Baseball season cut short
By Tony Ciniglio
Sierra Canyon ace pitcher Jaden Noot fired 94 mph smoke. Grace Brethren ace Josh Swales blistered the radar gun with 96 mph strikes.
Every pitch seemed to be magnified in front of approximately 18-20 scouts who converged on Sierra Canyon’s picturesque baseball field to watch this heated pitching matchup.
Sierra Canyon prevailed 3-2 in a matchup that lived up to the billing, the highlight of Sierra Canyon’s 7-1 start and the pinnacle to Coach Jerry Royster’s promising first season that was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That was special,” Royster said. “It was fun to watch. Their team said the same thing. To watch our guys compete against a pitcher like that … they got to see what a polished draft pick looks like.”
Sierra Canyon finished No. 7 in the final CIF Southern Section Division 2 poll.
Sierra Canyon recorded victories over St. Bonaventure, Dos Pueblos and Cleveland and even snuck in Gold Coast League victories over Campbell Hall (twice) and Viewpoint.
Its lone loss came to Marmonte League power Thousand Oaks.
Royster, a 12-year Major League veteran who also has Major League managerial experience, said he had one major goal when he joined the Sierra Canyon program as an assistant coach three years ago: produce next-level athletes.
Royster said Sierra Canyon has a strong class of seniors who will play college baseball next year.
“The program has always had success here, but we were not producing a lot of frontline baseball players,” said Royster, who began his career with the Dodgers. “Our goal was to get them off to college baseball. Going through this process with these families was amazing. I wanted to cry, but obviously not in front of the players.”
Center fielder Max Nahmias will play for Northern Colorado. Third baseman Anthony Ciccarelli will play at Cal Lutheran. Shortstop Bleu Ellis will play for George Fox University in Oregon. First baseman and pitcher Luca Rubin will play at Babson University in Boston.
Royster said outfielder Zach Freeman and second baseman Aaron Gutierrez are weighing offers. Freeman is perhaps the best prospect of the seniors.
“These seniors really accomplished something special,” Royster said. “I feel bad for the seniors who won’t be able to finish off their season and display their skills on a team that was destined to be one of the best in school history.
“I’m hoping that we will be able to get together at some point, celebrate their accomplishments and have one final day together again.”
Sierra Canyon boasted a star-heavy pitching staff.
Noot, a sophomore, is an University of Oregon recruit who went 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA, 19 strikeouts and six walks in 17 innings.
Kassius Thomas, a sophomore, is a Duke recruit who went 1-1 with 10 strikeouts and six walks in 7 1-3 innings. Junior Bryce Bond also provided Sierra Canyon with a high caliber arm.
“Our pitching definitely carried us,” Royster said.
Freeman sizzled to a hot start, batting .556 with a homer, five RBIs and seven runs scored. Max Martin hit .545 with eight RBIs. Gutierrez batted .444 with a homer and seven runs scored.
Royster also praised catchers Ryan Mittleman and Shane McClendon.
“All of these guys played so well – I was so proud of how they all were getting after it,” Royster said.
Royster said Sierra Canyon also benefited from bringing in iconic Chatsworth High coach Tom Meusborn onto the staff as an associate head coach.
Muesborn turned Chatsworth into a national power and helped develop future Major Leaguers Mike Moustakas, Matt Dominguez, Bryan Petersen and Josh Ravin.
“He added a lot to our program, and we learned a lot about preparation from him,” Royster said. “All the kids were locking into practice. It was a lot of fun to go to the field and watch these kids get better every day.”
Peery staying focused during unexpected break
By Tony Ciniglio
Zoom team meetings. Virtual recruiting. Isolated workouts.
This is the new normal for Sierra Canyon senior-to-be quarterback Chayden Peery during these unprecedented COVID-19 times.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Peery said he has found a routine to help him push forward both in his recruiting process and toward Sierra Canyon’s Aug. 21 kickoff at JSerra, even with the world in a COVID-19 standstill.
“At some point, this is going to end,” Peery said. “We’re going to be able to play football on the field again.”
“We have to stay positive. We have to keep preparing. We need to stay in shape and do what we can so we are ready to go when it is normal again.”
Sierra Canyon is coming off a banner season in which it captured the CIF Southern Section Division 2 crown with a commanding victory over Chaminade. It also beat Helix in the Regional Bowl before falling to Central High of Fresno in the state final.
With the usual 7 on 7 passing tournaments and showcases off limits due to COVID-19, Coach Jon Ellinghouse has kept the Sierra Canyon players focused with individualized workouts.
And of course the daily 3:30 team video conference meetings on Zoom.
“Our meetings help us talk football and stay fresh mentally,” Peery said. “It’s pretty interactive, like a normal film session. Coach even shares his screen with the whole team so we can be even more prepared.”
Peery has made sure to get his daily workouts in as well.
Peery, a Lake Castaic resident, works out with his receiver Daniel Prado in nearby Valencia, with proper social distancing and safety protocols of course.
Prado has a gym setup in his family garage.
“Our coach has us working out, and we’ll send him a video so he knows we are putting in the work,” Peery said. “It’s not just playing video games.”
Peery is fresh off a stellar individual campaign where he threw for 3,401 yards, 18 touchdowns and just one interception on 236 of 393 passing. He also rushed for five more touchdowns.
