Girls teams have a banner year, winning state crown and 5 league championships

The 2021-22 athletic season might go down as one of the most memorable in Sierra Canyon’s proud history.

It was the return from the pandemic. It was the final hurrah in the Gold Coast League before moving next season to the Mission League.

And it was Sierra Canyon continuing to assert itself as an athletic juggernaut.

“It was nice to be back and in full swing – we missed it,” Sierra Canyon Athletic Director Rock Pillsbury said.

Sierra Canyon put together another impressive all-around athletic campaign, particularly from its girls programs.

The banner season came from the girls basketball team, which captured the program’s fourth CIF state crown while re-establishing itself as one of the nation’s premier programs.

The storybook season came from the girls soccer team, which claimed the Gold Coast League title and made a stirring run to the CIF Southern Section final in the first year without long-time coach Kristy Walker.

Distance runner Isis Diaz turned in an impressive individual effort, earning all-state honors in cross country while bringing home a CIF Southern Section track and field title in the 800 meters.

Overall, Sierra Canyon athletic teams brought home nine Gold Coast League championships in its Gold Coast League swan song, including girls basketball, girls soccer, softball and girls cross country.

“The Gold Coast League was great. If we didn’t win, we were close, and that was exciting,” Pillsbury said. “I think we are going to find out that the Gold Coast League was tough in many different sports.”

The girls basketball team produced a sparkling 30-2 campaign behind Juju Watkins, Mackenly Randolph and Leia Edwards.

Sierra Canyon, under venerable coach Alicia Komaki, avenged its loss to Etiwanda in the CIF Southern Section Open Division semifinals with a 60-51 victory in the Southern California Regionals, providing a culmination to an impressive story arc.

Sierra Canyon routed Archbishop Mitty in the state final 85-61.

The girls soccer team produced a 19-4-1 campaign behind Maya Bowens and Viktoria Balvin that included a Gold Coast League title, then it dispatched Highland, 2-0, Westminster, 2-1, Mayfair 1-1 (PK shootout victory) and Arcadia 1-0 before dropping a hard-fought 1-0 decision to Hemet.

“It was great that the girls basketball team was able to come back and beat Etiwanda – that was a great moment for them,” Pillsbury said. “And the girls soccer team was fun to watch. After Coach Walker left, I don’t think anyone expected them to win league and do what they did in the playoffs. It was a great year for them.”

The girls volleyball team extended its Gold Coast League winning streak to 70 matches and posted a 24-8 record before running into Mater Dei in the second round of the CIF playoffs and Harvard-Westlake in the Southern California Regional final.

The softball team put together a 15-5 record and won a league title before dropping a first-round playoff decision to a tough Sunny Hills squad. Sophomores Hailey Shuler and Izzy Mertes are building a strong foundation for the softball team.

Diaz capped a storied cross country career by placing 10th at the CIF State finals to earn all-state honors and then capturing the CIF Southern Section Division 4 girls title in the 800 meters at 2 minutes and 15.47 seconds.

“That was a nice way to cap her career,” Pillsbury said.

Pillsbury credited Associate Athletic Director Katie Hanks for handling COVID testing for the athletes throughout the year and making sure Sierra Canyon athletes were eligible to compete this season.

“She did a great job testing the athletes all year,” Pillsibury said. “The testing was rigorous, and we appreciate her efforts. She was like our nurse out there.”

 

Boys teams win 4 league championships this season

 

The bar has been set high for Sierra Canyon’s athletic program.

With 12 CIF state championships and 16 CIF Southern Section titles, Sierra Canyon has transformed from a small-school power into a potent athletic behemoth.

The high-profile basketball team is a regular on national broadcasts and continues to take on upper echelon competition. The football and baseball teams continued to thrive against the premier programs in the state.

“There is always a lot of pressure when the goal is to be a national program,” Sierra Canyon Athletic Director Rock Pillsbury said. “Expectations get altered, and you get spoiled.”

Looking back on its 2021-22 season, Sierra Canyon can take pride as it maintained its powerhouse status.

In a year of uncertainty returning from the pandemic, Sierra Canyon began its transition from the Gold Coast League to the Mission League next season.

Though the Sierra Canyon boys programs did not win a state or CIF Southern Section title, it competed at the highest levels.

Overall, Sierra Canyon athletic teams brought home nine league championships in its Gold Coast League curtain call, including boys league titles for football, basketball, baseball and lacrosse that set up deep postseason runs against cutthroat competition.

