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By Steve Breazeale, Adam Herzog, Darian Nourian and Kevin Dahlgren

Sophomore Eric Rwahwire, freshman Nolan Willet and senior Nick Worrell and the Saddleback Valley Christian boys basketball team will attempt to repeat as San Joaquin League champions in 2012. Photo by Kevin Dahlgren

The storylines for San Juan Capistrano’s high school winter sports teams span the gamut, from teams that hope to reestablish themselves to others that are looking to maintain their dominance. There will also be plenty of fresh faces to go along with some stalwart names, and they all hope to make their mark this season.

In addition to basketball and soccer, there’s a lot going on for the area’s girls water polo and wrestling teams. Make sure to log onto our sports page at www.thecapistranodispatch.com and follow us on Twitter @SouthOCsports for in-game updates, news and scores all season long.

St. Margaret’s Girls Basketball

After a four-year stretch of league dominance was snapped over the last two seasons, the St. Margaret’s girls basketball team is looking to get back on track and win the Academy League.

Although, the girl’s lost three four-year varsity players, head coach Lori Fava is not worried about their chances.

“We still have some experience and a few of the major contributors from last year. We play an unselfish brand of basketball, and I think that will really help us as the season progresses,” Fava said.

Having a point guard like Yamili Burgos is going to make things a little bit easier. Fava has been impressed by her skills, and the junior point guard is looking to improve on a sophomore season that garnered a second team All-CIF selection. St. Margaret’s will also rely heavily on senior center Emily Morton and versatile junior Juliana Coleman.

The girls’ biggest competition will be Whitney High School, the two-time defending Academy League champions. – Adam Herzog

St. Margaret’s Boys Basketball

A new head coach, new system and some young players have the St. Margaret’s boys basketball team heading in a new direction for the 2012 season.

First-year head coach Brian Carmer says he is ready for the challenge of a new season, and he is excited to put in his new system and watch a young core of talented players evolve with it.

“The old coach did an awesome job. It’s going to take some time to adjust to the new system. We have some younger players, but this is a close knit group, and I am excited for them to get play in some varsity competition,” Carmer said.

Defending champion, Brethren, will be the toughest test St. Margaret’s will face in the Academy League this year.

The team built some confidence this offseason after going 5-2 in summer-league play. That winning experience should definitely pay some dividends for a young team that includes only one senior and four juniors. – AH

Capistrano Valley Christian Boys Basketball

Capistrano Valley Christian senior David Stoop rises for a layup during practice. Photo by Steve Breazeale

Spending just a few minutes inside the gym at the Capistrano Valley Christian boys basketball team practices will tell you that this team likes to run.

Over the offseason, third-year head coach Zach Brogdon saw his roster transform into a very guard-heavy team with only two legitimately-sized big men. With that in mind, Brogdon has pushed his team to achieve an up-tempo style as they head into a bigger, more physical league.

Two sophomores and two seniors return for the Eagles, who went 21-7 en route to claiming the Express League title in 2011. This season, Capistrano Valley Christian will jump up to the San Joaquin League, where Brogdon expects the play to be tougher.

Freshman point guard Kci Thompson will be in charge of establishing and maintaining the tempo of the Eagles offense. Despite his youth, Thompson has earned the starting nod from Brogdon and his staff and due to his style of play.

Looking to spread the floor for the Eagles will be returning sophomore Andre Anderson, who was also the running back for the football team in the fall. Anderson is among the team’s better shooters and will be looking to knock down open three-pointers, according to Brogdon.

“We are definitely young, but we have a lot of guards and we are going to try and get up the floor and push the tempo,” Brogdon said. “We are used to being equal size in the Express League. Now we’re up against bigger competition. We need to prepare for the size and speed for the (San Joaquin) league.” – Steve Breazeale

Capistrano Valley Christian Girls Soccer

This season will be the first time Capistrano Valley Christian has fielded a girls soccer team in five years.

In recent years, the girls have been playing with the boys and competing against other boys teams from around the county. As a parent with a girl playing on the team, new head coach Nicole Grady-Parno, a longtime soccer fan and former player, decided it was time to re-establish the Eagles girls soccer program.

