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There are new horizons and new frontiers to reach for the fall sports teams across the San Juan Capistrano high school landscape.
Girls flag football enters the fray with its inaugural CIF-SS season, and San Juan Hills and JSerra will field teams.
JSerra’s boys water polo and girls cross country teams will look to fight for championship gold again, with water polo aiming for its first title and cross country looking for its third consecutive.
JSerra, San Juan Hills and Capistrano Valley Christian girls volleyball are also seeking deeper CIF-SS playoff runs with championship dreams.
Let’s shine a light on some of the fall sports teams in San Juan Capistrano:
Girls Flag Football
Joining the roster of CIF-SS sports this fall is girls flag football, and the sport is already off to a roaring start in Southern California.
There are 114 schools participating across the CIF-Southern Section. Nearly every school in the Coast View Athletic Association and Capistrano Unified School District are fielding teams, including San Juan Hills. Every Trinity League school is also fielding teams in this inaugural season, including JSerra.
There are varying levels of experience across the sport, as many teams jump into having programs on the fly. JSerra is a program like that.
On the other hand, there are teams such as San Juan Hills, which hosted a club program in the Matt Leinart Flag Football League in recent seasons.
However, even for someone knowledgeable about the common game of tackle football, there is still a lot of learning every week by players, coaches, referees and fans (and reporters) about the differences between flag football and tackle football.
First, the game is quick. There are two 20-minute halves with a running clock, except inside of two minutes, when there are more regular football stoppages. The game is also played 7-on-7, rather than with 11 players a side.
The field is only 80 yards long and 40 yards wide. First downs are gained in 20-yard increments, but it’s not always 1st-and-20. Drives start on the 20-yard line, which means teams have to reach the 40-yard line to earn another first down. However, the next first down line to gain is still the next 20-yard line. For example, if it’s 3rd-and-2 and a team gains seven yards, it isn’t 1st-and-20 from that new line of scrimmage. Since they would be five yards into that next 20-yard chunk, it would be 1st-and-15.
Also, on fourth down, teams either have the option to go for it or “punt,” with the ball simply being placed at the opposite 20-yard line instead of actually being kicked.
Beyond the logistics, there are differences in the game play. If teams are within five yards of a first down or 10 yards from the end zone, those are “pass-only” zones, meaning no running plays can be called. Quarterbacks can run only once every four downs, unless the defensive team uses a double-blitz, and pass rushers must start beyond a designated line off the ball, not on the line of scrimmage.
All of that, and so much more, are what San Juan Hills, JSerra and a wide swath of new high school athletes are figuring out this fall.
San Juan Hills continues Coast View League play next week at Trabuco Hills on Monday, Sept. 11, and hosts the Mustangs on Wednesday, Sept. 13. The Stallions will end their season in the Coast View Tournament on Oct. 28.
JSerra begins Trinity League play with a home game against Orange Lutheran on Tuesday, Sept. 12, and the Lions are at Mater Dei on Thursday, Sept. 14. JSerra will end its season in the Trinity League Tournament on Oct. 17-19.
JSerra Boys Water Polo
For the rest of the fall slate, the best team might just be the JSerra water polo team, as the Lions come off a season as CIF-SS Open Division runner-up and a CIF SoCal Regional Division I championship.
JSerra is among the best of the best, in part because it may have the best junior water polo player in the country in senior Ryder Dodd. Dodd won a World Championship bronze medal with the U.S. Junior National Team in June and competed with the senior national team over the summer. The senior has the potential to make the U.S. Olympic roster for the 2024 Paris Games.
JSerra is 2-0 in the early season with a 19-4 win over Los Alamitos and a 9-7 win in a battle against Harvard-Westlake. The Lions compete in the vaunted South Coast Tournament this weekend, Sept. 14-16.
The strongest sport across the board in San Juan Capistrano is cross country, with a steady representation from both the boys and girls programs at both JSerra and St. Margaret’s.
JSerra’s girls are the top of the crop with a domination across the 2022 cross country and 2023 track and field seasons that will be hard to top by any team anywhere in the country. The Lions won back-to-back CIF-SS and CIF State cross country titles and a CIF-SS track and field championship.
Unfortunately for the rest of California, the Lions’ top distance runners were freshmen and sophomores last season. JSerra’s girls are back at No. 1 in CIF-SS Division 4 to open the season, with junior Brynn Garcia and sophomores Summer Wilson and Kaylah Tasser leading the way.
JSerra’s boys are at No. 4 in CIF-SS Division 4.
St. Margaret’s will be a contender on the girls side with a No. 2 ranking in Division 5, led by returning junior Sarah Bendzick and sophomore Joyce Li. The Tartans boys are also ranked No. 4 in Division 5.
Not far behind in citywide strength is girls volleyball, with JSerra (No. 10 in Division 1/2) and Capistrano Valley Christian (No. 1 in Division 4) holding up the majority of the mantle. Reigning South Coast League champion San Juan Hills and reigning Orange Coast League champion St. Margaret’s are right there, as well.
JSerra and San Juan Hills are looking for better finishes this season after falling in the second round of the CIF-SS Division 2 playoffs. JSerra (9-4) beat San Juan Hills (5-5) in a five-set thriller on Aug. 22
JSerra opens Trinity League play at home on Tuesday, Sept. 12, against Orange Lutheran.
San Juan Hills hosts South Coast League co-champion San Clemente on Thursday, Sept. 14.
Capistrano Valley Christian (11-1) has its sights trained on a CIF-SS title after falling in the Division 5 semifinals last season. The Eagles play at JSerra on Sept. 21.
St. Margaret’s is off to a slower start this season at 4-5.