“We didn’t win as many CIF titles as we normally do, but we were ultra competitive at the highest levels, and that’s what I want as a program,” Pillsbury said.

The move to the Mission League should help boost Sierra Canyon in terms of profile and competition.

It is a move that had been in the works for a long time, and Pillsbury said he is excited about the prospects.

“I think us moving will be like Texas and Oklahoma moving from the Big 12 to the SEC,” Pillsbury said. “We want to thank our friends in the Gold Coast League – we had a good 14 or 15 years together. We are excited to see what the future holds for us in the Mission League.”
The high-profile boys basketball program boasted a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans UCLA-bound Amari Bailey and USC-bound Kijani Wright. That gives Sierra Canyon four McDonald’s All-Americans in its history.

The boys basketball team posted a 26-5 record that advanced to the Southern California Regional finals before falling to eventual state champion Corona Centennial, avenging a CIF Southern Section playoff loss to Harvard-Westlake along the way.

The Trailblazers also made their mark against national competition once again while maintaining a heavy travel load with tournaments or showcases in San Diego, Ft. Worth, Texas, Phoenix, Hawaii, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Chicago.

“We probably traveled too much this year. I’ve learned you are not always going to find the magic every year, but it was still a good season,” Pillsbury said.

The football team continued to impress at a high level, posting a 7-5 record amidst a backbreaking schedule while advancing to the CIF Southern Section semifinals before a wild 42-40 semifinal loss to Orange Lutheran.

Sierra Canyon also had a large continent on Signing Day with Kamari Ramsey (UCLA), Mike Wooten (Oregon), Kenji Swanson (Stanford), Daniel Adimisoye (Tulsa), Caden Harman (Army) and Ezekiel Larry (Yale).

Coach Jon Ellinghouse continues to have his program take on some of the state’s top programs.

Its victories were eye-openers against JSerra (twice), Oaks Christian, Norco, Westlake and Vista Murrieta. It also represented well in losses to elite programs Corona Centennial, Servite, Mission Viejo and Saguaro, Ariz.

“Their schedule will actually get a little easier when they move to the Mission League,” Pillsbury said. “We took on all comers, and that’s hard, but they continued to represent us well.”

The baseball team produced a 26-4 record against stiff competition to bring home a league title before suffering a second-round playoff loss to Garden Grove Pacifica.

It was Coach Jerry Royster’s final season with the program. Associate coach Tom Muesborn, the former iconic Chatsworth High baseball coach, will take over a program that is producing blue-chippers and disciplined teams.

Seniors Jaden Noot (LSU commit) and Thomas Kassius (Duke commit) certainly brought a blue-chip presence, drawing hoards of scouts to the games on a regular basis. Both are expected to be early-round draft picks in July’s Major League Baseball Draft.

The lacrosse team took on a tough schedule as well and racked up a 10-5 record before getting a challenging first-round draw against St. Margaret’s.

Golfer Zydon Yuan advanced to the CIF Individuals Tournament in a stellar freshman campaign.

The boys soccer team – a year removed from winning its first CIF Southern Section title, produced a solid 13-5-2 record. It produced a 1-0 wild-card victory over Pioneer in the CIF Southern Section playoffs and  upended Tri-Valley League champion St. Bonaventure 3-0 in the first round before falling to Arroyo 1-0 in the second round.

“Our boys teams beat some good programs during the regular season, and we had some good records,” Pillsbury said. 

“The fact that we got this full year in for this year’s seniors was special, especially since they missed their sophomore season due to the pandemic.”

Royster retires, Sierra Canyon promotes Tom Meusborn to head coach for baseball

 

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

JUNE 2, 2022

 

CHATSWORTH, CA. — Sierra Canyon School is pleased to announce the promotion of Tom Meusborn as head coach for baseball.  Meusborn was the Associate Head Baseball coach for the Trailblazers.

Meusborn replaces Jerry Royster, who will retire after playing 15 seasons in Major League Baseball and managing two professional baseball teams.  While at Sierra Canyon, he led the Trailblazers to an overall record of 70-24-1 and two Gold Coast League Championships.

“It was truly an honor and privilege to work alongside Coach Royster.  His unique ability to prepare players, both mentally and physically to compete daily was fun to watch,” said Meusborn.

Meusborn, currently the Associate Head Baseball Coach at Sierra Canyon for the past three seasons brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to Sierra Canyon. Prior to coaching at Sierra Canyon, Meusborn recently coached at Chatsworth High School, where he built a national powerhouse in two separate stints at the school since 1990.

