Holy Goalie, Girls soccer opens season with 1-0 victory

Holy Goalie, Girls soccer opens season with 1-0 victory

By Tony Ciniglio

@TCiniglio on Twitter

Holy Goalie.

Sierra Canyon coach Kristi Walker unleashed a second-half lineup in the girls soccer season opener against Paraclete in which all four of her goalkeepers by trade were on the pitch.

They might not all have been wearing their multi-colored jerseys, but it was a sight to behold.

“It was crazy – I can’t remember anything like that,” Walker said.

Olivia Babcock was at the net, and Walker dispatched Lolo Retsky, Audri Klionsky and Isabella Marzan up front to try to spark the offense in a 1-0 nonleague win at Paraclete on March 23.

Sierra Canyon is a perennial girls soccer contender with two CIF Southern Section titles and two Southern California Regional crowns, yet had just 13 players available for its opener, including all four goalkeepers.

Creativity and flexibility will be key in this pandemic-shortened season, and Walker praised her eager keepers.

“This showed me a lot about this team’s character,” Walker said. “It’s not easy to have four goalkeepers on a roster. And not all of them are going to play goalkeeper.

“But they have all been great and had amazing attitudes. This is not an excuse-making team.”

Sierra Canyon still boasts some serious returning talent from last year’s squad that advanced to the CIF semifinals last season before dropping a 1-0 decision to eventual champion Bloomington.

USC-bound Morgan Brown has the starpower and experience to help shoulder some of the burden left by the graduations of Jazy Coleman (Oregon State) and Tatum Solis (Cal State Fullerton).

Senior center back Bella Fisher will also provide some valuable insight as just one of two seniors on the squad.

Walker also acknowledged the emerging leadership from a strong core of juniors that includes Viktoria Balbin, Retsky, Maya Bowen and Sravini Khanal.

“We have a great group of girls who are working extremely hard,” Walker said. “And we’ve had some juniors stepping up as leaders as well.”

Brown is an elite center back, but has moved to an attacking midfielder/forward role in an effort to create more scoring opportunities for Sierra Canyon.

It is for the good of the team and for the love of the sport.

“This is totally different for her this year because she has been a defender her whole life,” Walker said. “This gives her the challenge to be something different. It gives her an opportunity to learn about herself and to get better in the field.

“She is very athletic, reads the game well, is calm and steady, a great tackler and great in the air. Just a big presence.”

Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy transfer Alexyss Gazmarian is expected to make an immediate impact. Sophomore defenders Stevie Carmona and Natalie Babcock and freshmen Anya Jones and Bridget Mertze will also look to make their mark.

It will help offset the losses of Alyssa Abulaf (tennis), Ella Calderon (tennis) and Maddy Debs (softball), multi-sport athletes who were forced to focus on one sport due to the unique circumstances surrounding the return of high school sports from the pandemic.

“This team is so coachable,” Walker said. “They are hungry to learn and improve.”

Balbin delivered the poignant moment of the opener by blasting an impressive goal in the second half to overcome Paraclete.

“It was a free kick, about 30 or 40 yards out, and she just ripped it,” Walker said.

Sierra Canyon has just six more matches scheduled during this pandemic-shortened season, including Brentwood on April 13, Paraclete again on April 21, Viewpoint on April 27, Windward on April 29, Crossroads on May 4 and Windward on May 6.

“No one is sure what is going to happen this year,” Walker said. “I’m just proud of this group and how they have handled this whole thing. They have shown up with smiles on their faces, they’re excited and they want to get better. You can see the resilience in them.

“I’m grateful to be part of this group. They inspire me every day.”

#studentfirst – Constantine Theodoratos – Dedicado.

#studentfirst Constantine Theodoratos –  Dedicado.

That is the word that comes to Spanish teacher Sergio Ribiero when he thinks of Sierra Canyon sophomore Constantine Theodoratos.

Theodoratos exhibits his dedication on the soccer field with his high skill set and his passion that is contagious for his Sierra Canyon teammates.

His nonstop motor carries into the classroom, where Theodoratos strives to make the most of every opportunity.

“He faces any adversity head-on,” Ribiero said. “That’s what I really like about him and what separates him from other kids. He goes above and beyond what is expected. He doesn’t do it for the grade. He wants to get better and learn.”

Case in point.

The large layoff from the pandemic caused Theodoratos – who boasts a sterling academic reputation – to fall behind in his apprehension of Spanish, particularly some grammar concepts that would be used as building blocks.

Taking Spanish on Zoom was also an adjustment.

Theodoratos sought out Ribiero on his own for extra individualized sessions, wanting to make sure he had a clear understanding of an important subject matter.

