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By Steve Breazeale and Kevin Dahlgren
The 2015 prep sports spring season is on the horizon. In our annual preview, we highlight several San Juan Capistrano area high school sports teams primed for big seasons.
For in-game updates, scores, news and more for all of the area teams, follow us on Twitter @SouthOCsports.
Last Season: The Lions won the Trinity League and advanced to the semifinals of the CIF-SS Division 1 Championships.
Players to Watch: Royce Lewis, Jake Pries, Brady Shockey and Jack Owen.
Circle ‘em: National High School Invit. (3/25-28), Mater Dei (4/17) and Santa Margarita (5/12).
In the JSerra High School baseball team’s dugout, head coach Brett Kay has the day’s practice schedule pinned to a bulletin board. At the bottom of the schedule, in big bold letters, reads a question: Can you embrace the challenges that face you today?
That has been what Kay and his staff have been asking of the Lions daily, on both a micro and macro level.
JSerra enters the year as one of the top teams in the country, loaded with returning Division 1 talent and a championship pedigree. The Lions won their first Trinity League title since 2009 last season and narrowly missed out on playing for a CIF championship.
With eight returning starters on the roster, the talent is clearly there. But Kay stresses how far the team has to go until they live up to the lofty expectations.
“I think there’s a lot of external pressure on us to perform. There’s a lot of rankings coming out that people are seeing which are fine and dandy and nice for us to be able to look at. But as cliché as it can be, it doesn’t matter how you start,” Kay said.
The Lions return several strong arms and will be led on the mound by sophomore Jack Owen and senior Quentin Longrie. Ryan Lepner, Collin Quinn and transfer Reed Connelly add to the pitching depth.
The infield is made up of several standouts, like Chase Strumpf, Royce Lewis and Ryan Pena, who can play multiple positions. Because the Lions will be playing upwards of 30 games this year, they will be using a lot of pitchers and rotate multiple players around the diamond on any given day. Kay says the Lions versatility up and down the roster will be crucial to their chances at another league title and a deep playoff run.—Steve Breazeale
Last Season: The Lions finished runner-up in CIF after winning back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.
Swimmers to Watch: Karli Thuen, Kaitlyn Albertoli, Brittany Kahn and Sonia Wang.
Circle ‘em: Milikan Relays (3/24) and league meet against Santa Margarita (4/30).
The JSerra girls swim team enters the 2015 season with a bitter taste in its mouth after coming up just short in the CIF-SS Division 1 finals last year.
The good news for the Lions is that the team returns a talented field of veteran swimmers this season, which is keeping head coach Kevin Clements confident going forward.
“We have a good group of senior girls that we can rely on because they have the experience,” Clements said. “The amount of leadership we have is amazing.”
Collegiate committed swimmers Karli Theun (Univ. of Arizona), Kaitlyn Albertoli (Stanford), Brittany Kahn (Duke), and Sonia Wang (Harvard) will form the marquee relay team for the Lions this year, according to Clements.
Theun, Albertoli, Kahn, and Wang were all part of the 2012 and 2013 squads that won back-to-back CIF championships before finishing as runners-up last year.
“Quite simply, we will need all four swimmers to perform well. They all have fantastic skill in the own right,” Clements said.—Kevin Dahlgren
St. Margaret’s Episcopal
Last Season: The Tartans placed second in league and advanced to the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
Players to Watch: Kyle Hermann, Jake Bradley, Chris Murphy and Michael Messina.
Circle ‘em: Crean Lutheran (3/31, 4/2) and Sage Hill (4/14, 4/17).
When the CIF-SS Division 6 baseball preseason polls were first posted on Feb. 23, St. Margaret’s entered the fray in the No. 10 spot. The Tartans are coming off a successful year that saw them place second in the Academy League and march into the quarterfinals of the playoffs. But they are not the only Academy League team inside the top of the rankings.
League rivals Crean Lutheran and Sage Hill checked in at No. 1 and No. 4 in Division 6, respectively, which will make for another tough schedule of league games for the Tartans this season.
The Tartans will lean on their defense in order to make another deep postseason run, according to head coach Mel Taylor. The Tartans return standout catcher Jake Bradley, shortstop/pitcher Kyler Hermann and all-league center fielder Chris Murphy. All three can hit and Taylor says they make for a dynamic defensive group up the middle of the field.
Hermann is the only true battle tested pitcher in the Tartans rotation. Taylor said he is a smart pitcher who pitches to contact, which plays to the Tartans strength in the field.
“We will have a very, very solid defense this year. So if our pitchers can just keep guys on the front foot, get ground balls, rolling the ball over, we should do well,” Taylor said.—SB
Last Season: The Tartans advanced to the first round of the playoffs.
Players to Watch: Margaret Kaplan-Paliwoda, Marissa Young, Noelani Murayama and Cameron Manor.
Circle ‘em: Mater Dei (3/24) and Santa Margarita (4/14).
St. Margaret’s girls lacrosse head coach Holly Reilly accredits her team chemistry to the Tartans success in recent years. The Tartans do not carry a lot of players on varsity, but that makes for a tight-knit group that likes to play for one another, according to Reilly.
The Tartans lost only two seniors and the returning group of players has played alongside one another for several years.
The St. Margaret’s defense is heavy with returning talent and will be led by Meredith College commit Margaret Kaplan-Paliwoda. Reilly described Camila Anderson as a “tenacious defender” who holds the defense together.
The lineup will feature several up and coming sophomores like Cameron Manor, who spent the offseason with a travel club team. Reilly said she has seen a noticeable jump in Manor’s abilities and will be a big contributor on attack.
With so many familiar pieces returning who know her system, Reilly and her staff have attempted to add new dimensions to this year’s team.
