By Steve Breazeale and Michael Matossian
The 2016 spring sports season has already begun for the five San Juan Capistrano high schools. Some programs have league title aspirations, others remain focused on staying competitive, and all of them are coveting the ultimate goal of succeeding in the CIF-SS playoffs.
Here is a look at several San Juan programs that are primed for big seasons.
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San Juan Hills High School
Last Season: 14-17 overall (4-8 league)
Players to Watch: Jack McCarthy, Nick Hernandez and Connor Glenn.
Circle ’em: Valley View (March 19 at Angel Stadium) and Mission Viejo (3/22)
Outlook: With 12 returning players from last year’s team, nine of which saw considerable playing time, head coach Jeremey Wooten believes the 2016 version of the San Juan Hills baseball team is shaping up to be a well-balanced group.
With the emergence of junior first baseman Connor Glenn and the return of senior standouts Jack McCarthy and Nick Hernandez to the lineup, the Stallions bats figure to have plenty of pop.
Hernandez, who also doubles as the team’s top pitcher, was a first team All-Sea View League selection last season and led the team with a .323 batting average and nine doubles. McCarthy, also a first team all-league selection and an Oregon State commit, and Glenn, a left-handed power hitter, will be surrounded by veteran bats in the lineup.
“I am very confident that the middle part of our lineup will have big years for us,” Wooten said. “Our plan is to have players hitting around these guys who can really swing the bat. This team has the potential to be the most complete lineup, one through nine, in school history.”
Hernandez will be looking to build on his solid junior campaign on the mound. As a starter in 2015, Hernandez led the team with a 1.17 ERA, notching four wins and 40 strikeouts. Riley Glenn, Justin Dunham and sophomore Kaleb Marschall will round out the rest of the Stallions rotation. McCarthy will serve as the team’s closer. In 21 innings of relief last season, McCarthy compiled a 0.00 ERA and recorded six saves.
The Stallions will have to go through San Clemente, who advanced to the CIF-SS Division 2 semifinals in 2015, and Mission Viejo, the reigning CIF-SS Division 2 champion, in Sea View League play. –Steve Breazeale
Boys and Girls Swimming and Diving
For first-year head coach Derya Buyukuncu and his staff, guiding the San Juan Hills boys and girls swim teams in 2016 will be a bit of a learning experience.
Buyukuncu brings an impressive resume to the pool deck at San Juan Hills. He is a six-time Olympian who competed in the backstroke and butterfly events representing his native Turkey. He is backed by a staff with more than 30 years of experience between them.
“This is our first year with them; we don’t know what they are capable of,” Buyukuncu said. “Our goal is to see how the kids are and what they swim, and we will see what place that is going to take us.”
On the girls team, the Stallions have a lot of freshmen swimmers coming in from the Gators Swim Club, a local club team. Buyukuncu’s staff will be looking to help these girls take their club experience and translate that into league and possible CIF success.
“We want to work on their little stuff: turns, kicking and technique,” Buyukuncu said. “I think that is going to help them, especially if they really want to get better at swimming.”
On the boys team, the Stallions will be looking to the backstroke, freestyle and individual medley to be the events that can contribute a good amount of points each meet.
“The first couple meets are going to really show us what they are capable of,” Buyukuncu said. “Then we are going to get a sense of who can lead this team.”
The Stallions will face off against Mission Viejo in their first league meet on March 22. –Michael Matossian
Last Season: 15-5 (6-0 league); advanced to the U.S. Lacrosse Orange County Championship game.
Players to Watch: Emerson Roth, Austin Shackleford and Matt Karzak.
Circle ’em: Foothill (3/29) and Servite (4/14)
Outlook: The offseason was filled with change for the JSerra boys lacrosse team. The Lions lost 16 seniors to graduation and a head coach that guided them to the championship game of the U.S. Lacrosse Orange County playoffs.
But first-year head coach Brendan Fowler likes what he sees out of the new-look Lions.
After dropping back-to-back games to start the season, the Lions (2-2) have won two in a row and are buying in to Fowler’s desire for the team to play a tough brand of lacrosse.
“We’re kind of building from a fresh start here for the most part,” Fowler said. “We demand our kids to play hard and be tough on ground balls. They’ve responded well to that. There are mistakes here and there, but we ask them to play hard and that’s what we want to be known for.”
Although they lost several standout players, JSerra returns a talented senior class that has experience. Midfielder Austin Shackleford, Emerson Roth (attack), and Vincent Cifarelli (attack) are all seniors who have helped lead the Lions offense in the early going. Two-way players Evan Jones and Cayson Fincher add versatility to the Lions’ approach.
The Lions’ offense figures to get stronger once senior attack Matt Karzak returns from an injury. –SB
Capistrano Valley Christian
Last Season: 19-9-1 overall (10-1-1 league); advanced to the second round of the CIF-SS Division 5 Championships.