“He was super approachable,” Theodoratos said. “He told me if I was willing to put in the work, he would do whatever it takes to help me. It felt right. I am understanding much better now.

“I try to go into everything with a positive mindset. Whatever I’m doing, I try to bring the same energy.”

Theodoratos exploded for a team-leading five goals in Sierra Canyon’s first three boys soccer matches to ignite a stellar 3-0 start.

His 4.5 grade-point average with Advanced Placement and honors courses has him on track to become a doctor or to pursue a sports medicine career.

Theodoratos’ selection as a Sierra Canyon Student First award winner for excellence in and out of the classroom felt natural.

“You don’t get that kind of GPA without working hard in the classroom,” Sierra Canyon boys soccer coach Chris Bonawandt said. “That was my first impression of him and is still my impression: he works hard. Whether it’s a practice or a warmup, he’s always going full energy.”

Theodoratos played on the wing last season as a freshman.

Bonawandt – currently in his first year at Sierra Canyon – wanted to move Theodoratos to center midfielder to maximize his energy.

Ultimately Bonawandt unleashed a monster.

“My mentality is to control the game,” Theodoratos said. “In the midfield, the game goes through you. You facilitate everything. I try to prevent the other team from getting scoring opportunities and I try to push the ball up and create opportunities for us.

“Usually the ball has to come back to the center of the field. I’m loving this role.”

Theodoratos scored the first two goals of Sierra Canyon’s season to spark a 7-0 victory over a shorthanded St. Genevieve.

A week later, Theodoratos broke a 1-1 stalemate with a a rejuvenated St. Genevieve squad by scoring the decisive goal with 20 minutes left for a thrilling 2-1 victory.

“It was the first time we faced adversity this season,” Theodoratos said. “It came to my feet, I took a touch and I shot it. Everyone went crazy.

“There was still some time left, but it felt like 3 hours instead of 20 minutes.”

Theodoratos has left his mark in the classroom as well and has aspirations of continuing his student-athlete career, potentially at Northwestern, Michigan or Penn State.

Theodoratos made the elite Head of School list from Sierra Canyon in all three middle school years and the Dean’s List last year as a freshman. He has returned to his Head of School pace this year.

In addition to AP World History, Theodoratos has challenged himself with a honors-heavy class load, including Honors Spanish 2, Honors Biology and Algebra 2 last year and Honors Spanish 3, Honors Chemistry and Honors English this year.

“Next year I want to take Art History or a financial class,” Theodoratos said.

Theodoratos is also part of the Chess Club and said he is excited to see what kind of impact he can have in the Human Rights Club now that the pandemic restrictions are loosening.

“I want to be informed of what’s happening in the world and do what I can do to help,” Theodoratos said.

Somehow Theodoratos has carved out time in his schedule to also take on lacrosse, splitting his schedule with school and soccer.

Theodoratos had soccer from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and lacrosse from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. earlier this week, all while still managing to get his school work done.

“Coach Mario (Waibel) saw me playing soccer and told me I could be a great addition for lacrosse, and there are a lot of my friends on the team,” Theodoratos said. “I’m having a good time and am still learning the game.

“If there are conflicts in the schedule, I’ve been clear that soccer is my No. 1 priority.”

Soccer is still king for Theodoratos, who was introduced to “the beautiful game” by his father Jason (a former Chatsworth High soccer player) and a long-time family friend Jeff Shoemaker.  His 13-year-old sister Olivia also plays soccer, though his mother Kristine grew up with a volleyball background.

“We all always talk soccer – it’s just a lot of fun. And that’s probably where my love for soccer started,” Theodoratos said.

Theodoratos is a huge English Premier Soccer League fan and wakes up at 4:30 a.m. every Saturday for the English Premier matchups.

His favorite is Chelsea, which makes for some interesting debates with Bonawandt, a Manchester United fan.

Theodoratos and his soccer teammates also started an English Premier League fantasy league where each player drafts a virtual roster and competes against each other based on their roster’s stats.

“We’ve really bonded through this,” Theodoratos said. “It’s super competitive, and we always text back and forth.”

The league determined that the last-place owner at the end of the season has to dye their head blonde.

“No one cares about (winning). They’re all concerned about not getting last place,” Theodoratos said, laughing. “But I’m in second place right now, so I’m worried about (winning).”

As Gilmore grew, so did the Sierra Canyon football program

As Gilmore grew, so did the Sierra Canyon football program

It was a momentous moment.

