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The San Juan area high schools are rich in tradition and feature defending State champions (JSerra girls cross country, St. Margaret’s boys cross country) as well as programs on the rise.

Here is a breakdown of two programs from each high school that have already started their march toward a strong athletic season.

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SAN JUAN HILLS

Boys Water Polo

Being a relatively new school and a member of the tough Sea View League has been a challenge for the young Stallion boys water polo team in recent years, according to head coach Dan Newberry. The Stallions went winless in the Sea View league last season but Newberry believes they will better that mark this year with a little help from their experienced players.

In 2012 the Stallions (5-5, 0-2 league) will have the benefit of relying on players who have performed on the varsity level before. Every starter from the Stallions squad last season is returning again with another year under their belts.

“They definitely have been getting better and we took third place at the Segerstrom Varsity Tournament a couple weeks ago,” Newberry said. “The guys are playing more physical and obviously with age comes size and maturity. They’ve been able to play with that physical aspect this year.”

The Stallions primary two-meter player this season has been junior Chris Garau, who was the team’s leading scorer in 2011.

“(Garau) is a very crafty player. One on one he does an exceptional job and he knows a lot about the game,” Newberry said.

Senior goalie Parker Luehe, who stands at 6-feet-6-inches tall, has been solid for the Stallions in net and recently recorded 26 saves in an 8-6 win over JSerra. —Steve Breazeale

Girls Volleyball

The Stallions have already got their first taste of tournament victory under new head coach Mitzi Kincaid.

Up until Kincaid’s arrival, the Stallion girls volleyball squad had not won a tournament at the varsity level. But from September 21 to September 22, the Stallions went 4-2 at the Dave Mohs Tournament en route to a first place finish in the Silver Division.

Kincaid comes to San Juan Hills after coaching at San Clemente and most recently, Tesoro. She has brought Curtis Yoder, of the famed Yoder volleyball family, as her assistant varsity coach.

Kincaid has brought a new style of volleyball to San Juan Hills and it’s one she hopes will impact the program at all levels.

“We’re trying to make a consistent program here. Our practices will look similar in the drills as they do all the way from the freshmen to varsity.”

As far as a system of offense and defense, Kincaid has been implementing the professional sets used by the Brazilian and U.S. national teams.

The Stallions aren’t a big and powerful team, according to Kincaid, but they are quick and scrappy, which could make them a tough out in league play, which starts October 2 when the Stallions play El Toro at home.

Junior setter Justine Bowers, who is a co-captain, will be a player to watch in 2012. Kincaid said that the junior’s competitive nature and club level experience helps make her a leader on the court. —SB

JSERRA

Boys and Girls Cross Country

Head coach Marty Dugard likes to call the 2012 version of the girls cross-country team “The Killers.” The back to back defending Trinity League and CIF Division 4 State Champion Lions are a group that appear nice on the outside, but will do anything to win on the inside, according to Dugard, who also doubles as the boys cross country coach.

Much of that same girls team that won the coveted hardware last year is returning and will be led by senior standout Colby Lindolm and sophomore Ashley Geisler.

The girls team does not employ a pack-running strategy, where a teams’ runners all try to stay within minutes of each other. Because of the girls’ competitive nature, Dugard feels it’s better to let them just go out and compete and see who finishes where.

“It’s really cool to watch (the girls) race…their competitive drive to beat each other is what pushes them,” Dugard said. “We look good and I’m confident we’re going to go back and take another shot at State.”

The boys team is going through a rebuilding phase according to Dugard. There are no seniors returning to the team and only two juniors on the roster. Look for junior Nic Fracassi and sophomore Anthony Mariconda to step into leading roles for the Lions, who finished second in the Trinity League and sixth at State last season. —SB

Girls Tennis

In the span of five years, JSerra girls tennis head coach Kirk Orahood has seen the program go from winning zero games in the Trinity League, to rise as contending league champs.

Last season the Lions went into the CIF-SS Division 1 playoffs and won a wild card round. Orahood expects much of the same this time around.

“This year I’ve told the team we are never not going to the CIF playoffs,” Orahood said.

The Lions (6-2, 1-0 league as of September 25) will feature some new blood on this year’s squad as incoming freshmen Mary and Zoe Kaffen join the team as highly touted junior players. The Kaffen sisters had a productive off-season and recently won the Michael Chang Tennis Classic preseason high school tournament.

Although they are new to the program, Orahood got a better understanding of the Kaffen sisters’ style of play in a recent preseason match. Mary would end up losing in three straight sets to her opponent, but Orahood never saw her give up on a single ball.

“I was proud of her, she didn’t give up,” Orahood said. “Even when she was down (in the match).”

Senior Cara Cummings will provide stability and experience as a member of the Lions No. 1 doubles team. Cummings usually plays alongside her cousin, senior Kelsey Testman, and Orahood will stick with the winning duo for the foreseeable future. —SB

SADDLEBACK VALLEY CHRISTIAN

Girls Tennis

Off to a 5-2 record, the Saddleback Valley Christian girls tennis team has already made huge improvements over last year’s winless season.

Led by coach Chrissy Griffith, this year’s team has six new players, including freshmen standouts Brena Weaver and Isabella Maniello, as well as senior newcomer Morgan Kachenmeister. According to coach Griffith, another huge addition to this year’s team is new assistant coach Missy Berchiolli.