Players to Watch: Dylan Baird, Alec Arnone, Andre Antone and Zack Mendez.
Circle ’em: Ayala (3/15) and Santa Margarita (4/6)
Outlook: Pitching depth can be a major key to a deep postseason push, and the Capistrano Valley Christian baseball team is hoping its strong trio of right-handed starting pitchers will take them to the playoffs once more in 2016.
The Eagles’ rotation will be led by senior Dylan Baird, an Eastern Illinois commit who compiled a 2.48 ERA as a junior. Head coach Clemente Bonilla said Baird’s composure on the mound sets the tone for the rest of the rotation, which features hard-throwing junior Andre Antone, a UCI commit, and standout sophomore Alec Arnone.
Antone and Arnone will also be key bats in the middle of the Eagles’ lineup. Arrone batted .304 as a freshman and Antone hit .310 as a sophomore. Junior Zack Mendez is off to a hot start in 2016 and is batting .556 through two games played. Junior first baseman Tyler Piston will provide some power and swatted his first home run of the season in the Eagles’ 16-3 win over Whittier on March 5.
The Eagles are a young team and will graduate just two starting seniors this season.
Bonilla said the team’s biggest strength has been team chemistry, which he believes will serve the team well as they prepare to play a tough nonleague schedule filled with Trinity League opponents and perennial CIF-SS contenders.
“There’s just a good vibe about (the team). Hopefully it will be one of those seasons where you have the physical tools that you need and you have that “X” factor where the kids get along really well,” Bonilla said. “It could be one of those magical things where it goes our way because we have good chemistry.”—SB
Last Season: 8-8 overall (8-6 league)
Players to Watch: Jackson Miller, Alex Mansfield, Wesley Deffenbaugh and Chris Cenzer.
Circle ’em: Herald Invitational (4/4) and Saddleback Valley Christian (4/18)
Outlook: The Capistrano Valley Christian boys golf team is off to a 2-1 start to its season and is being led by four returning players who played big roles in 2015.
Sophomore Wesley Deffenbaugh, who was an All-San Joaquin League honorable mention selection as a freshman, picked up his first medalist honors of the season in a 255-307 victory over Guajome Park on Ben Brown’s Golf Course on March 3. The sophomore carded a 41 (+9) on the front nine to help the Eagles secure the victory.
Junior Alex Mansfield, another Eagle who earned honorable mention last season, and senior Chris Cenzer round out the top of the Eagles scoring leaders in the early going. Both hold scoring averages in the 40s, according to head coach Ryan Curammeng.
The Eagles’ depth chart will get a boost once junior Jackson Miller returns to the team. Miller is currently playing for the Eagles’ basketball team in the CIF Championships.
The Eagles have done well on the course in recent years, but what Curammeng is more proud of is the team’s accomplishments off it. The Eagles have won the San Joaquin League Sportsmanship Award for two consecutive seasons. The award is voted on by the San Joaquin League coaches.—SB
Saddleback Valley Christian
Boys and Girls Swimming and Diving
Last Season: N/A
Athletes to Watch: Casey Cunningham, Cole Brehm, Jordan Owen, Jack Ryan Wineke and Matthew Bergen.
Circle ’em: JSerra Catholic (3/17) and Freelance League Meet (4/30)
Outlook: The Saddleback Valley Christian boys and girls swim teams may look young on paper, but the Warriors will return multiple underclassmen with valuable CIF experience and a handful of veteran swimmers to the pool in 2016.
Last season, the Warriors left the Academy League for the first time in program history. Instead of participating in a league meet, SVC hosted a freelance league meet against other area teams and had several individuals qualify for the CIF-SS prelims.
One swimmer who had a breakout season in 2015 was Casey Cunningham, who returns to anchor several events for the girls team. Cunningham, a BYU commit who won the CIF-SS Division 3 500-meter freestyle championship in 2015, will focus on the 200- and 500-meter freestyle as well as play a part in relay teams. SVC head coach Bert Bergen says Cunningham is on the verge of breaking several school records.
Sophomore Jordan Owen will compete in the 100-meter backstroke and will be a part of a strong group of young swimmers.
On the boys team, Cole Brehm (100-meter butterfly), Jack Ryan Wineke (200-meter freestyle) and Matthew Bergen (500-meter freestyle) return. Bergen has already made a preliminary CIF-SS qualifying cut in practice and will look to advance in the event in the postseason.
“It’s a young group, but they have experience from last year and I think we’ll do real well,” Bert Bergen said. “They just know what’s expected of them and their peers. It’s a much more mature group just because they’ve done this before.”—SB
Last Season: 30-5-1 overall (6-0 league); Won the CIF-SS Division 4 Championships and advanced to the CIF SoCal Regional Division 3 Championship match.