As Sierra Canyon lineman Jason Gilmore walked up to St. John Bosco’s sparkling new football stadium in Bellflower to take on the top ranked program in the country, he soaked in the atmosphere and recognized the magnitude of this game for Sierra Canyon.

A genuine pinch-me moment.

“It was unreal – almost like a college stadium,” Gilmore said. “People were tailgating in the parking lot. They had giant stands on both sides of the field, a Jumbotron. You could tell it was a big deal.

“I felt a surge of excitement and energy as soon as I walked onto that field.”

At 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, Gilmore is literally the Big Man On Campus, a Sierra Canyon “lifer” who has been at the school since first grade.

Gilmore has witnessed firsthand the metaphoric rise of a football program that began as an 8-man squad in 2007 and is now taking on the No. 1 team in the country in a nationally televised matchup.

“We’ve been taking steps as a program,” Gilmore said. “We beat Calabasas when they had all the big-time dudes when I was a freshman. Beating Valencia the next year was another step. Winning CIF titles and going all the way to state against really good teams the last two years were also big steps.”

Taking on St. John Bosco was like ascending the final staircase of the Burg Khalifa, a completely different stratosphere.

Yet Sierra Canyon stood tall.

Sierra Canyon scored on the opening possession of the game and trailed by just seven points at halftime before Bosco broke away for a 42-21 opening victory on March 12.

“It was an honor to be on that field. It was an honor to show that we belong with the Boscos, Mater Deis, Servites and other programs like that,” Gilmore said. “We take pride in never backing down. Coach House (Jon Ellinghouse) is going to find the best teams we can play. He believes in us, and I believe in the team.”

Sierra Canyon coach Jon Ellinghouse said Gilmore is a sort of ambassador for the football team and for the school.

“He has seen the entire evolution of the program,” Ellinghouse said. “First, he was a fan and watched us in the beginning. Now he has been part of it for the last four years. 

“He’s everything you want as a coach. Smart kid, works hard, does his job and does it well. He’s a fantastic student and he is a great young man in our high school community. He represents us well.”

Gilmore – one of four overall captains – is the ringleader of a behemoth offensive line that might be Sierra Canyon’s best-kept secret on a team of playmakers.

In addition to Gilmore, Sierra Canyon boasts Dominic Deberry (6-4, 280), Gavin Quiroz (6-2, 315), Michael Wooten (6-7, 290), Dashaun Harris (6-3, 280) and Kenji Swanson (6-7, 305) on its beefy line.

“We’re not little dudes,” Gilmore said, laughing. 

With Quiroz transferring from Alemany three years ago, Deberry transferring from Valencia two years ago and Swanson arriving this season from St. Francis, it has been Gilmore who has made sure the group is a cohesive unit.

“Jason is the heart and soul of the offensive line,” Ellinghouse said. “One of the things he does well is communicating with the other linemen.

“Against Bosco, we definitely proved we can compete against anyone, and the o-line was definitely a highlight for us. It’s something we can build around.”

Gilmore often can lead by example, as evidenced by his work in the weight room. He can squat 430 pounds, bench 265 pounds and power clean 275 pounds.

Yet Gilmore said he made sure harmony was a top priority and does a great job reaching out to his fellow linemen.

“My focus has been on bringing everyone together,” Gilmore said. “We eat together, we work out together and we bond before games. I try to get as much time together so we can have a relationship off the field too.”
Gilmore maintains a 3.7 grade-point average and said he would like to pursue a career in medicine or personal training. 

Gilmore said he has received some Division 3 recruiting interest. However Gilmore applied to Oregon State, Arizona State, Oregon, Arizona and UNLV and said becoming a walk-on “is not off the table.”

 “I love football, but football does not need to be the reason why I go to college,” GIlmore said. 

Gilmore, who is also a three-year Sierra Canyon baseball player, said he has thoroughly enjoyed the Sierra Canyon experience.

“I really like our teachers here,” Gilmore said. “With the small class sizes, we get a personal connection with them. They are not going to push you aside. They will sit down and talk with you about what’s going on. They’re always there to help.”

Gilmore said he relishes the chance to finish out his senior season after it was initially in jeopardy due to the pandemic, ready to take aim at a revitalized St. Bernard squad on Friday (March 19).

One of Gilmore’s best memories came when Sierra Canyon beat Cajon in the CIF final in his sophomore year. 

“We needed one more first down to seal it, and they gave the ball to CJ Gable,” Gilmore said. “When he got the first down, you could see me jumping up and down. We all saw it on the video.

“It was a big moment.”

A big moment in a jumbo-sized career.

