A prolific moment in a poignant season

By Tony Ciniglio 

@TCiniglio on Twitter


It was a prolific moment in a poignant season.

Ziaire Williams brought the ball upcourt, draped by an Etiwanda defender. He dribbled to his right, momentarily lost control of the ball, cut back to the left, created separation and drilled a pullup jumper as time expired for one of the most stunning finishes in the program’s proud history.

Williams’ heroics launched Sierra Canyon to a 63-61 victory over Etiwanda in Tuesday night’s  CIF Southern California Open Division final at Cal State Northridge to cap a game-ending 13-0 run.

Williams held his follow-through and backpedaled as he admired his shot. He was immediately embraced by Amari Bailey and mobbed by the rest of the team.

It was a moment that was making the rounds on social media after being spotlighted by the Los Angeles Daily News, SportsCenter and Sports Illustrated for Sierra Canyon, ranked No. 15 in Maxpreps’ national poll.

CIF Southern Section Open Division champion Sierra Canyon (30-4) advances to the Open Division state final and will face the Sacramento Sheldon-Oakland Bishop O’Dowd winner on Saturday night at Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings.

In a highly publicized season that includes numerous national broadcasts, marquee matchups and a following that is somewhat reminiscent of the Ball Brothers at Chino Hills, Sierra Canyon dug deep to extend its season.

Sierra Canyon’s third consecutive state finals appearance appeared in major jeopardy as Etiwanda opened a 61-50 lead with less than three minutes to play.

Then Sierra Canyon cranked up the defensive pressure and Brandon Boston Jr. went to work.

Boston scored 11 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, including a tying 3-pointer with a minute left to ignite the late push.

Sierra Canyon had beaten Etiwanda 57-53 at the Damien Classic on Dec. 28 and 73-62 in the CIF Southern Section Open Division semifinals on Feb. 21.

Things seemed to be going to plan early when Sierra Canyon held a 31-26 halftime lead. But Etiwanda (30-4) opened the second half with a 12-4 run and controlled most of the second half before Sierra Canyon’s late surge.

Tyree Campbell led Etiwanda with 19 points.

Sheldon would make an interesting state final opponent.

Originally coronavirus concerns forced its school district to pull Sheldon from the Regional tournament. 

But Sheldon was reinstated before its Regional semifinal and escaped with a 59-58 victory over Dublin thanks to a 27-point performance from Marcus Bagley, the younger brother of former Sierra Canyon standout Marvin Bagley III, who later starred at Duke and is now with the Sacramento Kings.


Lacrosse moving in right direction

Lacrosse moving in right direction

There was never any panic. No alarms or sirens.

A Code Red was never initiated.

However Sierra Canyon lacrosse coach Mario Waibel admitted it felt encouraging to record back-to-back victories over Newbury Park and Rancho Bernardo last week following an 0-3 start amidst a challenging schedule.

“Our schedule is very front-loaded against perennially strong teams,” Waibel said. “We are still establishing our identity, but it’s starting to come out.”

Sierra Canyon overcame Newbury Park 11-7 and Rancho Bernardo 11-3 last week to build momentum heading into showdowns against Westlake on Tuesday and Valencia on Friday.

Though Sierra Canyon had not started 0-3 since Waibel’s first season at Sierra Canyon seven years ago, Waibel knew the results would eventually turn around despite tough losses to Oaks Christian (11-9), Agoura (13-12) and Crespi (10-7) to open the season.

Perhaps that comes from the perspective of being a five-time reigning Gold Coast League champion. 

“We played good games against good teams. Really, we didn’t have any bad games,” Waibel said. “We’re starting to trust each other more, both offensively and defensively. On defense, that level of trust is allowing us to be more aggressive and earn takeaways, and that helps the offense.

“And in the middle of the field, we’re becoming very dominant and showing great execution.”

Sophomore Ben Graham turned in a seven-goal performance to overcome Newbury Park. Senior Jacob Huddleston recorded two goals and two assists. Junior Jackson Brass and senior Aris Brown each added goals.

Senior Alex Brooker led a balanced attack against Rancho Bernardo with three goals. Graham and Huddleston each had two goals. Brown and junior Will Francavilla each had one goal and one assist. Senior Clinton Kaboni and junior Donovan Williams also had goals, and Brass added two assists.

“What’s nice for us is that points are coming from different goal scorers,” Waibel said. “We usually have had 5-7 different guys on the board with goals and assists, and that is great balance.”

Sierra Canyon (2-3) has also received a boost from sophomore Jake Pillsbury at goalkeeper. Pillsbury recorded 16 saves against Newbury Park and seven saves against Rancho Bernardo.

