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By Zach Cavanagh

As the 2021-22 sports calendar dips into winter, the winter sports season actually gets to be played in the winter.

Last year, the winter sports were pushed into the spring, and while they were able to have more of a full season than their fall sports counterparts, winter sports teams were among the most affected by pandemic restrictions due to playing indoors.

Back in the days of colored tiers, indoor sports were extremely limited until approved to start, and when the teams did start playing, testing was required ahead of every game, and masks were required of every player. The mask requirement is still there for coaches and fans this season, but with the now weekly testing plan in place, athletes won’t be required to wear masks.

San Juan Capistrano is loaded with winter sports talent and more than its fair share of highly ranked teams looking to capture league championships and achieve CIF-SS playoff success.

San Juan Hills Boys Basketball

The San Juan Hills boys basketball team finally broke through to capture its first-ever league championship last season, as the Stallions topped the Sea View League with a 10-4 overall record and a 5-1 league record.

While San Juan Hills graduated its team and league MVP, the Stallions return plenty of impact players as the program takes the next step in its competitive journey. San Juan Hills, ranked No. 2 in CIF-SS Division 2A, should be favored to repeat as league champions and has eyes on a deeper CIF-SS playoff run.

San Juan Hills (10-2) is paced by leading scorer Mark Reichner, a senior guard, and returning first-team all-league senior guard John McFadden.

The Stallions open league play on Jan. 7 at home against Aliso Niguel.

San Juan Hills boys basketball. Photo: Zach Cavanagh

San Juan Hills Girls Soccer

The San Juan Hills girls soccer team had a breakthrough of its own last season, as the Stallions finally toppled the South Coast League. San Juan Hills went unbeaten in league with a 4-0-4 record.

Last year’s performance, paired with a blistering 4-0-1 start, has earned San Juan Hills a No. 3 ranking in CIF-SS Division 1. When this senior class began competing as freshmen, the Stallions made their deepest playoff run in a quarterfinal loss to eventual champion JSerra. Now, these seniors are ready for the next step.

San Juan Hills is led by returning all-league players Taylor Christenson and Lexi Wright ,both seniors, and junior Peyton Leonard.

The Stallions open league play at Trabuco Hills on Jan. 4 and host San Clemente on Jan. 6.

San Juan Hills Girls Water Polo

San Juan Hills’ best shot at a CIF-SS title in the winter season might just be this girls water polo group.

In their first season in the South Coast League last season, the Stallions went 8-1 overall and 3-1 in league in the shortened season. This season, San Juan Hills has jumped out to a 4-0 start, with 76 goals scored and only 29 against. On Tuesday, Dec. 7, the Stallions dominated JSerra, 21-6.

San Juan Hills is ranked No. 1 in CIF-SS Division 2, and while San Clemente is still the league favorite, the Stallions are ready to give their best shot.

San Juan Hills opens league play at Dana Hills on Jan. 6 and hosts San Clemente on Jan. 18.

JSerra Boys Basketball

The JSerra boys basketball team has its sights set high.

Coming into the season, the Lions were ranked among the best teams in California, and JSerra is currently ranked No. 6 in Orange County. However, despite a dominant 4-0 start before their first loss on Wednesday, the Lions aren’t ranked in CIF-SS Division 1.

Those accolades will come in time, as this talented JSerra group makes its way through a tough tournament season to prepare for the Trinity League gauntlet.

The Lions have had a different leading scorer in nearly every game this season, with only senior guard Robert Diaz and sophomore guard Aidan Fowler posting team-high point totals more than once.

JSerra opens the Trinity League at home against Santa Margarita on Jan. 5

Capistrano Valley Christian Boys Basketball

Just as the San Joaquin League overall has gone from a “good for small schools” league to a basketball powerhouse, Capistrano Valley Christian boys basketball has grown from a “good small-school team” to just plain good.

Since head coach Chris Childress joined the program in 2017, the Eagles have steadily grown to win a CIF-SS Division 3A title in 2019 to a No. 2 ranking in Division 2AA this season.

And CVC, ranked No. 5 in the county, had to improve, because Fairmont Prep (No. 2) has grown to a Division 1 program and Pacifica Christian (No. 11) has continued its rise.

The Eagles (6-0) have been led by senior guard Mac West, averaging 27.5 points per game, as well as the size and athleticism of Ariik Mawien, Bence Duka and Athian Athian.

CVC opens league play at Pacifica Christian on Jan. 4 and hosts Fairmont Prep on Jan. 11.

St. Margaret’s Boys Basketball

The St. Margaret’s boys basketball team has already bounced back from a disappointing season in the spring.

Last season, the Tartans were 5-13 overall and just 1-7 in the increasingly tough San Joaquin League. This season, St. Margaret’s is off to an 8-1 start and a No. 4 ranking in CIF-SS Division 4AA.

The Tartans need to keep up this nonleague pace before going up against some of the top teams in the county in league play, including Fairmont Prep Anaheim, Pacifica Christian and Capistrano Valley Christian.

St. Margaret’s opens league play at Capistrano Valley Christian on Jan. 13 and hosts Pacifica Christian on Jan. 18.

Fairmont SJC Boys Basketball

Boys basketball is the lone CIF-SS winter sport at the Fairmont San Juan Capistrano campus, and the program has an uphill fight in front of it.

The Warriors have gone through a transition after the school changed from Saddleback Valley Christian following the Fairmont purchase. However, Fairmont SJC was able to post a 9-4 nonleague record last season before running into the San Joaquin League buzzsaw, resulting in a 1-7 league record.

This season is unfortunately much tougher for the Warriors, as they’ve started out 1-11 and the league competition is even more challenging.

Fairmont SJC hosts Capistrano Valley Christian to open league play on Jan. 6 and hosts St. Margaret’s on Jan. 27.

Zach Cavanagh

Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is multiple California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports. Email at zcavanagh@picketfencemedia.com.

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