“It was definitely tough last year by myself, so Missy has been a huge help for me, as well as a big influence on our girls,” Griffith said.

The Warrior’s have already exceeded expectations and are looking to continue their hot streak as they enter a stretch of crucial league games, most notably a rematch against Torbut V’Torah on October 2, a team they already lost to. —Adam Herzog

Girls Volleyball

Currently ranked No. 2 in CIF-SS division 4AA, the Saddleback Valley Christian girls volleyball team has lofty expectations as they enter league play.

Led by Chelsea Duhs, the 6-feet-1-inch senior captain who has already committed to Mississippi State University, the Warriors are looking to breeze through league and compete for a CIF-SS championship. According to Coach Greene, the key to this year’s success is the team’s experience.

“Last year we had a lot of new players, including five freshmen. This year we have two senior captains and tons more experience. The girls are working really hard,” Greene said. —AH

CAPISTRANO VALLEY CHRISTIAN

Girls Volleyball

This year the Eagles will be led by new head coach Kelle Bond, a longtime volleyball coach with an impressive pedigree. After coaching high school volleyball in Texas for several years, Bond landed the assistant coaching job at Boise State University, where she coached the Broncos women’s volleyball squad from 2006 to 2009.

Now she has guided the Broncos to a 6-1 overall record as of September 25. Last season the Eagles went 9-10 overall with a 2-6 record in league play and fell short of making the playoffs.

Bond inherited a team with solid returning players and six seniors, including the team’s co-captain and setter, Alex Peregord. Bond describes Peregord as extremely coachable and the setter is comfortable running the Eagles offense in the early going.

Another senior that has been crucial to the Eagles’ early success is junior co-captain Christina Argaez. Argaez is the versatile, Swiss Army knife type of player who can lead the team in digs one day and kills the next. —SB

Boys and Girls Cross Country

There is all kinds of new, young talent on the Eagles boys and girls cross country teams.

The size of the girls’ roster has nearly doubled, jumping from six runners last season to 11 this year; a lot of them are freshmen who have already made an impact.

Freshman Lauren Messore is a soccer player by trade, but has crossed the aisle to compete for the cross country team this fall. Head coach Don Easter describes her as a very competitive runner and in the Eagles’ first two meets; Messore has been the No. 1 runner.

A freshman on the boys side that has also shown a lot of promise is Austin Aguas. Aguas ran with the freshman at the Tri County Invitational on September 22 but Easter said he could have easily ran with the varsity team. Aguas will join the varsity squad in their first San Joaquin Cluster League meet on October 4 at Laguna Niguel Park.

“I think we have a couple of underclassmen that have improved over last year,” Easter said. “We have a young core and I think it will be something we can build on in the future.”

Two returning runners on the girls team to watch are junior Tina Boyle and senior Sierra Hamilton.

Senior Ryan Pierce and juniors Justin Burger and Eric Beveridge return for the boys. —SB

ST. MARGARET’S

Boys and Girls Cross Country

The St. Margaret’s boys cross country team has dominated Division 5 in recent years and enter the 2012 fall season as the defending back to back CIF-SS Division 5 and State champions.

This year’s team is not as stacked as it was when the Tartans made those recent historic runs, according to head coach Rob Lakeman, as seniors have left to graduation. But so far the Tartans have performed well enough to maintain their No.1 Division 5 ranking in the CIF-SS poll, despite being trounced by Crean Lutheran, September 19 in an Academy League Cluster meet. It was the Tartans’ first league defeat since 2008.

Senior Brandon Price has been an absolute force in his high school career and now steps into the No. 1 runner spot for the Tartans. Price recently broke the 15-minute mark at the Woodbridge Invitational on September 15 with a time of 14:57.

Others have stepped up to fill the senior void, including Price’s little brother, freshman Collin Price, who has been the Tartans’ No. 2 runner in the early going.

“We’re going to be solid, just not as deep this year,” Lakeman said. “We are still the team to beat in Division 5, there’s no doubt about it.”

The St. Margaret’s girls cross-country team is on track to have a bounce back year in 2012. Last season, Lakeman’s girls team had the fewest members since he came to the school in 2005. So far the team has shown an improvement in numbers and results. Sophomore standout Sam Geller has impressed Lakeman with her leadership and will be the Tartans’ No. 1 runner. The Tartans recently finished second at the Academy League Cluster Meet September 19. —SB

Girls Golf

The Tartan girls golf team is used to being perennial Academy League contenders as they’ve won or had a share of the league title six out of the past eight seasons. This year things might be a little different and the competition might be a little tougher.

Head coach Rocky Parker will field a team mixed with returning, standout players as well as those playing in their first year of competitive golf. The Tartans currently hold a 4-6 overall record but are coming off a hot week where they went 3-0 (2-0 league).

Senior four-year varsity starter Allie Frost has been the team’s anchor this season by shooting consistently in the mid-to-high 30s and low 40s.

Sophomore Carly Jordan has had a solid start to 2012 and broke into the 30s for the first time at Marbella Country Club on September 25 against San Juan Hills.

St. Margaret’s biggest competition over the years has been Fairmont Prep, who Parker pegged as a team the Tartans need to keep an eye on if they hope to win league. —SB

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