It was the kind of race that could serve as a tone-setter for the Sierra Canyon track and field season.
Senior Jake Goldman – the program’s top returner – took off from the blocks.
Sophomore Terrell Cooks Jr. took the baton for the second leg and handed off to senior D’Shaun Jones for the third leg. Senior Kamari Ramsey then anchored the 400-meter relay team to a nonleague victory over Castaic High School.
“That was fun,” Daniels said.
Maybe even more impressive is that this group nearly broke a school record that has stood for a decade in its first time together.
There was a new vibe. A sense of excitement. A different dimension.
Daniels was excited to have at least 13 members of the school’s vaunted football program participating and making an immediate impact, adding a new wrinkle to an highly anticipated season that already includes the reemergence of star distance runner Isis Diaz and a school record by the girls 1,600-meter relay team.
“We have a number of football players who have come out to run this year, and it’s a big difference,” Daniels said. “They’re all sprint types. We haven’t had this kind of turnout for a few years.
“Honestly I was considering stepping down after the season, but it is kind of revitalizing me.”
Goldman, Cooks, Jones and Ramsey combined to clock a time of 43.73 seconds against Castaic, nearly eclipsing the 2012 school record of 43.48 set by Xavier Menifield, Danny Jordan, James Zidell and Ben Poretzky.
Daniels said that was also the last time the track and field program had as many football players come out and compete.
“They are capable of running 42s, and that will take them a long way in Division 4,” Daniels said.
Daniels said football coach Jon Ellinghouse approached him about the idea of the football players joining this year’s squad.
So far it has been a good fit.
“I tell them if they come to work, I guarantee they will feel a difference on the ball field,” Daniels said. “Every football player who has gone through our program has felt a difference.”
A second 400-meter relay squad of Jae’on Young, Jai Bell, Darryl West III and Alexander Bowens took third place in the same race against Castaic. All four of those runners are football players.
Cameron Brandt, Cooper Davis, Salahi Newsom and Dane Dunn are also out from the football team. Daniels said some linemen are expected to come out for the throws soon too.
Goldman is the non-football player of the group and is the top returning long jumper. Goldman has recorded a mark of 19 feet, 8 inches early this season, and Daniels said he is capable of 22 feet. Goldman also ranks among the top three fastest in the program.
Cooks might be the most decorated among the football players, having recorded marks of 11.06 and 11.13. Daniels said about 4-5 runners are already under 11.3 in the 100 meters and have had strong 200-meter performances too.
Daniels said he expects his 1,600-meter relay team to be “formidable” with more time together.
Daniels credited sprint coach Keith Stenthouse for helping the football players find their footing quickly.
“They have all heard my motto by now,” Daniels said. “I like to say, ‘Why don’t we come out and shock a whole lot of people, work hard and have fun.’ And that’s what we’re doing.”
Isis’ swan song
This track season will serve as a culmination to a banner career for Diaz, who already owns four school records.
Diaz has already rediscovered her form from her freshman campaign when she was a top-10 state performer in cross country and advanced to the CIF Southern Section Masters Meet in track and field.
In the fall, Diaz made a strong postseason push to return to the podium in cross country with a 10th-place finish at the CIF state finals.
Diaz is already picking up the pace in track and field.
Diaz claimed the Malachi Mile at the Maurice Green Invitational this past weekend with a mark of 5:09 for what Daniels called “an excellent early-season mark.”
Her early-season 2:20 mark in the 800 meters is also on the verge of the school record she set in 2019.
Diaz owns school records in the 800 (2:19.31), 1,600 (4:57.82) and 3,200 (11:02.70). Daniels said he expects Diaz to keep improving her school records throughout the season.
“This girl is back,” Daniels said. “She’s running well and is right on the school record in the 800. She should break that in her next meet. She should run through all her records.
“She is on her way to another level.”
Keep an eye on the 1,600-meter relay team.
The team of Jacelyn Gonzaga, Maya Bowens, Laila Bowens and Diaz already broke a school record with a 4:14.81 performance, just beating the 4:14.82 mark set in 2019 by Celia Vaughn, Viktoria Balbin, Diaz and Maya Bowens.
Gonzaga and Maya Bowens are fresh off their CIF finals run in soccer, and Laila Bowens was part of the state championship girls basketball run.
“They are going to break that record a bunch of times,” Daniels said. “To get that record this early in the season says a lot. Isis is really the only one who is in true running shape right now, so that means this group is only going to get faster.”
On the horizon
Sierra Canyon is scheduled to compete in the Simi Valley Invitational on Saturday (March 26), the Arcadia Invitational on April 8-9 and the Russell Cup in Carpinteria on April 16.
Daniels said he wanted to compete in the Russell Cup because it is held at the site of the CIF Southern Section Division 4 prelims on May 7.
“I’ve found that when the kids have a chance to compete at that site before the prelims, they are more familiar with it and it takes some pressure off,” Daniels said. “They know where to go, where we set up camp, what it feels like. They become a lot more familiar with it.”
