Chris Ruffinelli, the Spartans eighth-year head coach, made sure his squad faced a brutal nonleague schedule. They need to be ready for Pacific View League competition and the postseason.
Rio Mesa has played Oak Park, arguably the best team in Acorn country, twice. The Spartans have also battled Arroyo Grande, which advanced to a section final last winter, and undefeated Hart.
After a grueling schedule, the Spartans are 6-9 entering tonight’s 7 p.m. Pacific View opener at Pacifica.
“I don’t care about the losses,” Ruffinelli said. “We played a tough preseason schedule for a reason. We wanted to face the best teams to be ready for league play. We want a Pacific View League title and make a deep run in the playoffs.
“It’s unfortunate that people focus on our record. We’re right there with these top teams. We’re just coming up short.”
Rio Mesa has lost six games by five points or less, including one-point losses to Valencia and Arroyo Grande.
The Spartans scheduled tougher teams to potentially earn a higher postseason seed.
“For some reason, basketball teams in this area (Ventura County) don’t get a lot of respect,” Ruffinelli said. “When it comes to CIF playoffs, teams in Orange County and Los Angeles get the higher seeds.
“We have quality competition up here, too. Teams like Calabasas, Royal, Oak Park and Thou- sand Oaks have made deeps runs in the playoffs in recent years.”
Senior guard Erick Zambrano said chemistry was never an issue despite the addition of eight newcomers.
“I really love playing with this team,” said Zambrano, who’s also on the Rio Mesa boys’ volleyball team. “I’ve played with most of my teammates since we were in fourth grade. I played travel ball with Anthony, Reggie and Martel. We know each other pretty well.
“It’s easy playing with them. We mesh so well.”
Zambrano is a defensive stopper who isn’t afraid to take 3-point shots. He’s a member of the Key Club on campus.
Tyler, a combo guard, gets the Spartans going on offense.
A wide receiver and running back on the Rio Mesa football team, Tyler averages 15.3 points per game while shooting 44 percent from the field.
Tyler, who has suffered ankle injuries on the football field, said he’s regained his explosiveness.
He was named to the All- Pacific View second team last year. His backcourt mate, Teart, was a first-team selection.
Teart won a league title with the Spartans during his sophomore year. He’s hoping to do the same thing this winter.
“It would mean so much to me to end my high school basketball career with a league title,” said Teart, also a Key Club member. “Oxnard and Camarillo are good teams, but I think we have a good shot against them.”
Teart, a senior, said his best memory of 2012 was winning a state championship for Rio Mesa in the 4×400-meter relay race.
Teart’s cousin, Reggie Dixon, is a willowy 6-foot-4 senior who can post up and drive to the basket.
Dixon leads the team in scoring and rebounding at 16 points and six boards per game.
Christian Mancilla, Adam Soudani, Lawrence Droughn, Keith Kemper, Jeremy Bird, Kevin Rivera and BVD Ortiz contribute for the Spartans.
Rio Mesa and Camarillo shared second place behind league champion Oxnard in 2011-12.
“We’re not playing for moral victories,” Ruffinelli said.
“Now that we’re in league play, we need to start winning these close games. I know they can do it. They don’t back down from anyone and play until the end.”