Peery said he has 20 Division 1 offers on the table. His first offer came from the University of Nevada. Peery also said that Kansas, Michigan State, Syracuse and Duke are among his suitors.
“I want to try to narrow down my list in the next month,” Peery said.
Recruiting has taken a different turn to due COVID-19 precautions.
Since college coaches and recruiters are unable to see Peery in person and Peery is unable to visit campuses during the nationwide lockdown, Peery has gotten creative during his recruiting process.
Peery has taken to FaceTime calls and texting to strike a personal connection and has made videos of him throwing that he uploads to Twitter.
“Most coaches are pretty understanding. We’re all in the same boat,” Peery said. “There are some coaches that remain concrete, who won’t offer without seeing someone live or without a college visit. But we’re all adjusting.”
Peery will be the ringleader.
Peery, who will be a rare four-year starter, is 34-9 in three seasons at Sierra Canyon, throwing for 7,972 yards, 50 touchdowns and 17 interceptions while adding 16 rushing touchdowns. He guided Sierra Canyon to back-to-back CIF titles and Regional bowl victories in 2018 and 2019 and would love to cap his career with a state title.
Just as he is in the pocket, Peery is exuding cool under this COVID-19 pressure.
“It’s not been too bad to be honest,” Peery said. “I’m still getting in my football work, but I have been spending more time with family and I have had a lot more free time to do other things as well.”
Esports “Rocketing” to next level
By Tony Ciniglio
The moment was surreal.
Students, teachers, administrators and other school coaches converged on the once-pedestrian Publications Room at Sierra Canyon to support the burgeoning Sierra Canyon eSports team, which has seen exponential growth in just its second season.
There was a buzz. There was electricity. There was … shushing?
“Our Pocket League guys like it quiet,” said Javy Martinez, who is the Sierra Canyon eSports co-coach with Julie Ahring. “But the room was packed. It was like, holy cow, we actually had an atmosphere.”
Like it does for its other competitive teams, Sierra Canyon came out in droves to support the eSports team in its state semifinal against St. Ignatius in January.
The Publications Room on the first floor of the main building had been transformed into the eSports Room, upgraded with top-of-the-line computers and monitors along the walls, luminous lighting and a monitor for those wanting to watch the match.
Though Sierra Canyon lost to St. Ignatius to end the fall major, it set the stage for a strong 6-2 start in the spring major.
Since that fateful semifinal, the eSports team has been drawing a crowd to its weekly Thursday contests as it has become a popular on-campus destination.
“We’re on a roll lately,” Martinez said.
Martinez said Sierra Canyon started with five players in its first year.
That number has expanded to 17 players who make a commitment to one day of practice and one day of competition per week.
Using the CIF-approved Play Vs. platform, Sierra Canyon competes in three different games – Rocket League, Minecraft and Super Smash Bros – and receive one point for winning that game.
Rocket League and Super Smash Bros. require teams of three players. Minecraft is survival mode and can be played individually.
Realistically they could compete from home, but Martinez said he likes the idea of the camaraderie from competing together. He also implores his players to take a no-prisoner approach to scoring points to help with potential tiebreakers.
“I try to bring a competitive edge to the team,” said Martinez, who has served as a boys volleyball coach at Buckley, Oakwood, La Jolla Country Day and Milken.
Martinez said he and Ahring try to organize their group into three units – the alpha team, the beta team and the delta team.
The alpha team – featuring Tommy Wynne, Spencer Clark and Matthew Levine – is considered the top group. All three players compete in Rocket League, and they are currently the No. 1 ranked Rocket League team in California.
“Our alpha players, they do five pushups for every goal they give up,” Martinez said. “It’s kind of funny watching them – they’re not exactly the strongest kids – but I’ll go down and do some pushups with them too. We’re all in this together.”
The beta team of Ben Kushnir, Ethan Sarris and Eden Ornstein – the only girl player among the top 9 – is considered the No. 2 team.
Martinez said his delta team has been surpassing expectations and can challenge both the alpha and beta teams. Pierre Baza, Lance Matthies and Asher Gottlieb have been the ringleaders for the delta team.
After not having a girl on last year’s inaugural team, there are three this year. In addition to Ornstein, Haylie Hernandez (Minecraft) and Uma Desai (Super Smash Bros.) are also part of the team fabric.
“These are all good kids and good students,” Martinez said. “The seniors are going to really good schools. It defies the stereotype that it takes up all their time. They do their work. They get good grades. Julie and I are really trying to pump up these kids.”
Martinez said the team has been trying to raise its profile around school through the daily bulletin and word-of-mouth.
Martinez said he received six new signups for Overwatch. The team is going to host a school-wide NBA 2K Tournament with prizes for the champion.
“The hype is real,” Martinez said.
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
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
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.”
SIERRA CANYON GETS NO. 2 SEED IN DIVISION 4
By Jacob H. Pollon
Sierra Canyon Athletics Dept.
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)
SIERRA CANYON BOYS AND GIRLS NO. 1 IN SO. SEC. OPEN DIV. PLAYOFFS, AGAIN
By Jacob H. Pollon
Sierra Canyon Athletics Dept.
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