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San Juan Capistrano area high school spring sports teams gear up for the new season
By Steve Breazeale
Now that the winter prep sports season is done, we turn our focus to the spring. In this year’s high school spring sports preview, we selected a few programs from the San Juan area that are primed for breakout spring campaigns.
Follow us on Twitter @SouthOCsports all season long for in-game udpates, news and more concerning all the area’s teams.
San Juan Hills High School
It’s not often that a high school sports team returns 11 players. It’s even rarer for all of those players to be seniors who have been playing with each other for years. But that is the scenario the San Juan Hills boys volleyball team finds itself in heading into the 2014 season.
The Stallions return several impact starters and key bench players, all of whom were a part of last year’s Sea View League title efforts. The league title was the first in the program’s history.
The Stallions will be under the direction of first-year head coach Tom Kohler, who was an assistant at Huntington Beach High School last year. The new coach caught a glimpse of the Stallions last year during the Orange County Championships and realized their potential then. So far, San Juan Hills is off to a 5-1 start to their season.
“They’re operating, in my opinion, on the level of a college team. Every day they’re getting better and better. You can see them becoming more cohesive,” Kohler said.
The Stallions are not tall, their tallest listed player stands at 6 feet 3 inches, which makes their precision and placement in defensive coverage key, according to Kohler. This has put an emphasis on team chemistry, which is something the Stallions feel they have a great deal of.
Team captain and returning outside hitter Ryan Schickling accredits the years playing alongside each other for the team’s recent success.
“We went 1-7 in league my freshman year. Sophomore year, we finished second, and now we won last year. I’ve seen our team grow and build as a unit,” Shickling said. “To win again this year I think we have to stay mentally tough because everyone will be coming after us. But I think we have the personnel and coach has done a good job of keeping us strong as a team, so I think we have a good shot of winning.”
Senior setter and opposite Logan Zotovich, who is committed to play for UCI in the fall, and senior setter Garrett Austin return and will be co-captains along with Shickling. Newcomers Milo Simpson and Jack Gillen will play middle blocker for the Stallions.
The JSerra baseball team is gearing up for what could be a special year. The Lions have a mix of veteran players and young upstarts who make their lineup, defense and pitching rotations among the most formidable in the county.
For the Lions, it all starts with sophomore shortstop and leadoff hitter Chase Strumpf. The UCLA commit is coming off a breakout freshman campaign and was named the USA Baseball 15U MVP in the Pan American Championships this offseason.
Batting, in order, behind Strumpf in the potent lineup is junior outfielder Jake Pries (UCLA), sophomore transfer Brady Shockey (USC) and senior Parker Joe Robinson (Texas). The bottom part of the order features contact and speed hitters, who head coach Brett Kay believes can flip the order and set the table for the top of the lineup.
The Lions are off to a 2-1 start to the season in the Newport Elks Tournament and even in that small sample size, Kay is seeing a trend he likes.
As of March 11, the Lions had only struck out seven times in three games, displaying patience up and down the lineup. The Lions lost a close 4-3 contest with Palm Desert in their first game but rattled off wins over Huntington Beach and Foothill in the following days, scoring 17 runs in the process.
“The big stat that I’m looking at is the fact we’ve only struck out seven times in three games. Guys are getting hit by pitches, walking and hitting, which is a good thing,” Kay said. “I think we have the chance to be offensive and I like the balance of our lineup.”
The Lions pitching staff features several next-level arms.
Robinson will be in the mix at the top of a rotation that features junior Quentin Longire (UCLA) and senior Clay Chatham (Dartmouth). Kay will also utilize freshman Jack Owen, who has impressed in fall and winter ball. In all, Kay says he has 10 players he can send to the mound and will mix and match the rotation based on the opponent.
As usual, the Lions will face tough competition in the Trinity League and will again play host to the south section of the Boras Classic Tournament, which pits top teams from across the state against each other.
The bar was set high for the St. Margaret’s boys lacrosse team last season after claiming the US Lacrosse Southern Section Championship. This season, however, will be one of change for the reigning champs.
The Tartans are no longer in the Trinity League and will play the 2014 season as an independent. They also took a hit to graduation but still return five impact starters.
Re-joining the team will be the senior midfielder duo of Josh Davis and Hunter Edington. Edington is committed to Manhattan College. Faceoff specialist Ryan Harnisch and Sam Harnisch return. Head coach Glen Miles envisions Ryan Harnisch taking on more of an offensive role in 2014, rather than just focusing on the faceoff circle like he did last year.
“We’re younger and I think a little faster,” Miles said. “We have the potential to be a little fast, which will be fun. But we’re definitely young so it’s going to take a little while to get back to where we were last year.”
The Tartans senior-heavy defense was formidable last year, especially in the playoffs, which has made filling up the ranks a major focus over the offseason. The Tartans return senior Fernando Delgado (Villanova) and junior John Connelly. Sophomore Payton Fales will start in goal.