“A lot of things worked for us last year. It’s adding, we know our girls, now the girls know what we’re trying to do on offense or defense so it’s what can we add in to the sets offensively or what can we adjust and add to our defense,” Reilly said. “When we play teams we can show a couple different versions of St. Margaret’s and make it difficult for our opponents.”—SB
San Juan Hills
Last Season: San Juan Hills finished third in league and advanced to the first round of the playoffs.
Players to Watch: Allie Holbrook, Brie Johnson, Jessica Scotty and Kayla Black.
Circle ‘em: Dana Hills (3/17) and San Clemente (4/23).
The San Juan Hills softball team is in the midst of a rising youth movement. With most of the team from last year gone to graduation, first-year head coach Dan Massucco envisions four freshmen and four sophomores starting for the Stallions when the season opens up.
Returning No. 1 pitcher Allie Holbrook headlines the sophomore class. Holbrook started as a freshman and showed veteran poise by pitching the Stallions to a 7-1 victory over Northwood in a win or go home wild card game last season.
The Stallions infield is full of freshman starters who have impressed Massucco early on. Freshman second baseman Brie Johnson plays well in the field but where Massucco thinks she makes the biggest impact is at the plate.
“I think when (Johnson) leaves this school she is going to hold all of the hitting records,” Massucco said.
Massucco is gearing the team’s approach at the plate to fit his preferred small-ball style of play. Massucco said his team will bunt for hits, hit the ball the other way and be aggressive on the base paths this season.
“It’s changing the mindset a little bit but it’s coming,” Massucco said. “I’m happy with where it is but I think it’s going to take about halfway through the season, then I think we’re going to be a tough out.”—SB
Girls Track & Field
Last Season: The Stallions finished third in league.
Athletes to Watch: Katie Camarena, Lauren Vissman, Elle Brandt and Mikaela Becerra.
Circle ‘em: Triton Invitational (3/21), OC Championships (4/25) and Tesoro (4/23).
Last year was a breakout year for the San Juan Hills girls track and field team, as the Stallions finished third in league and sent several athletes to CIF competition.
A majority of that talent from last year were freshman, which means the Stallions have the depth to build on last year, according to head coach Cat Nolan.
“This year, what I’m excited about, is we have the depth at all the levels,” Nolan said. “So it’s not just, you have one super star who is going to win four events for you and that’s how you win your league championship. We have maybe the top person in one event and, if we don’t, we have second or third (best).”
Junior Katie Camarena is fresh off an eighth and 11th place finish in the 800 and 600-yard race, respectively, at the Indoor State Championships in Fresno. Camarena will also be a part of the Stallions 4×400-meter relay team, which qualified for CIF last year.
Sophomore Lauren Vissman set the school record in the 200-meter dash last year and will also be a part of the 4×400 relay team.
Junior Mikaela Becerra and sophomore Rachel Gendusa are surpassing the 100-foot mark in the discus and are close to clearing 30 feet in the shot put, marks that should net the Stallions points throughout the year.—SB
Saddleback Valley Christian
Last Season: The Warriors won league, the CIF-SS Division 5 Championship and finished runner-up at the State CIF Regional Division III Championships.
Players to Watch: Noah Dyer, Jon Minsberg and Trevor O’Reilly.
Circle ‘em: Santa Margarita (4/15), Redondo Invit. (5/1) and Orangewood Academy (4/2).
After their most successful season in school history, the Saddleback Valley Christian boys volleyball team will have a few obstacles to overcome in 2015.
First off, the squad lost nine players from last year’s CIF-SS and CIF State Regional runner-up team. The Warriors return a solid starting lineup, but beyond that, they have few players with varsity experience.
Head coach Ryan Van Rensselaer decided to forego a junior varsity team this season and immerse all the players who would normally be on that team onto the varsity. The move has jumpstarted the development of several newcomers and he has seen his veterans take on strong leadership roles.
After every play in practice, the Warriors are huddling up and congratulating each other like they would during a regular season game. Van Rensselaer believes this type of team bonding can help put the Warriors over the top when the time comes.
“They bring each other in on every play during practice. It might be goofy or kind of lame to a lot of high school boys, but they’re bridging the uncomfortable … they see the effect of it when we’re playing games,” Van Rensselaer said. “The chemistry, I’ve never seen anything like it. That’s going to be the difference.”
Despite the loss of several seniors, Saddleback Valley Christian’s starting lineup is loaded with talent. Junior Noah Dyer and sophomore Jon Minsberg have emerged as all-CIF players and will both play setter and opposite.
Middle blocker Trevor O’Reilly and Jacob Pelletier, who has moved to libero, return.
The Warriors will play their toughest schedule to date and consistently face Division 1 and Division 2 programs before heading into league play.—SB
Capistrano Valley Christian
Last Season: The 2014 season was cancelled due to lack of player interest.
Players to Watch: Riley Dungan, Sarah Delitkanich and Alexis Rucker.
Circle ‘em: League games against Brethren Christian (3/23, 3/31).
Under the guidance of first-year head coach Steve Poblete, the Capistrano Valley Christian softball team looks to resurrect the program a year removed from the cancellation of the 2014 season due to lack of player interest.
“We really are starting from scratch this season,” Poblete said.
This year’s squad is made up almost entirely of first-year players; only three of the girls on the varsity team have any previous softball experience. Along with a lack of experience, the squad is an underclassman-laden team with only one junior on the roster.
“We have a lot of first-year players,” Poblete added. “Fortunately for us we have an experienced pitcher and catcher, which are crucial at this level.”
The freshman pitcher-catcher tandem of Riley Dungan and Sarah Delitkanich have the most experience on the team and will form the duo the rest of the team will look to for leadership. Dungan will be the team’s No. 1 starting pitcher and Delitkanich will handle catching duties. –KD