“Sierra Canyon provides all the resources necessary for students to achieve their goals, both in the classroom and on the fields,” Meusborn said.  “I am excited to be the head coach at a school that has such a proud and successful culture.  I cannot wait to get started.”

Meusborn brings lofty credentials to the new position. Teams coached by Meusborn have won 677 games, 22 West Valley League championships and eight L.A. City Section championships. In addition, he has made 16 appearances at Dodger Stadium for championship games. Meusborn’s 2003 and 2004 teams were mythical national champions with a two-year combined record of 68-1.

Next year, the Trailblazers will head into a much more competitive league, the Mission League.  In a league with perennial powers, Harvard-Westlake and Notre Dame, it will certainly raise the bar for the Trailblazers.

“Going into the Mission League gives us a great opportunity to play very good schools on a weekly basis,” Meusborn said.  “The league will help with the growth and development of our program.  We are poised for the challenges ahead of us.”

Meusborn has been instrumental in the development of Major League baseball players Mike Moustakas, Matt Dominguez, Bryan Petersen, Josh Ravin as well as countless others that have gone onto college and professional careers. Moustakas won a World Series championship with the Kansas City Royals.

Sierra Canyon athletic director Rock Pillsbury commented on the hiring of Meusborn:

“I have been admiring Tom and what he accomplished at Chatsworth High ever since I came to California,” Pillsbury said.  “The past three years I have been able to see him up close and personal and have been even more impressed.  I am looking forward to what he can do for us.”

 

Edwards finds success in the United States

The allure of playing for a powerhouse American girls basketball program like Sierra Canyon certainly appealed to British star Leia Edwards.

Yet her first year presented some challenges.

Not only did Edwards have to contend with being homesick and away from her family, she also had to quickly adjust to a faster and more athletic American brand of basketball.

“It was really different here than in England,” Edwards said. “The skill level was very different. It took a while to adapt to everything.”

Yet Edwards is beginning to see her decision to come to the States pay dividends.

Following a monster performance in the CIF state title game that helped Sierra Canyon capture its fifth state title, Edwards returned home and delivered three commanding performances to help England capture the Four Nations Tournament at Cardiff University in Wales.

Edwards brought that Sierra Canyon swagger back to England.

“It speaks volumes on how much she developed at Sierra Canyon,” said Sierra Canyon assistant coach Steve Vear, a former Great Britain U-16 national coach. “She went home and showed people how much she improved this year.”

Edwards represented England at the Four Nations Tournament that serves as a showcase for forming the overall Great Britain national team that will compete at international tournaments over the summer.

Great Britain pulls players from all four countries represented at the Four Nations Tournament.

Edwards, the youngest player on the England team, earned Tournament MVP honors after averaging 11.7 points, 15.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists in three games.

“She has a huge shot at making both the 16s and the 18s team this summer,” Vear said.

Edwards helped England top Scotland, 81-42, Ireland 80-65 and tournament host Wales 79-72 in the final. In fact, she hit a 3-pointer in the closing seconds to seal the victory over Wales.

“Because I have been playing basketball in the States, I thought there was going to be a lot of pressure on me, so I wanted to have fun,” said Edwards, who had nine points, 23 rebounds and four assists against Wales. “We did a lot of dancing and singing after we won. We were just being silly.”

Edwards said her mother, father and brother came to Wales to support her. Other family members watched live-streams of the games.

It was a good time to reconnect after spending the school year on her own in the United States, where she had to adjust to a new lifestyle and a different basketball pace.

“A 15-year-old kid away from her parents and younger brother and the time zone difference, it took a toll,” Vear said. “She had problems with her knees because COVID shut everything down in the UK and then she came here with Coach (Alicia) Komaki’s very strenuous practices. And we lost time when the team came down with COVID after our Alaska trip.

“It was a roller coaster season, but we needed her in the state final against Mitty because they were such a big team. And she ended the season well.”

The 6-foot Edwards prides herself on her gritty defense, rebounding and strong passing.

Edwards found her groove in the state final against Mitty, scoring 12 points while providing that physical presence Sierra Canyon needed to close out its state title run.

“I felt more like myself,” Edwards said. “My sleep pattern was the biggest adjustment here. And I lost confidence and was going downhill a bit. But playing here at this level prepares you for a lot of things.

“I felt I made strides. It’s the fact I got into shape and just the people I train with and the people I play against. You can adapt to different situations thrown at you. I got my confidence back at the state final.”

 

Equestrian team excels this season

Equestrian team excels this season

Freshman equestrian Lucy Russell pushed past her own comfort level to compete in new categories.