Beach volleyball warms up
The warmth of the sun, the crash of the waves, the feel of the sand.
First-year Sierra Canyon beach volleyball coach Darrin Phillips likes to set the scene for his squad.
“We’ll have the music going – radio-edited versions of whatever the girls want to put on,” Phillips said.
Phillips is trying to restore a program that captured league titles in 2016 and 2018 but took a hit in numbers due to the pandemic canceling the past two seasons.
His plan is to create an enjoyable and competitive atmosphere to bring out as many girls as possible.
Come for the beach, stay for the high-level volleyball.
“It’s about getting the girls on the beach, having fun, playing volleyball and enjoying themselves,” Phillips said. ““It also helps to be winning.”
Phillips certainly knows how to build a program. He is part of the husband-wife coaching duo with Stefanie Wigfall that has guided Sierra Canyon’s indoor girls squad to two CIF Southern Section titles and one CIF state crown.
The beach volleyball format features three tandems facing off in a best-of-three format.
Matches are held either in Malibu at Zuma Beach or in Santa Monica at Will Rogers State Beach, Ocean Park or Ocean Park North.
Sierra Canyon also has the luxury of a sand court on the lower campus for practice.
“It’s definitely different from the indoor game. It’s only doubles, just you and your partner,” Phillips said. “There is a lot of talking and communication that needs to happen, and it takes a lot more training.
“But it’s fun to watch.”
Though Sierra Canyon lost to Notre Dame Academy, it won a pair of Gold Coast League matchups. Sierra Canyon will take on Windward on Wednesday, March 23 and Harvard-Westlake on April 13.
Phillips said he has been pleased with all three of his tandems.
Junior Olivia Babcock and freshman libero Lauren Lynch have formed the No. 1 tandem for Sierra Canyon and have a 6-0 record.
Sun’s out, guns out.
Babcock is verbally committed as an indoor player to the University of Pittsburgh, which is fresh off an NCAA Final Four run. Lynch entrenched herself on the indoor squad that captured an unbeaten league title.
“They have been playing really well and have been gelling,” Phillips said. “They can be dominant.
“Olivia has already tattooed a couple of girls. That’s always a lot of fun.”
The No. 2 team features Natalie Babcock and Rachael Reyes, a team that just came together over the weekend.
“They made a seamless transition to playing together,” Phillips said. “They jumped in together and started playing well right away.”
The No. 3 team boasts a pair of seniors in Nala Henderson and Natalie Younan who are lending their veteran presence.
“I’ve been impressed with Nala and Natalie for sure,” Phillips said. “They are seniors who have taken a leadership role. They are at every practice, their communication has been really good and they have had a good job relaying information to the team.”
Phillips said he has 20 girls on his roster.
After the three tandems are chosen, the rest of the squad will also jump on the remaining courts and compete against the additional players from the opposing school.
It is their chance to experience and grow with beach volleyball.
With no playoffs scheduled for this season due to ongoing pandemic concerns, Phillips is focused on building for the future.
“We wanted to get the girls out there and get some touches, especially after the whole COVID situation,” Phillips said. “Next year we will go pretty big with the playoffs.
“For now, it’s not a bad way to end the day, especially when it gets so hot in the Valley. It’s great to hang out and catch some ocean breezes.”
Lacrosse backing down from nobody
Sierra Canyon lacrosse coach Mario Waibel is never one to back down from a challenge.
With one of his most talent-laden squads ever, Waibel lined up an ambitious schedule designed to test his team.
“We have done exceptionally well, better than I anticipated,” Waibel said. “We had to figure out who we are, and the boys have stepped up.”
Sierra Canyon has blazed to an 9-2 start against a formidable schedule, showcasing an impenetrable defense and a creative offense that is aiming for its eighth consecutive Gold Coast League crown and a potentially deep postseason run.
Sierra Canyon posted a rousing 8-7 overtime victory for its first win over perennial power Westlake on Feb. 24.
Since a 13-12 loss to a traditionally tough Agoura squad on March 1, Sierra Canyon has rattled off four consecutive impressive victories, including Crespi (8-6), Harvard-Westlake (12-11), Tesoro (10-9) and Palisades (12-11).
Tesoro was ranked No. 6 in the Southern Section, the marquee victory of the season.
“That was a big, big win for us,” Waibel said. “There’s no quit on this team. We have some really exceptional talent on the roster, but in games, there’s no panic, no quit. They keep pushing, they work world and they are playing for each other.
“It’s a blessing for these guys to accomplish what they are doing against some really established programs.”
It starts with the defense.
Oberlin College-bound goalkeeper Jake Pillsbury is a returning All-American who is the backbone of the defense.
Waibel said Josh Bailey, Lucas Kearney, Parker Scott, Trevor Fairbanks and Caden Harman have formed a cohesive defensive unit in front of Pillsbury.
Breaking through against this defense is no easy feat.