“Jake has been phenomenal,” Waibel said. “The way he clears the ball adds a whole new dimension for us.”

Sierra Canyon has been the only champion the Gold Coast League has known in its five-year existence, a league that includes Brentwood, Viewpoint, Crescenta Valley, Glendale and Village Christian.

Waibel said one of the more encouraging aspects of this year’s team has been the overall unselfishness.

“We are spreading the love around,” Waibel said. “There’s not a lot of egos when it comes to scoring. They all just want the team to be doing well.”

Trailblazers fall in Regional Semifinals

Trailblazers fall in Regional Semifinals

By Tony Ciniglio

The expectations were lofty. Weighty even. 

As the reigning CIF State Open Division champion, the Sierra Canyon girls basketball team knew it was going to garner a lot of attention.

Taking on an ambitious national schedule, Sierra Canyon turned in another sparkling campaign, playing at a supremely high level from its season-opening victory over Harvard-Westlake to Tuesday night’s Southern California Regional Open Division playoff game at Windward.

“This group was consistent all season long,” Sierra Canyon coach Alicia Komaki said. “We always play hard. No one ever questions that. We play with heart, we play with passion and we always play together.”

Ultimately Sierra Canyon saw its season end with a 65-59 loss to Gold Coast League rival Windward on Tuesday night despite one of the Trailblazers most impressive performances of the season.

Sierra Canyon held a 57-47 lead with 5 minutes and 20 seconds left in the game before Windward made a late charge.

“It has not fully sunk in yet,” Sierra Canyon senior Vanessa Smart said. “It still feels like we are going to have practice tomorrow.”

Sierra Canyon finished with a 25-7 record, having won the Gold Coast League crown and advanced to the elite CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs and the Regional Open Division field.

The apex turned out to be a wild 56-54 overtime victory over Windward on Jan. 22 that gave Sierra Canyon the Gold Coast title.

“That was our rival, at our house – that was a big game,” Sierra Canyon sophomore Vanessa DeJesus said. ‘We definitely had a lot of expectations this season, and we have no regrets. I had a lot of fun, playing with my sisters. We played well all season and fought through adversity.”

Beyond the backbreaking schedule, Sierra Canyon also had to overcome the loss of Rosemary Odebunmi.

The Pepperdine-bound Odebunmi experienced swelling all season in her knees before being shut down when an MRI revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament that required surgery.

Odebunmi’s last game happened to be the overtime thriller against Windward in the regular season.

“Losing Rose took a toll on and off the court,” Smart said. “Especially losing her after that Windward game. I think that’s when we came together. That’s when we bonded. We were playing for her.”

DeJesus and Boise State-bound senior Alexis Mark turned in standout campaigns.

Texas-bound senior Ashley Chevalier displayed the starpower and scoremaking capability that she displayed throughout her storied career.

Smart provided sharpshooting and leadership.

Junior Tamia Murphy seemed to elevate her performance in Odebunmi’s absence. 

Freshman Sofia Ruelas, junior Theresa Berry and junior Tama Fonoti also played vital roles for Sierra Canyon.

“We played one of the toughest schedules in the country,” Chevalier said. “We’re one of the few high schools that rises to that level.”

Chevalier took it up a notch in her high school swan song, scoring 21 of her 25 points in the first half against Windward. Mark scored 11 points, DeJesus had eight points and Smart scored six for Sierra Canyon.

“We were up 11, then I looked up at the scoreboard and that lead was gone – I still can’t believe it,” DeJesus said. “I was to thank my teammates and all my coaches, especially Coach Komaki. We really had a great season.”


GIRLS SOCCER: Sierra Canyon gets No. 2 seed in Division 4



By Jacob H. Pollon

Sierra Canyon Athletics Dept.

Staff Writer


The Sierra Canyon girls soccer team received the No. 2 seed in the Division 4 playoffs when pairings were announced Sunday at the Southern Section office.

The Trailblazers finished the regular season 11-5-2 overall and 8-2-2 in Gold Coast League competition. Sierra Canyon won the league championship after a one-year hiatus. The Trailblazers had won the league title in the eight previous years to 2019.

Despite splitting with Brentwood and having a tie against Paraclete in the regular season finale, the Trailblazers managed to take the league title and earn the No. 2 seed. Sierra Canyon will open up with the winner of Tuesday’s Monrovia-Westridge wild-card game.

Sierra Canyon coach Kristy Walker pointed to Tatum Solis, Jazzy Campbell, Viktoria Balbin, Morgan Brown, Bella Fisher, Maya Bowens and goalkeeper Lauren “LoLo” Retsky as key players who need to step up and contribute heavily for the Trailblazers to have a deep run to the finals.

