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By Zach Cavanagh
The fall sports scene in San Juan Capistrano is filled with teams that have championship aspirations and the talent to fulfill them.
There are several contenders for CIF-SS playoff success in each of the sports, with plenty of ability to go around on the volleyball court and on the running trails. San Juan Capistrano will also surely make a splash in the pool with tough water polo teams.
Let’s check in on some of the top fall sports teams for the 2022 season in San Juan Capistrano:
San Juan Hills Boys Water Polo
Change is afoot in the Wetlands for the San Juan Hills boys water polo program.
First, in the offseason, longtime head coach Ivan Buich left the program to become an assistant coach for USC men’s water polo. Buich essentially built the program to CIF-SS Division 4 runner-up in 2019 and a Division 2 semifinalist last season.
Second, the Sea View League champion Stallions move up to the South Coast League and need to prepare for a gauntlet ahead of them. San Clemente and Dana Hills split the league title last season, and both teams should be better.
San Juan Hills opens league play against Capistrano Valley on Sept. 27 and then plays San Clemente on Sept. 29 and Dana Hills on Oct. 6.
JSerra Boys Water Polo
The JSerra boys water polo team might be the fastest-rising program in all of CIF-SS.
Since the hiring of head coach Brett Ormsby in 2018, the Lions went 20-4 in 2019 with a CIF-SS Division 4 championship and 21-6 in 2021 with a selection to the CIF-SS Open Division. JSerra is now firmly in Division 1, looking to compete and win against the best of the best in Southern California.
JSerra is the No. 1 seed for this weekend’s prestigious Santa Barbara Invitational, just ahead of No. 2 seed Mater Dei.
JSerra battles through the gauntlet of the Trinity League starting on Sept. 29 at home against Mater Dei. The Lions also get a chance to measure up to their Open Division ouster last season with a trip to Harvard-Westlake on Oct.1.
JSerra Girls Volleyball
The JSerra girls volleyball team looked primed to achieve CIF-SS glory for the first time in program history last season.
The Lions had qualified for the CIF-SS playoffs only three times in program history, with only one win, but last season, JSerra was the No. 2 seed in Division 3 and swept through the quarterfinals and semifinals to advance to the program’s first-ever CIF-SS Final.
However, the day after their semifinal victory, JSerra was ruled to have used an ineligible player in the second round and was removed from the CIF-SS playoffs.
It’s safe to say that JSerra is motivated for much more, and the Lions are showing it early in the season. JSerra is 7-3 overall and ranked No. 16 in the combined Division 1/2 rankings. The Lions’ only losses are twice to Division 2 champion Aliso Niguel and a five-set match against Laguna Beach, ranked No. 12 and No. 13, respectively.
JSerra opens Trinity League play against No. 5 Mater Dei at home on Tuesday, Sept. 13.
St. Margaret’s Girls Volleyball
Like all of St. Margaret’s sports programs, the Tartans move on from the days of small private-school leagues such as the Academy and San Joaquin Leagues and move up to the bigger world of the public-school Orange Coast League.
So far, so good for St. Margaret’s. The Tartans currently sport a 9-2 overall record and are 2-0 in the Orange Coast League with sweeps of Orange and Costa Mesa. St. Margaret’s also has a tournament win over CIF-SS Division 2 champion Aliso Niguel and a five-set win over San Juan Hills.
The Tartans are led by senior outside hitter Brady Moseley and senior setter Luci Hill.
Peppered throughout the Tartans’ league schedule are home matches against high-level nonleague opponents including Orange Lutheran (Sept. 21), JSerra (Oct. 5) and Laguna Beach (Oct. 13).
Capistrano Valley Christian Girls Volleyball
The CVC girls volleyball team has risen swiftly.
After going 5-21 in 2019 and not fielding a team for the 2020 season, the Eagles vaulted forward in 2021, with a 24-10 record and trips to the CIF-SS Division 7 Final and CIF State Division IV Regional Final.
This season, Capistrano Valley Christian is ranked No. 8 in CIF-SS Division 5, and the Eagles haven’t slowed down. CVC is 7-3 overall and already 2-0 in league play with sweeps of Pacifica Christian and Webb.
Leading the Eagles are juniors Mikenna Henjum and Addi Williams. Henjum is all over the court as the leader in kills, digs and hitting percentage.
San Juan Capistrano features three championship-caliber, distance-running groups, including a reigning state and CIF-SS champion.
The JSerra girls captured the CIF-SS and CIF State Division 4 crowns last season, and the Lions distance group also nearly singlehandedly won the Orange County Track & Field Championships in the spring. JSerra missed the cross country county title by just one point last season, but the Lions are loaded with returners to make runs at everything this season.
JSerra, ranked No. 1 in Division 4, is led by returning seniors Anastasia Snodgrass, juniors Georgia Jeanneret and Brooke O’Brien and sophomore Brynn Garcia. Seniors Ellie Johnson and Cameron Murphy round out the depth for JSerra.
St. Margaret’s boasts talent on both sides of its program, as the Tartans are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the boys and girls CIF-SS Division 5 rankings, respectively.
The St. Margaret’s boys are led by junior Everett Capelle, who finished fourth at CIF-SS Finals and seventh at the State Championships. Also returning are seniors Kevin Shen and Keegan Carnell, junior Kevin Chou and sophomores Jared Botuchis and Ethan Stolper.
The Tartans girls finished second at CIF-SS last season and were paced by returning senior Liesel Blau, who placed sixth at CIF-SS and third at the State Championships. Also returning are seniors Ali Botuchis, Maddie Bendzick, Emma Griffin and sophomores Sarah Bendzick and Coco Johnson.
Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a 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 and Instagram @South_OC_Sports. Email at email@example.com.