Tennis team finding groove

Tennis team finding groove

The tennis courts are quietly nestled at the corner of Mason Ave. and Tulsa St. in the middle of a Chatsworth neighborhood boasting million dollar homes.

Sierra Canyon had to get creative to find a venue to host girls tennis matches for the 2021 season with limited facilities and availability due to the pandemic restrictions.

Welcome to Rancho de Caballeros, the humble temporary abode of the Sierra Canyon girls tennis team for the 2021 season.

“It’s right down the street from the school,” first-year Sierra Canyon girls tennis coach Rajeev Datt said. “We’re very fortunate that the HOA there is allowing us to play and we are fortunate to have the kids that we do. They are such good human beings.”

Sierra Canyon christened its new temporary home with a commanding 7-0 nonleague victory over Heritage Christian on March 9.

Usually high school tennis matches feature a round-robin format for singles and doubles, but with only two courts available, the teams switched to an 8-game pro-set format.

Sierra Canyon is scheduled to host Oakwood on Thursday at Rancho de Caballeros. It is part of an abbreviated nine-match schedule that also includes Campbell Hall (March 24), Oakwood again (April 13), at Heritage Christian for a rematch (April 14), at Brentwood (April 20), Viewpoint (April 22), at Windward (April 27) and at Crossroads (April 29).

Finding facilities might prove to be the biggest challenge. Home matches could be at Rancho de Caballeros or at Sierra Canyon’s usual stomping grounds at Cal State Northridge.

“It’s an unusual season,” Datt said. “I was just happy to see them in action so I could start seeing other aspects of their game instead of just hitting. This is where I will start to see their personalities and how they handle other match pressures.” 

Valeria Sanz Jones, an exchange student from Spain, made her debut at the No. 1 singles position against Heritage Christian and earned a victory.

Chloe Barakat, Kai Smith and Andie Aviv also notched singles victories.

The doubles teams of Alyssa Abulaf-Peyton Gelfuso, Mariyah Jamali-Angelina Chiang and Ella Calderon-Alexie Epstein helped finish off a clean sweep.

Datt said it was encouraging to see several multi-sport standouts try their hand at tennis.

Epstein has played volleyball and basketball at Sierra Canyon. Abulaf and Gelfuso have played soccer.

“I was impressed with all the girls,” Datt said. “All these girls are beginners. None of them have grown up playing tennis or have played in the junior circuit. The biggest focus in the process. As long as they are having fun and are loving the game, they will have a successful career.”

Boys soccer building on momentum

Boys soccer building on momentum

The buildup was slow and tenuous, like a tea kettle on a low burner.

The anticipation and anxiety had been building for the Sierra Canyon boys soccer team for nearly 13 months as the pandemic threatened the Trailblazers’ return to the field.

The referee’s starting whistle sounded like a tea kettle about to burst.

The Sierra Canyon boys soccer team unleashed its pent-up energy with a pair of commanding season-opening victories, blitzing St. Genevieve for a 7-0 nonleague victory on March 4 and trouncing a shorthanded St. Monica squad for a 10-0 nonleague win on March 8.

“The guys were excited to finally be playing again,” first-year Sierra Canyon coach Chris Bonawandt said. “They played with high energy.”

Sierra Canyon has already matched last year’s win total in just two matches.

The Trailblazers have three nonleague matches remaining – Friday against St. Genevieve again, March 23 at Paraclete and March 31 against Heritage Christian – before beginning its Gold Coast League campaign April 13 at Brentwood.

“We’re using these games to build into league,” Bonawandt said.

Sierra Canyon exhibited a strong connection in its opening matches despite limited practice time due to the pandemic and club soccer commitments.

Since the CIF Southern Section made an exception to allow athletes to compete for their high school and club teams in the same season, the high school teams and club teams are competing for practicing time in a limited time frame.

“It’s been hard to find time to have everyone together,” Bonawandt said. “We’ve tried to accommodate as much as we can, but at least all the teams are in the same boat. That’s the great equalizer.”

The scoring was fairly balanced and distributed.

Constantine Theodoratos scored the first two goals of the season against St. Genevieve, setting the tone for a runaway victory.

“He was our attacking midfielder, and he did a great job of pushing forward and creating opportunities,” Bonawandt said.

Jordan Juceam added two goals and two assists against St. Genevieve. Danny Pierce also scored twice, and Jordan Becker notched a goal.

Theodoratos and Juceam also recorded two goals apiece against St. Monica. Pierce, Becker, Vasili Fovos, Mariano Del Castillo, Dylan Nelson and Preston Gulfuso also scored goals.

“The guys were happy to be out there,” Bonawandt said. “What you saw was a free-flowing, energetic game compared to some of the stringent tactical matches we see in league. The guys were playing very free.”