After a quick talk with the administration and athletic directors, Grady-Parno got the go-ahead to run the show. Now she leads a team of 16 players, two of whom gained experience while playing for the boys team last season.

Sophomore Emily Shanton is one of two returners and one of the team’s key playmakers at the forward position who will likely play alongside freshman forward Lauren Messore. Grady-Parno pegged both Shanton and Messore as the team’s goal scoring spark-plugs.

Grady-Parno is also happy with her goalkeeping situation, as sophomore Mia Wallace will join the squad in 2012. Wallace has experience at the position playing outside of school and has impressed Grady-Parno in the early going.

“We have a solid group of girls and they’re eager to play and learn quickly,” Grady-Parno said. – SB

Saddleback Valley Christian Boys Basketball

Coming off a 20-win season last year, the Saddleback Valley Christian boys basketball team will look to repeat as San Joaquin League champions with the help of senior Nick Worrell.

A year ago, Worrell led the Warriors to an undefeated season (10-0) in league play while taking home the San Joaquin League Most Valuable Player award and first team All-CIF honors.

When asked about the key to repeating as League champions, head coach Jeff Lewis said the Warriors are focusing on two things.

“I think the area that needs the most improvement from last year is our defense. We also want to continue to get our younger guys playing time so that they can build experience and be ready when it is their time,” Lewis said.

Key games for the Warriors basketball squad will come against rivals Capistrano Valley Christian.

“Our students are always excited for those games. It’s a very meaningful and fun rivalry that spans all of our sports,” assistant coach Jesse Mercado said. – Kevin Dahlgren

Saddleback Valley Christian Girls Soccer

The Warriors are eager to get the 2012-2013 season underway after suffering a loss in the first round of last year’s CIF Southern Section playoffs.

Head coach Josh Cummins is optimistic that his team will improve on last year’s early playoff exit.

“It’s been a lot of fun to watch these girls grow within the program and I am very pleased with the talent we have on our team this year,” Cummins said. “Our goal this year is to win a league championship and make a good run deep into the playoffs.”

Senior captain and four-year varsity starter Megan Stoll will look to finish her record-setting career at Saddleback Valley Christian with another league championship. Stoll holds the record for most career goals scored and is currently applying to Chapman University, Cal State San Marcos and Vanguard University.
Several key games this year will come during matchups with Capistrano Valley Christian, Sage Hill and JSerra. This marks the first year that the Warriors will have the chance to face their cross-town rivals, the Eagles, in girls soccer. – KD

JSerra Girls Basketball

Coach Mary Rossignol has been successful as head coach of the JSerra varsity girls basketball team, having won 66 percent of her games as she enters her sixth season at the helm.

After a second-place Trinity League finish behind state powerhouse Mater Dei and a third round CIF-SS playoff exit to Windward of Los Angeles, Rossignol has lofty expectations for her team in 2012.

“We have a great group of student athletes and they all work really well with each other,” Rossignol said.

The Lions return several key players from last year’s team, like standout sophomore guard Coco Miller, who averaged 16 points per game as a freshman. Also returning is senior guard August Touchard, who averaged 14 points per game last season. The combination of Miller and Touchard should give the Lions one of the best backcourts in the county this year, according to Rossignol.

More young talent is down low, as 6-feet-4-inch sophomore center Megan House looks to give the Lions a size advantage in the key.

According to Rossignol, the team is looking to outwork their opponents this year with full-court, “up in your face” defensive pressure. They are going to couple their defensive intensity with a fast and up-tempo offense.

With this balanced playing style, the Lions are looking to best their second-place finish in league and contend with Mater Dei for the top spot. – Darian Nourian

JSerra Boys Basketball

Head coach Joedy Gardner enters his fourth season at the helm for the Lions, and according to the veteran coach, this JSerra boys basketball teams has the chance to be one of the best in school history.

“We have high expectations this year. We are looking to win the school’s first ever Trinity League title and a state championship,” Gardner said. “With all of the talent we have this year, the pieces are definitely in place for us to achieve our team goals.”