Players to Watch: Noah Dyer, Jon Minsberg, Spencer Alden and Jacob Pelletier.
Circle ’em: Beckman (3/15) and Redondo Classic Tournament (4/29-30)
Outlook: The Saddleback Valley Christian boys volleyball team has its sights set on accomplishing something special in 2016. The Warriors have won three straight CIF-SS Championships in their division and are gunning for a rare four-peat.
There is good reason for the optimism, as the Warriors return five starters from last year’s championship team. It is a group of players who have played alongside each other for several years and have formed a tight bond.
Senior Noah Dyer is the team’s unquestioned leader and has been the central cog of the Warriors squad since he arrived on campus as a freshman. Junior outside hitter Jon Minsberg and seniors Spencer Alden (outside hitter/opposite), Jacob Pelletier (libero) and Trevor O’Reilly (middle blocker) return.
While the Warriors return those five experienced players, there are new faces that have been added to the mix that will play key roles, like sophomore opposite Bryce Laxson.
The Warriors have torn through the CIF-SS Championships three years running, but where the team has hit a snag is at the CIF SoCal Regional tournament. The Warriors have lost to Laguna Beach in the Division 3 title game two years in a row, which is something the returning SVC players hope to rectify in 2016.
“This year we’re really hoping to see if we can take state. That’s the one that’s kind of eluded us,” Dyer said. “I think we’re there physically but I think it’s going to take that mental step. We have a bunch of young guys so we have to pick that up and we have to believe that we can do it.”—SB
St. Margaret’s Episcopal
Boys and Girls Track and Field
Last Season: N/A
Athletes to Watch: Nic Gitter, Luke Gitter and McKinley McQuaide.
Circle ’em: Irvine Invitational (3/11) and Trabuco Hills Invitational (4/2)
Outlook: Changing the culture of the St. Margaret’s boys and girls track and field team is the goal for first-year head coach Patrick Bendzick and his staff. Once Bendzick was brought in to lead the team, the coach realized a different approach was necessary if the Tartans were to achieve their potential.
“We view track as a team sport, and in the past athletes have been able to kind of pick what events they want. They come and they go,” Bendzick said. “It is really the mentality of ‘We are in this for everyone from the get-go’ … so the kids have been very willing to say hey, I’ll fill that hole; I’ll take that event; I’ll jump in that relay.”
On the boys team, the distance events will be major point contributors yet again. Nic Gitter, Luke Gitter and Charlie Smith earned All-Academy League honors in cross country in the fall and will be looking to build off those strong performances.
In the field events, Nick Amoukhteh is the team’s leader in both the shot put and the discus and has a great opportunity to improve on his finish in the CIF-SS prelims last year.
The sprinters will be major contributors to the girls team. Bendzick said the team pulls a lot of athletes from the soccer team, who should play roles in the 4×100-meter relay and sprint events.
One of the standout athletes for the girls is McKinley McQuaide. McQuaide is a four-event athlete and was a CIF-SS Finalist in the shot put last year. She brings an element of consistency and versatility to the team and has some lofty goals for herself this season, according to Bendzick.
Emily Sun is a high jumper that should contend for a league title as a freshman.
“I don’t think that anybody in our program expects to do anything other than to win our league,” Bendzick said. “This first year is a little bit of an experimental year, as everyone gets used to the training and the new expectations, but the kids have responded pretty well.”
The Tartans look to start off strong at the Irvine High School Invitational, March 11.—MM
Last Season: 21-8 overall (12-0 league); advanced to the CIF-SS Division 4 Championship match and the second round of the CIF SoCal Regional Division 3 Championships.
Players to Watch: Jordan Cun, David Chou and Ethan Hill.
Circle ’em: Crean Lutheran (3/17) and Laguna Hills (3/22)
Outlook: After a season that ended with a deep postseason run, the St. Margaret’s boys volleyball team will regroup with a young squad in 2016.
The Tartans return only two starters from last season in senior setter Jordan Chun and sophomore outside hitter David Chou. Both players were a part of a team that reached the CIF-SS Division 4 championship match and appeared in the state regional tournament.
“It’s predominantly a group of young guys,” head coach Jeremey Dailey said. “The last couple seasons we had some pretty good players and had high expectations and we still have expectations this year. We’re going to see a lot of growth from where we are now to the end of the year.”
Freshman Ethan Hill has impressed Dailey in the early going and has already got significant playing time. Hill is a club player who has made the switch to outside hitter, where Dailey hopes to utilize his 6-foot-2-inch frame.
The Tartans are currently 2-1 on the season and notched a win over Academy League rival Brethren Christian on March 8. –SB