The emergence of Arman Sahi was also an important storyline for Sierra Canyon.

Sahi moved from the field to fill the void at goalkeeper for Sierra Canyon and recorded a pair of shutouts, aided by strong defense from Del Castillo on the backline.

“Arman has not played competitive goalkeeper in a long time, but we got him some gloves, he jumped in and did a great job,” Bonawandt said. “He made a couple of big saves.”

Bonawandt arrived from league rival Viewpoint and is already seeing a difference from a Sierra Canyon squad that endured a 2-12-5 campaign last year.

“I’m proud of the boys,” Bonawandt said. “They are already competing well, and they deserve their success right now.”


Jordan Juceam #student first


These Roman numerals are tattooed across the chest of Sierra Canyon senior Jordan Juceam, marking the date his younger sister Hannah was taken from this world.

“I got that tattoo so I always have her on my heart,” Juceam said.

The Juceam family’s world changed forever on May 13, 2006 when the family nanny was accused of shaking 17-month-old Hannah to death.

It was an incident that garnered international news coverage. 

Yet after two mistrials, the nanny’s deportation to Mexico was the only true consequence.

“I feel that the justice system really let my family down,” Juceam said.

Yet Juceam channels this ever-present grief into a positivity that shines on a daily basis.

He is an outspoken and engaged student, someone willing to help his classmates and who draws their respect.

He is a model athlete who elevates his Sierra Canyon soccer and cross country teammates.

Ultimately Juceam was an exemplary choice for Sierra Canyon’s Student First award that honors excellence in both academics and athletics.

“Jordan has a heart of gold,” said Sergio Ribiero, a long-time family friend who served as Juceam’s Spanish teacher for three years and also his Academic Advisor. “He is so compassionate toward others. He’s a loving son, a loving brother, an amazing kid, and his parents are wonderful people.

“The kids loved him. I love him. He’s unique, special, incredibly smart and I love the fact that he’s got an active voice and is willing to speak his mind.”

Juceam credits his father Scott and his mother Lorena with building a strong foundation for himself and his twin 9-year-old siblings Emma and Ben. Scott has given hundreds of speeches to police chaplains, military academies and police academies advocating victims’ rights.

Even with Hannah’s death and Ben being diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, Juceam said he and his family have aspired to be an inspiration for others. He ultimately wants to become a lawyer.

“I never want anyone to experience what my family went through,” Juceam said. “I want to honor my sister and brother. I carry this on my shoulders. I want to continue to fight and be able to persevere. 

“I want to defend someone with the highest honor because I feel people deserve it. I want to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.”

Juceam’s academic credentials sparkle.

He maintains a 4.39 grade-point average amid a schedule loaded with advanced-placement and honors courses. He said his dream school is the University of Pennsylvania, and he has also applied to other Ivy League and UC schools.

He said he hopes to major in Sociology.

“I’m a nerd for people,” Juceam said. “Human interaction is very interesting to me, and Sociology seems like an apt pre-major for going into law.”

Juceam made the Head of School list as a freshman and the Dean’s List the past three years. 

His advanced-placement classes have included AP World History, AP Language and Culture, AP U.S. History, AP Government and Politics, AP Spanish 5 and AP Literature.

His honors classes have included geometry, Spanish 2, 3 and 4, Biology, English, Chemistry, Colloquium and Physics.

“I had him in Spanish three years in a row, and from Day 1 to the last day, he never changed. He was always focused,” Ribiero said. “He never missed a homework assignment despite his sports schedule, and he never asked for an extension or for favors, even though I had been a family friend for a long time.”

Ribiero said Juceam would animatedly call him “Señor” and that he had a Pied-Piper quality with his classmates with his contagious energy.

“During our Week of Giving in November, Jordan was one of the first ones to bring in canned goods, and he was the voice that encouraged others to bring in canned goods,” Ribiero said. “He wanted to give something bigger than himself and help others in need.

“I was honored to be his educator. I know he is going to do good things for those around him and for himself.” 

That mentality carried into athletics for Juceam, a two-sport standout at Sierra Canyon in soccer and cross country who was Sierra Canyon’s Co-Athlete of the Year as an eighth-grader.

Participating in cross country was a way for Juceam and his teammate to condition for soccer season. Yet Juceam helped Sierra Canyon earn its first trip to the CIF Southern Section finals.

“Jordan was without a doubt the ringleader,” Sierra Canyon cross country coach Troy Samuels said. “His soccer teammates were there because he was there. They showed up to 6 a.m. workouts because he did.