“Jake is a super high-quality goalkeeper, and he is proving it every game. He has some of the best outlets I have ever seen,” Waibel said. “He’s outstanding, and he allows us to do a lot of different things defensively.
“This group is disciplined, they are physical and they handle the ball. It gives us a different dimension, which is a luxury as a coach.”
Waibel said his midfielders are having quite an impact.
Ben Graham and Boden Stillmak have the potential to take over a match in the midfield.
Brad Conners and Mykolas Petraitis have also had standout seasons.
“Jackson and Bo have been absolutely impressive,” Waibel said. “They are horses. They have turned games around for us. They are playing like monsters.
“Brad and Mikki are also establishing themselves. We have the weaponry, a lot of tough players. And that talent allows us to take chances.”
Sierra Canyon will continue to ramp up the schedule as it builds toward a potential playoff run.
It will take on Crescenta Valley on March 24 before traveling to Las Vegas to take on a pair of Nevada powers in Bishop Gorman and Faith Lutheran.
Sierra Canyon lined up some tough matchups in April. It hosts Orange County power St. Margaret’s on April 14 and Washington state power O’Dea on April 21.
Sierra Canyon closes the regular season April 28 at home against Brentwood in a match that will likely determine the Gold Coast League title.
“We still have some big games, which was why this initial run was so huge,” Waibel said. “We always want to push ourselves through adversity or success and come back tougher, stronger and better than before.
“Each group of seniors is different. This group definitely wants to leave a legacy.”
Softball heating things up!
One more pitch.
That was what separated Sierra Canyon sophomore Hailey Shuler from a perfect game against Gold Coast League rival Viewpoint.
That 3-2 pitch was launched for a solo homer, an imperfect ending to an otherwise commanding season-opening performance.
Shuler struck out a combined 23 batters in 11-0 and 7-1 Gold Coast League victories over Viewpoint to start the season, throwing down the gauntlet for what could be a banner season for Sierra Canyon.
“We have some extremely solid pitching,” Sierra Canyon coach Regina Jorgensen said. “Only seven balls were in play in the last two games.”
Shuler’s first two starts will serve as an appetizer, something to whet the palette as Sierra Canyon awaits the arrival of two impact players.
Valencia High transfer Izzy Mertes – the reigning Foothill League MVP – will be eligible to play on March 22 following her sitout period in accordance to CIF Southern Section transfer rules.
Jorgensen said Kendall Huddleston – a key returner who has been sidelined with a shoulder injury – is expected to be cleared medically sometime this week and will also be valuable and versatile.
Sierra Canyon’s schedule begins to ramp up when Mertes and Huddleston arrive.
Sierra Canyon will travel to Notre Dame for a nonleague showdown on March 22 and travels to perennial power Oaks Christian on March 25. There will be a home Gold Coast League matchup against Campbell Hall sandwiched in-between on March 24.
“On the 22nd, we should have everyone,” Jorgensen said. “I love these matchups against Notre Dame and Oaks Christian. Every year, it’s always very competitive. We always compete.
“We want to go there and show them what we’ve got. We’re small but mighty.”
Shuler and Madelaine Debs give Sierra Canyon a pair of aces in the circle.
Shuler recorded 65 strikeouts and just seven walks in 43 2-3 innings last season as a freshman and had a miniscule ERA of 0.32.
Debs, normally the starting first baseman, filled in at shortstop in the first two games as Sierra Canyon waited on Mertes. Debs, also the school’s starting goalkeeper for the soccer team, will be expected to rack up several key innings as well.
“Hailey and Madelyn are both hitting 60 mph – and I am pleasantly happy about that,” Jorgensen said.
Jorgensen also credited catcher Lianna Lara for her handling of the pitching staff and said Lara will be pivotal to Sierra Canyon’s success this season.
Lara also showed she is a threat at the plate with a pair of doubles against Viewpoint.
“She is doing a great job of holding it together for us,” Jorgensen said. “We need to keep her healthy. She is learning a lot. And all the pitchers have confidence in her.”
The arrival of Mertes and Huddleston should lengthen an already dangerous lineup for Sierra Canyon.
Outfielders Sydney Schneider (a Washington University recruit) and Olivia Madkins are both viable threats at the plate and provide stellar defense.
“Nothing drops when they are out there,” Jorgensen said.
Shuler showed off her power, cranking a home run in her first at-bat of the season. Ava Debs recorded a triple as one of the offensive highlights.
“We’re a quick team – we do a lot of stealing,” Jorgensen said. “This team also makes great adjustments. Someone might not have great contact in their first at-bat, but they will come back and correct it the next time up.”
Sierra Canyon is building toward a potentially deep playoff run and still remembers the sting of last season’s stunning first-round loss to Charter Oak.
Jorgensen said this year’s squad is ready to leave its mark.
“Every single game is building to the playoffs,” Jorgensen said. “We do not want to repeat what happened last year. It was a shock. Everyone is taking the same approach. One pitch at a time, one inning at a time.