Come check out the team on Thursday at 3 p.m. at the Athletic Complex (DeSoto and Rinaldi)

BOYS AND GIRLS BASKETBALL: Sierra Canyon nabs top spot in So. Sec. Open Div. for second year in row



By Jacob H. Pollon

Sierra Canyon Athletics Dept.

Staff Writer


The Sierra Canyon boys and girls basketball programs are like Brittany Spears.

Oops!, they did it, again.

Both teams were given the No. 1 seed for the Southern Section Open Division playoffs that begin this week.

The boys team will host three games against No. 8 St. John Bosco, No. 5 St. Anthony and No. 4 Etiwanda. The first two games will take place at Cal St. Northridge and the third game Will be played at Calabasas High. The dates will be Feb. 14, 18 and 21, respectively. The championship game is slated for Feb. 28 at Long Beach St.

The boys program, which has captured the past two state Open Division championships and last year’s section Open Division championship with a victory against Bishop Montgomery at Cal Baptist Univ. in Riverside, has a sparkling 24-4 record. The only setbacks have come against Rancho Christian, Minehaha Academy (Minnesota), Paul VI (Virginia) and Long Island Lutheran (New Jersey).

McDonald’s All-American selections B.J. Boston and Ziarie Williams, along with TCU-bound Terren Frank will try and lead the Trailblazers to an unprecedented third Open Div. state title in a row starting in early March.

The girls program, which won its first ever Open Div. state title a year ago will look to win its first ever section Open Div. championship after coming up just short last year in a setback against Gold Coast League rival Windward.

Sierra Canyon will face No. 8 Lynwood, No. 5 Etiwanda and No. 4 Mater Dei on Feb. 15, 19 and 22, respectively. All games will be on campus in Chatsworth.

Alicia Komaki’s bunch is also 24-4 overall.

The senior trio of Duke-bound Vanessa de Jesus, Texas-bound Ashley Chevalier and Boise St.-bound Alexis Mark will be counted on to lead the Trailblazers. Pepperdine-bound Rose Odebunmi and 3-point specialist Vanessa Smart will also need to step up in big ways for Sierra Canyon.

Feb. 14: boys vs. St. John Bosco (game played at CSUN)

Feb. 15: girls vs. Lynwood

Feb. 18: boys vs. St. Anthony (game played at CSUN)

Feb. 19: girls vs. Etiwanda

Feb. 21: boys vs. Etiwanda (game played at Calabasas)

Feb. 22: girls vs. Mater Dei

BOYS BASKETBALL: Sierra Canyon improves to 21-3 with 54 consecutive Gold Coast League victories



By Jacob H. Pollon

Sierra Canyon Athletics Dept.

Staff Writer


The Sierra Canyon boys basketball team is doing what it did last year.

Plain and simple. Win.

The Trailblazers won their third consecutive game Tuesday after an 83-57 Gold Coast League victory against Campbell Hall.

Brandon Boston, Jr. scored 21 points and Terren Frank added 15 points to lead Sierra Canyon.

Shy Odom scored 12 points and, Ziaire Williams and Zaire Wade each added 10 points for the Trailblazers.

The victory came on senior night when six players were honored in a ceremony before the game. Boston, Williams, Frank, Wade, Dahveon Morris and Ryan Rifkind all had short introductions and were met by family members on the court for recognition and pictures and flowers.

The game also featured a tribute and moment of silence for Kobe Bryant, his 13-year old daughter Gianna and the seven other victims in the devastating helicopter crash that claimed all lives aboard on Sunday in Calabasas. Each team took a shot clock violation in honor of the global, worldwide basketball icon.

Sierra Canyon has a share of first place showdown Friday at 7:30 p.m. against Brentwood before traveling to Paraclete and taking on the Spirits Tuesday at Antelope Valley College.

The Trailblazers end the regular season Feb. 7-8 with two game sin New Jersey against powers Long Island Lutheran and Gill St. Bernard’s.

The Open Div. playoffs begin late in the week of Feb. 10th.


GIRLS BASKETBALL: Sierra Canyon two wins away from second consecutive Gold Coast League championship



By Jacob H. Pollon

Sierra Canyon Athletics Dept.

Staff Writer


The Sierra Canyon girls basketball team is closing in on another Gold Coast League championship. The Trailblazers, who did the hard part by beating Windward 54-52 in overtime on Jan. 22, have followed that victory up with easy wins against Crossroads and Campbell Hall.

In the Campbell Hall 75-23 victory, Duke-bound Vanessa de Jesus had 11 points, five assists and three rebounds while Texas-bound Ashley Chevalier had seven points, eight assists and two rebounds.

Boise St.-bound Alexis Mark added eight points and nine rebounds.