“And there was never any quit in Jordan. Almost every meet, you could see the anguish in his eyes around the two-mile mark, but he kept going.”

Juceam has produced a much more heralded soccer career, helping Sierra Canyon’s soccer team make the CIF Southern Section playoffs as a freshman and became the team’s Offensive Player of the Year as a sophomore.

“My confidence comes from the fact that I might not be the best player on the field, but I am going to outwork everyone out there,” Juceam said.

“I had a club coach tell me one time that I was not going to be good enough to start on his team. It was painful. I never wanted to hear that from a coach again. So I worked my (butt) off at the start of high school. I got a netted cage, goals, cones, I was training eight days a week.”

Juceam had two defining goals in his high school career.

Trailing Campbell Hall 1-0 late in the match, Juceam drew a foul in the penalty box.

“None of the seniors wanted to take the shot, so I stepped up to take it,” Juceam said. “I put the ball down, did my signature run up, the keeper went one way and I went the other.

“Usually you don’t get super excited about a tie, but we had never beaten Campbell Hall, so it was a historical moment.”

Juceam also scored a decisive goal against Viewpoint, seconds before the final whistle blew.

“That was crazy,” Juceam said. “When you do something like that for your school and the colors on your back, there is no other feeling.”

Juceam said everything he does is with his sister and brother in mind.

Therefore, Juceam said he does not take anything for granted.

“If I sit back and complain, I am not honoring the people that mean the most to me,” Juceam said.


Football season finally arrives for Harvey and the Trailblazers

Football season finally arrives for Harvey and the Trailblazers

For a moment, Sierra Canyon blue-chip football recruit D.J. Harvey was gone.
The temptation to graduate early and jumpstart his collegiate career at powerhouse Virginia Tech seemed awfully appealing, especially with the uncertainty of the pandemic and the departure of quarterback Chayden Peery, who graduated early to attend Georgia Tech.
“I was going to leave,” Harvey admitted. “I was going to go to college. But I got a sign when I was at home, working out. A voice in my head.”
It very well might have been the voice of Sierra Canyon football coach Jon Ellinghouse, who has consistently preached about the importance of tradition and leadership.
Harvey finally heard the Senior Call.
“Coach House always talked about being here for the guys and being a leader,” Harvey said. “He said to look at all the dudes before me, to look at what they did and how they helped the younger players. I wanted to be here for them.”
On Tuesday, Harvey learned he will get his chance to officially play his senior season.
Los Angeles County met the health threshold to resume youth outdoor sports, and Sierra Canyon locked in a doozy of an opening matchup on March 12 at reigning CIF Southern Section and State Open Division champion St. John Bosco in Bellflower.
It is a juggernaut matchup for a Sierra Canyon team that Ellinghouse has called potentially the best he has had in his 12-year tenure.
Ellinghouse told the Los Angeles Daily News that he envisions a 6-game season before the CIF Southern Section’s season end date of April 17.
“We’re deep,” Harvey said. “We’ve got a lot of athletes. And our guys go both ways.”
Harvey is coming off a banner season in which he caught 84 passes for 1,465 yards and 7 TDs while making 4 interceptions on defense for a Sierra Canyon team that captured CIF Southern Section and Southern California Regional titles.
Even with Peery at Georgia Tech, Harvey said he likes the potential of Sierra Canyon’s quarterback corps that includes Ryan Staub, Alonzo Contreras and St. Bonaventure transfer Danny Duran.
“All our quarterbacks are going to be involved, and they all bring something different and unique,” Harvey said.
Harvey said he has been staying sharp with his workout group that have become some of his closest friends.
Harvey said that he has had consistent workouts with Kamari Ramsey, Zeke Larry, Eli Larry, Drue Watts and JD “Quatro” Sumlin since elementary school.
“I wanted to come back for the guys and to get a better understanding of the game and myself,” Harvey said.
Harvey said he appreciates the opportunity to play for an iconic program like Virginia Tech.
“The coaches there, it’s a good atmosphere. It reminds me of the Sierra coaches,” Harvey said.
“I’m from Palmdale, and I want to represent Palmdale the right way.”

Cross-country ready for takeoff!

Cross-country ready for takeoff!

The excitement began building for Sierra Canyon junior cross country runner Isis Diaz throughout the day.

Race Day was finally upon the Sierra Canyon cross country team, and those familiar feelings began to take shape as Diaz departed for the opening Gold Coast League meet at Balboa Park.

“It felt normal at first,” Diaz said. “But when I got there, we were the only team there, the course was not set up, the clock wasn’t there and Coach Troy (Samuels) was timing everything. It was completely different.