After making a strong CIF-SS championship run last year, the Lions return core players in senior forward Jamal Aytes and the tandem brother duo of guards Rex and Devon Pflueger.

The Lions have also brought in a promising group of talent for the new season. New transfers like 6-feet-8-inch sophomore Nick Pallas and 6-feet-9-inch junior Dylan Osetkowski change the dynamic of the team drastically, Garnder says.

Junior guard Johnnie Vassar, who, according to Gardner, could be a player to watch on the national scene this year, also joins the squad via transfer.

“(Vassar) is very quick and reminds me a lot of (Milwaukee Bucks guard) Brandon Jennings,” Gardner said. “He is going to play a very important role for our team this year, especially offensively with his quickness and ability to spread the floor.”

This year’s team is very optimistic about the season but will have to go through one of the most rigorous schedules in the county, playing nationally ranked teams on a regular basis. They also must navigate their way through the tough Trinity League, which includes powerhouse programs like Mater Dei and St. John Bosco. – DN

San Juan Hills Girls Soccer

Senior defender Nicole Skvarna looks to lead the San Juan Hills girls soccer team in the new season. Courtesy photo

Third-year head coach Farrel Moore is hoping that a deep roster filled with senior experience will help the San Juan Hills girls soccer team better their fifth-place 2011 Sea View League finish and vault them into the top of the league standings in 2012.

With each year that goes by at San Juan Hills High, each sports team’s roster becomes deeper. Because the school is relatively new, large and experienced senior classes are hard to come by. But as the school establishes it’s foothold in the area, the sports programs have been on the rise.

One of the better examples of this is the football team, which reaped the benefits of one of the denser, upperclassmen-filled rosters in school history and came away with a winning record in the fall. Moore sees much of the same happening in the girls soccer program.

“Each year we are doing more and more and we see more talent coming in. We see more skilled players,” Moore said. “More kids are interested in our soccer program at all the levels and we are stronger than we were (in 2011). We have a deeper talent pool this year.”

The deep talent pool Moore is referring to can be seen on her opening day roster. The list includes 10 seniors, most of whom who have varsity-level experience.

The most senior-heavy unit on the pitch for the Stallions will be their defense. The entire three-player starting back line projects to feature three returning seniors and senior goalie Scarlet Gamino will mind the net.

Senior Nicole Skvarna will be a part of the Stallions defense and is coming back healthy for the first time since early last season, when she tore her ACL. Skvarna says she is almost back to full strength and is looking forward to getting back on the pitch.

“We all know each other, and everyone’s a lot more experienced,” Skvarna said. “It’s been almost a year (since the injury) and I’m ready to get out there and play with my friends.” – SB

San Juan Hills Girls Basketball

Sophomore guard Allie Biedermann and the San Juan Hills girls basketball team hope their defense will carry them in the Sea View League. Courtesy photo

The girls basketball team at San Juan Hills won the first league game in the school’s short history last season en route to a 1-7 Sea View League record and a first-round CIF-SS playoff appearance.

According to head coach Taryn Commins, the goal heading into 2012 will be to build on that little bit of momentum and improve their record.

While four seniors departed, four out of five starting players return to the Stallions’ young lineup this season. There are no seniors on Commins’ roster and most of them are juniors who already have a few years of varsity experience.

Junior guards Evelyn Fox and Abby Conklin will man the Stallions backcourt while sophomore guard-forward Allie Biedermann, junior forward Erin Thompson and junior center Annika Van Galder make up the frontcourt.

The Stallions run a man-to-man style of defense and the magic number Commins has been telling her team this season is 40. That is, Commins believes if the Stallions hold their opponents to 40 points or fewer, they have a good chance of winning.

“We work harder on defense because we sometimes have a hard time scoring. That magic number is 40,” Commins said. “We are a little bit bigger and more physical this year than we were last year…We have to hold (opponents) to 40 in order to be successful and the win games we have to win.”

Commins is also looking to her mostly inexperienced bench to jump in and contribute on both offense and defense. – SB

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