Sierra Canyon now owns three victories against Windward in its last four attempts, the only loss last year in the Southern Section Open Div. championship. The tide is turning with success against Windward. Before this current four-game stretch, the Trailblazers were just 2-16 against the Wildcats.

Sierra Canyon is now 21-3 and 4-0 in league play. The girls play three more games against Brentwood, Paraclete and a trip to New Jersey to face Rutgers Prep.

Sierra Canyon could be the No. 1 seed when the Open Division playoff draw is announced late next week. The Trailblazers have only three losses this year, including two one-point setbacks against La Jolla Country Day and Mater Dei. Sierra canyon owns a very impressive win against Long Beach Poly.

Sierra Canyon has won four state championships, including last year’s Open Div. title in Sacramento. The other three came in back-to-back-to-back fashion from 2013-2015 in lower divisions.

BOYS SOCCER: Historic four-match stretch for Sierra Canyon



By Jacob H. Pollon

Sierra Canyon Athletics Dept.

Staff Writer


What a season it has been so far for the Sierra Canyon boys soccer team. Despite not winning a ton of matches, the Trailblazers are competing at a high level and improving a lot.

Two wins and six ties have offset the nine losses. The boys still have a good chance to make the Division 7 playoffs if things fall into place.

The program achieved a milestone recently, too. The team just concluded a four-match stretch without a loss.

The boys beat Windward 2-0, tied Paraclete 1-1, beat Campbell Hall 2-1 and tied Viewpoint 0-0. The last to matches have resulted in setbacks against Crossroads and nonleague foe Flintridge Prep.

Sanny Pierce and Josh Bryan scored the goals in the Campbell Hall victory.

“I know there is only two wins but these guys are really getting better and our roster is now set,” Sierra Canyon coach Kristy Walker said. “If these guys get into the playoffs they can make some noise for sure.”

The boys finish up the regular season with matches against Windward, Brentwood twice in a row and Paraclete.

GIRLS SOCCER: Sierra Canyon now one of the top teams in Div. 4



By Jacob H. Pollon

Sierra Canyon Athletics Dept.

Staff Writer


The Sierra Canyon girls soccer team is moving right along and currently has a 9-4-1 overall record with a Gold Coast League record of 6-1-1.

The team is currently ranked No. 5 in Division 4 and is ready to hit its peak with just two weeks remaining in the regular season before playoffs begin.

The team recently tied with Viewpoint in a 0-0 draw, easily beat Campbell Hall 6-2 and handled Paraclete 5-0.

A nonleague setback against Flintridge Prep will now force the girls to regroup and focus for league matches with Windward, Brentwood and Paraclete. The Windward match this Thursday is very important with first place on the line.

The Trailblazers upended the Wildcats, 3-0, back on Jan. 7th.

“We’re good and then we are not so good,” Sierra Canyon coach Kristy Walker said. “We have to find some consistency and get better. We need to be good all the time. We are capable.”

The team has only allowed four goals to Campbell Hall in league competition. Sierra Canyon has posted six shutouts, winning five times with a draw against Viewpoint.

Sierra Canyon is ranked No. 5 in Division 4.

BOYS BASKETBALL: Sierra Canyon has two McDonald’s All-Americans; first time in school history



By Jacob H. Pollon

Sierra Canyon Athletics Dept.

Staff Writer


The Sierra Canyon boys basketball had two players named as McDonald’s All-Americans Thursday when rosters were announced by ESPN.

Brandon Boston, Jr. and Ziaire Williams, two highly-nationally ranked seniors will participate in the country’s premier showcase all-star game April 1 in Houston.

“This is a great accomplishment for the players, the school and our program,” Sierra Canyon head coach Andre Chevalier said. “They are obviously very talented players and both deserve to be recognized in this fashion.”

Boston is headed to Kentucky to play for John Calipari before embarking on an NBA career. Williams is undecided but also has the same aspirations to play in the NBA.

Sierra Canyon currently has 10 players active playing Div. 1 basketball and that number will jump to 13 in 2020-2021.

Boston and Williams were part of a group of six players from California selected this year. That is a record for the state. Twice before there has been five players from California in the prestigious game.

Boston and Williams are the first San Fernando Valley players selected for the game since 2008 when Campbell Hall’s Jrue Holiday and Taft’s Larry Drew were participants.

“This is a big deal for the players and the school,” Chevalier said. “Playing in this game usually means playing in the NBA.”

This would have been the second and third Sierra Canyon players selected and not the first and second if Marvin Bagley had not reclassified and attended Duke a year early after his junior year in 2017.

Bagley went on to become the No. 2 pick in the 2018 June NBA draft.