“It was like I was just going to practice at a park.”

Instead Diaz and her teammates were arriving for a “virtual meet” where each league team participates on different days or time slots to run a designated course.

The Trailblazers were essentially racing the clock.

The times are to be recorded by each coach and uploaded in a spreadsheet.

It is apparent that cross country in 2021 is going to look and feel vastly different due to the socially distant protocols in place resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. “It definitely doesn’t have the same vibe as a normal cross country meet,” said Diaz, an all-state Division 5 runner. “But I am glad we still get to have a cross country season.”

There will be no CIF state finals. No CIF Southern Section prelims or finals. Invitationals and cluster meets have gone by the wayside for now.

There is not even any certainty that there will be a Gold Coast League finals.

Virtual meets will become more commonplace. Experimental ideas such as a “wave start” where different groups will begin racing at staggered times will also be tried for dual meets.

The dual meets are even featuring dual chutes at the finish line to minimize contact with opposing runners.

“Given the circumstances, it’s great that they can even go out and run,” Samuels said.

Samuels said training has been a stop-and-go affair.

Samuels estimated he had to shut down training four different times due to the uncertainty of the start of the season and the delays caused by the pandemic. He has mapped out individualized workouts for his runners and kept in contact via weekly Zoom calls.

“The kids are in pretty good spirits overall, however I am mentally trying to find more ways to motivate them than ever as a coach,” Samuels said. “I find myself continuing to say to the kids that we all know this is different, but we’re going to do our best to be focused, to run on our own, do our best and see where we land.”

Sierra Canyon opened the season with a Gold Coast League dual meet at Paraclete on Feb. 6, taking five of the top seven spots to beat a Paraclete team that did not have the minimum five runners required to record a final score.

Diaz covered the three-mile course in 22 minutes and 45 seconds, beating the Paraclete runner-up by 56 seconds.

Yet Diaz was nearly 4 minutes off her previous best when she set a course record at Paraclete.

“No one in the country is running close to the same times as last year – they just aren’t,” Samuels said. “I just keep telling them to do their best. They will get accustomed to this new season.”

Junior Alissa Pfeffer (fourth), junior Celia Vaughn (fifth), junior Stavani Khanal (sixth), junior Viktoria Balvin (seventh), sophomore Alissa Evangelista (ninth) and freshman Anya Jones (10th) formed the rest of the Sierra Canyon pack. Sophomore Victoria Popescu and senior Jacob Chong have been pushing the Trailblazers during training runs too.

Sierra Canyon, usually reliant on athletes from other sports to field its boys cross country team, does not have enough runners to field a boys team this year.

“From start to finish, it’s really difficult to get after it in a race when no one is on your shoulder or you are not on someone’s shoulder,” Samuels said. “But given the circumstances, it’s great for them to go out and run.”

The results of the virtual race at Woodley Park are still being tabulated.

Then there are three Gold Coast League dual meets remaining on Sierra Canyon’s abbreviated schedule. Sierra Canyon hosts Crossroads this Thursday (Feb. 18), Viewpoint on  Feb. 24 and Campbell Hall on March 3 at Limeklin Park.

The Gold Coast League finals are tentatively scheduled for March 10, but the league schools will try to determine the best course of action while consulting guidelines from the high school governing body and state health officials.

Diaz knows this season will take a different mentality, especially without the adrenaline of a traditional race.

“It’s definitely different not to have someone right there pushing you,” Diaz said. “I am going to try to imagine someone is in front of me or right behind me.

“I just have to motivate myself.”


Lindsay Sobel #studentfirst She is a Sierra Canyon Lifer, a non-profit founder, and a force of nature …

Lindsay Sobel #studentfirst She is a Sierra Canyon Lifer, a non-profit founder, and a force of nature in the classroom and on the volleyball court

The annual Sierra Canyon Ars Poetica competition immediately captured Lindsay Sobel’s attention as an eighth grader.

Determined to be one of the 10 finalists to perform her poem in front of the student body, Sobel did not hold back.

Sobel chose Robert Browning’s “The Last Duchess.” It is the Black Diamond of poetry, a Category 5 of a choice compared to the shorter and safer selections of some of her classmates.

“I really wanted to challenge and push myself,  so I went with a very difficult poem,” Sobel said. “It was hard to learn, and it took a long time. It was pretty nerve-wracking actually, but I wanted to push myself to my limits and I wanted to impress my teacher.”

“The Last Duchess” features 28 rhyming couplets of iambic pentameter that serves as one of the most complex and layered pieces of poetry to understand, let alone perform. 