Sophomore equestrian Liliana Gerber powered past a painful fall and subsequent recovery.

Together they propelled Sierra Canyon to an impressive fourth-place finish in the Interscholastic Equestrian League out of 71 schools at Hansen Dam for the 2021-22 school year.

Talk about some serious horsepower, especially for a team of just two riders to take on schools with much larger rosters.

“It felt rewarding,” Gerber said. “It was a little stagnant during COVID when there were no shows, so it felt good to be back out there. I felt we had a good chance, especially with Lucy. She’s such a great rider.

“It felt like we accomplished something.”

Giddyup

Russell’s plan was simple: rack up as many points as possible.

With the IEL featuring four different divisions – Jumper, Hunter, Equitation and Dressage – Russell decided to try to take on the gauntlet of competing in all four divisions.

That required two different horses to handle that workload. Which meant two different horses to train in-between shows.

“It was definitely to get experience in different classes, but it was mostly for the points,” Russell said.

Since the IEL scores are based on the culmination of points over three shows, the decision to compete in all four divisions created ample scoring opportunities for Russell.

There are also four different levels for the height of the jumps – Novice (2 feet), Freshman (2-6, JV (3-0) and Varsity (3-6).

Russell, the individual Novice champion as a seventh grader, emerged as the JV champion by placing in almost every division over the course of three shows.

Russell emerged with a massive individual trophy and a colorful blue-and-yellow ribbon to add to her growing collection.

“The idea was to do all the classes without tiring the horses,” Russell said. “Even if I didn’t win a division, I was still earning points. We were definitely gunning for the points.”

With her gelding horse Golden Boy (or “GB”), Russell scored points in the Jumper and Hunter division.

The Jumper division is based on timing around an obstacle course. The Hunter division is focused on the horse and how it moves and jumps and features judges.

“I had not ridden GB for that long – just a few months – so it was a good experience to ride a newer horse for me and test those waters,” Russell said. “He was fantastic and had some nice  movements.”

Then Russell expanded her comfort zone with her mare Nellie, garnering points in the Equitation and Dressage divisions despite being relatively new in these divisions.

Equitation focuses on a rider’s position and a rider’s ability to ride smoothly.

Dressage is considered the purest form of horse training where the horse and rider perform a series of pre-determined movements from memory.

“Nellie was very obedient and easy to ride – that’s what helps in a category like Dressage,” Russell said. “It helps to be able to direct your horse the way to go with the smoothness you need.

“Even though I was not familiar with Dressage, I knew my horse and her quirks, and that made it easier for me.”

Russell’s dedication showed when she trained both horses simultaneously leading to the IEL season.

“I was at the barn pretty much every day,” Russell said. “It isn’t a full-service barn. I show up, take them out, clean them off, put their gear on and ride. Sometimes they need a shower or a brush off. If they’re cold, I put blankets on. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it.

“I was very lucky. Both are good horses.”

Back in the saddle

Gerber focused solely on the Jumpers division and produced three clean runs that also produced some key points for Sierra Canyon.

For Gerber, it was a bit of redemption.

In June of 2021, Gerber suffered a Stage 4 concussion after a serious fall on her American warmblood horse Angelonia that sidelined her for the next six weeks. It then took her an additional six weeks to build her riding back up.

Luckily Angelonia – or “Annie” to her friends – was relatively unharmed.

“She was fine – just her knee was scraped. But it took me a little while to get back in the saddle and back in shape,” Gerber said. “She’s very special to me. She’s been there since I was young. I trust her. There’s not another horse I trust with my life.”

Despite the three-month hiatus, Gerber produced a quality performance in her first IEL of the season.

Gerber and Annie hit no obstacles on the 3-0 foot JV level and produced a quality time.

“It was a good clean round,” Gerber said. “I was very proud of that show. It was nice to be back and feeling good.”

Gerber has been riding Annie for the past four years. She admitted she was concerned about her connection to Annie toward the end of the IEL season.

Annie put those fears to rest with a resounding final performance of the season, the cleanest and quickest time of the season to help Sierra Canyon produce the fourth-place finish.

“We had been going through a rough patch – I’m not sure if our partnership had gone stale. There were communication issues,” Gerber said. “But she blew it out of the water.

“It was the best she performed in a long time. The light after the storm. It was very rewarding.”

Russell said Gerber’s consistency was her trademark.

“She is an amazing rider and has done a lot of shows and training,” Russell said. “And she had some really good performances for us.”