Because they will no longer play Trinity League teams, the Tartans have found competition elsewhere. They will head to San Francisco early to face the likes of St. Ignacious College Prep and Brophy Prep out of Arizona. When they return they will play perennial regional contenders Foothill (April 15) and Corona del Mar (April 24).
“I think everybody is looking forward to seeing if we have the capability of raising it up a notch (this year). That being the goal, to raise it up, and be one of those premier teams year in and year out,” Miles said. “I don’t really feel like we’ve done that yet so that would be cool to get to that level where it’s more of a consistent thing.”
The St. Margaret’s girls lacrosse team will only feature 15 players this year, and first-year head coach Holly Reilly will attempt to squeeze the potential out of what she calls a “small but mighty team.”
The Tartans, who went 8-7 overall last year and missed the playoffs, will not have to worry about replacing their goalie. Margaret Kaplan-Paliwoda, who is committed to Meredith University in North Carolina, will return for her junior campaign in goal.
Returning starting seniors Ashley Bulloch and Mackenzie Carpenter return to power the Tartans offense on attack. Juniors Marissa Young and Camila Anderson Comas return to midfield roles.
The Tartans midfield will undergo a slight change in 2014, as Reilly plans to keep midfielders on the field for longer periods of time rather than have entire line shifts occur during the game. This will help counter the Tartans small roster size as well provide consistency, Reilly said.
“They have a trust in the system we’re trying to put in place. They’ve bought in and are excited about trying something new,” Reilly said. “By and large we’ve really come together and are working together as a unit.”
Saddleback Valley Christian
Boys and Girls Swimming
The Saddleback Valley Christian boys and girls swim teams had successful 2013 seasons, the only problem, as is the case with smaller schools, was the lack of depth at the back end of their events that cost them league titles. The swim teams may be the largest sport on campus, but when competing against perennial swim powerhouse Crean Lutheran, depth is sometimes an issue.
The girls went 4-2 in dual meet action last year and the boys went 5-1, finishing second in the Academy League. The girls team finished third.
Despite the league finals finish, the Warriors had successful runs from both teams at the CIF Championships. The boys team placed 10th overall, the highest finish in school history, and the girls finished 17th.
The Warriors girls swim team will feature a deep and talented pool of swimmers this year. They will be led by returning sophomore Casey Cunningham, who placed in the top-4 in CIF last year. Cunningham will specialize in the 200 and 500 freestyle events. Junior co-captain Kylie Owen (relays), senior co-captain Haley Hokanson (relays) and junior Jamie O’Brien (relays) will help add depth to the roster. Freshman Hannah Maffris has impressed head coach Bert Bergen early and he predicts her swimming in sprint events.
The boys team will build around two standout senior freestyle swimmers Ryan Dale and Jason Jewell, the teams’ returning CIF finalists. Jewell will specialize in the 50 and 100 freestyle and Dale will compete in the 200 and 500 freestyle as well as the 200 individual medley.
Looking to join Dale and Jewell on the relay teams will be junior Aaron Ewry, freshman Cole Brehm and senior John Shier, who will all provide depth in other events.
“(Dale and Jewell) are good, the other guys are all jockeying, realizing they’re going to have two fast guys on relays. So they’re doing everything they can do to get on to those relay teams for CIF,” Bergen said.
When the Saddleback Valley Christian boys volleyball team got together with head coach Ryan Van Rensselaer at the start of the season, the coach passed around a goal sheet for the players to fill out. When asked what their goals for the new season were, the Warriors, who are coming off a CIF-SS Division 5 Championship win and an appearance in the second round of the state tournament, didn’t have to look any further than the gym’s rafters above their heads.
No team in Saddleback Valley Christian history has repeated as CIF champions, and after such a successful year and a roster filled with returners and impact newcomers alike, this Warriors team has their goals set high.
“We’re going for state this year. Last year was tough but this year I think we have the team to do it,” sophomore setter Noah Dyer said. “The talent is there definitely. It all depends on how hard we’re willing to work.”
The Warriors return starters Dyer, senior libero Brandon Green and senior outside hitter Torrey Karlsen. Sophomore middle blocker Trevor O’Reilly also returns
Joining the fold will be Mater Dei senior transfer Mario Soto at middle blocker and standout freshman setter Jon Minsberg. Van Rensselaer says Soto, who has never played volleyball before this season, is among the most athletic and coachable talents he’s guided.
Minsberg’s play has made the whole team excited about their prospects. The first-year player has already broken into the starting group and will play alongside Dyer, who also sets and can play opposite, in the same rotation.
The Warriors solidified a bond between each other in the offseason by participating in a beach volleyball league. They honed their skills and bettered their chemistry, which is what Green says will push this team over the top in the new season.
“We’re close, which helps. After every play, we always get together in a circle. We didn’t do that last year. Win or lose, I think that will help bring us together,” Green said. “When it gets down to the fifth game, in the final points, something like that will come in handy when we’re playing a team that doesn’t have great teamwork and love for each other.”