“We weren’t dealing with Meryl Streep here,” Sierra Canyon English and Literature teacher Victoria Zielinski said.

It was ambitious. It was daring. It was vintage Sobel.

Bit by bit, Sobel chipped away at this behemoth. Sobel said she memorized about 5-10 lines per night and visited Zielinski during her free period to work on her delivery, performance and understanding.

Ultimately Sobel earned her spot to perform in front of the school.

“I never expected her to be a finalist, but I don’t know why I ever doubted her – she absolutely nailed it,” Zielinski said. “She hit it out of the park with a really difficult piece of poetry, but that’s just the kind of person she is.

“I will never forget looking at her during that performance – it was such a powerful thing.”

Just like her Ars Poetica performance, Sobel has been a tour de force in high school.

Sobel, a junior, is described as one of the most engaging and thought-provoking students in her classes. She has established herself as a viable contributor on Sierra Canyon’s vaunted girls volleyball team and has even started her own charity.

Sobel is the personification of Sierra Canyon’s Student First award that celebrates excellence in academics and athletics.

“She does not settle for anything less than an ‘A’ or anything less than her best,” Zielinski said. “It does not come effortlessly. She has really worked for it. She’s all about excellence.”

Sobel is one of 20 Sierra Canyon “lifers” in the current class of 2022, who have attended the school since kindergarten.

Her grandfather is Sierra Canyon Co-Founder Howard Wang. Her father is Assistant Athletic Director David Sobel.

Yet Sobel blazes her own path as a Trailblazer.

“Sometimes people think there’s entitlement there, but Lindsay works for everything,” Sierra Canyon girls volleyball coach Stefanie Wigfall said. “She takes advantage of the opportunities that she has. She’s also realistic about where she is and where she needs to improve. She’s willing to put in the hard work day in and day out.”

Sobel maintains a 4.74 grade-point average amid a bevy of advanced-placement and honors courses. She made the Head of School every semester – the highest level of academic recognition at Sierra Canyon.

“To be in her presence and to feel that energy, it requires a lot of energy that that teacher has to give back,” Zielinski said. “She will not be satisfied with an answer that is confusing or vague. She is a hard worker, and she is receptive to criticism.

“If her initial paper is not where she wants it to be, she takes the comments and rewrites the paper. She will ask for a special conference about it. She will rewrite and rewrite until she gets it right. 

“She’s a real pleasure to teach.”

Sobel said her dream is to attend UCLA or an Ivy League school. She said she is interested in pursuing a career in environmental studies or criminal justice.

“Every year I go to an Escape Room for my birthday,” Sobel said. “I like putting the pieces together, which goes well with law enforcement or the FBI.”

Sobel also started her own charity at age 13. 

Her charity Shoes For Souls aims to shoe the homeless and has collected nearly 30,000 pairs of shoes, including 4,000 pairs since the pandemic started.

Sobel has launched her own website at www.shoesforsouls.com. She has been named a KNX 1070 NewsRadio Hero of the Week and has also receivied recognition from Spectrum News, the Los Angeles Daily News and other local media outlets as well as being named Chatsworth Youth of the Year.

“I like giving back to the community,” Sobel said. “I want to make a difference.”

Sobel’s rise in athletics is similar to her rise in theatrics, particularly breaking in with Sierra Canyon’s program that is ranked among the state’s best every year. Sierra Canyon is the 2016 and 2017 CIF champions and a 2017 state champion.

Making this squad requires a high level of ability and experience.

Yet Sobel carved out a key role as one of the team’s setters on Sierra Canyon teams that has won six consecutive Gold Coast League Championships. 

“It has been great to see her improve and really earn that spot. She works to get to that level,” Wigfall said. “We have girls who have that courtesy spot – and they are great people, great individuals, girls with great energy. But that’s not Lindsay. She worked her way to a respectable level on our team, and that’s such a huge accomplishment.”

Sobel is often described as family-centric and has had tremendous family support throughout her life.

Sobel seems to thrive, especially with her father on-campus every day in a high-profile role. 

“A lot of her success is a testament to her parents,” Wigfall said. “But her and David’s relationship is one of the most special father-daughter relationships. He supports her and believes in her, and allows her to believe in herself. Her mom does too obviously, but it is great to see that father-daughter connection.”

Sobel seems poised for greatness. And like her “The Last Duchess” monologue, Sobel is fully committed to every endeavor.

“The distance she came to master that text was much more impressive and powerful than someone who had trained for it,” Zielinski said. “When you see someone come out of their box and invoke their passion like that, it’s a very cool thing.

“It’s why we become teachers.”