boys basketball game last week as Preston Hoopes of the winners scored 23 pts while Rincon's Jared Cake had 17. In a previous meeting, St. Vincent won 61-51 but Cake outscored Hoopes 22-20.

•King of the Athletic Directors: The AD at Richmond High of the North Coast Section is Roy Rogers. Maybe he could ride a Palomino for crowd control?

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