First full prep sports year since pre-COVID went fast

Photo by Joe Snyder Serra High track and field head coach Alexis Faulkner holds CIFSouthern Section Division IV championship trophies from last month

Over the past couple of years, a stunning and unexpected COVID-19 pandemic ran rampant all over the world and virtually everything that we’ve been so used to came to a quick halt. When the coronavirus struck the world in late 2019, the year this virus and the Coronavirus Disease was discovered in Wuhan, China then spread throughout the entire world, but the state of emergency finally called by then President Donald Trump in mid-March forcing shutdowns of almost everything, including youth, high school, college and professional sports. Several prep athletic teams had high hopes of championships before the sudden halt that wiped out the rest of the school year. Students, including athletes, were forced to finish school on line. The pandemic is still going on today but the vaccines and a few new medications are helping things get under control, although there have been and will continue to be some spurts as the corona virus variants and subvariants are resuming the problems that could last for the rest of civilization of this world. It wasn’t until early spring of 2021 that prep sports resumed and that spring was crammed with the so-called “three seasons in one” but most sports seasons were shortened and most prep football teams were only able to get off one to six games with no playoffs. Virtually all other prep sports seasons were shortened but some even saw firsts; CIFState regional playoffs in sports such as baseball, softball, boys’ volleyball, tennis and swimming. Finally last fall, we started to have the in-seasons. Last fall was highlighted by Serra High’s football team capturing the CIF-Southern Section Division III and the CIF-State Division IA championships. The Cavaliers used their depth behind recent graduates, quarterback Maalik Murphy and running back Troy Crozier, along with junior Kai Honda and sophomore Cincere Rhaney and numerous other talents, rolled over host Apple Valley 31-3 for the Southern Section Division III crown, outlasted rival Long Beach Poly 21-17 in front of an overflow crowd at Serra High for the Southern California title, and topped Bakersfield Liberty 21-16 for its fourth ever state championship; the third under head coach Scott Altenberg, who also won the Division III championship in 2009 and the Division II crown in 2012. Serra placed just third, behind champion Mission Hills Alemany and runner-up La Puente Bishop Amat, in the Mission League, much due to several injuries that left star quarterback Murphy out for three games and a few others, as well. The Cavaliers return a large number of players and could hope for another state title that could be played at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood if the State CIF and stadium personal agree. Already, the CIF-Southern Section Division I championship game will be at the 100-year-old Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Nov. 25. The winter was highlighted by strong showings by local basketball and soccer teams. The best was accomplished by Gardena High’s boys’ soccer team that placed second, behind Wilmington Banning, in the Marine League. The Panthers made it to the CIF-Los Angeles City Section Division III championship game where it was shut out by King-Drew Medical Magnet High 2-0 on Feb. 26 at L.A. Valley College in Van Nuys. The Golden Eagles would go on to the finals of the Southern California Division IV finals before losing. King-Drew, though, began the regional playoffs with an upset win over top seed Montclair, the CIF-Southern Section Division IV champion. Gardena had good depth behind seniors Eynar Romero and Jonathan Poblano. Gardena’s girls’ soccer, that won the L.A. City Division V title in 2019 and Division IV in 2021, fell to Jefferson in the Division IV semifinals. West Torrance High’s girls’ soccer team recorded the Southern California Regional Division III championship by avenging its Southern Section Division III final loss to El Segundo, with a 2-1 win over the host Eagles on March 5. Serra High’s boys’ basketball team, led by Cal State Dominguez Hills-bound Jeremy DentSmith, made the CIF-Southern Section Division IIAA playoffs as an at-large team but made it to the semifinals before falling to host Village Christian 61-45 in Sun Valley. Gardena High’s boys’ basketball team tied Harbor City Narbonne for the Marine League title. It was second seed in the CIF-L.A. City Section Division I playoffs but fell in the quarterfinals to Crenshaw 50-49 on a buzzer-beating shot. The Panthers were sparked by junior guard Chase Williams, who averaged 18 points per game. With Gardena expecting most of its players back, it hopes for a possible City championship and a good run in the CIF-State playoffs for the 2022-23 season. North Torrance High’s girls’ basketball team captured the usually highly competitive Pioneer League and advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Division I quarterfinals where it fell short of eventual champion Orangewood Academy of Garden Grove. Due to a rash of injuries, Serra High’s girls’ basketball team missed the CIF-Southern Section playoffs for the first time since 2008. The Lady Cavaliers, under head coach McKenzie Hadley, had state championships in 2013 and 2018. The biggest spring highlight was Serra High’s boys’ and girls’ track and field teams that swept the CIF-Southern Section Division IV crowns on May 14 at Moorpark High and the Lady Cavaliers going on to win the CIF-State Championship on May 28 at Buchanan High in Clovis. Serra has one of the top boys sprinters ever in the United States in junior Roderick Pleasant. He became the first ever Cavalier to sweep the 100 and 200-meter championships at the California State Championships. He already broke the state record in the 100 with a time of 10.14 seconds he did in the CIF-Southern Section Masters Championships on May 21 on Moorpark High’s very fast track. A week earlier in the divisional finals, he did a wind-aided time of 10.16 in the 100 and non-wind aided personal best time of 20.4 in the 200. In the 100, Pleasant is just .01 of a second behind the national (inseason) record time of 10.13 set in 2019 by Matthew Boling from Strake Jesuit College Prep from Houston, Texas he did in the Texas State Championships that year in Austin. Eight years ago, however, a recent graduate of Cherryville High from Virginia, Trentvail Friday, recorded a 10.0 100 at the United States Junior Championships in Eugene, Ore. Pleasant is also seeking a national 200 record as a senior next spring. Pleasant is also a four-star major college prospect defensive back with the Cavaliers’ football team. Serra’s girls were sparked by their sprinters, particularly juniors Jordan Washington and Brazil Neal. Neal won the state 200 title and finished second in the 100. Washington was Southern Section Division IV champion in the 100 and 200. They also sparked the Lady Cavaliers to the state crown in the 4×100 at 46.04 seconds as the Cavaliers topped runner-up Clovis North 37-32 for their second state championship; the other being in 2012 and that squad was led by now Serra head coach Alexis Faulkner. Carson, led by sprinter Reign Redmond, also had a fine showing in dominating the CIF-L.A. City girls’ track and field championship. She also won the state 100-meter title at 11.56. Redmond is also a junior. Gardena High’s softball team, which won the CIF-L.A. City Division III championship in 2019 and the Division II crown last year, lost in the Division II finals to East L.A. Garfield 5-3 on May 21 at Cal State Northridge. The Lady Panthers had a tough time in the brutal Marine League with powers Carson, San Pedro and Banning, but had easy wins over Harbor City Narbonne and Long Beach Rancho Dominguez Prep for a fourth-place finish. The Pioneer League had a hotly contested race that included four Torrance schools (North, South, Torrance and West) all tied for first place entering the final week. South and West were able to win their league finales over North and Torrance, in order, for co-champions and the Saxons won the play-in game over the Tartars for third place. All four teams, along with fifth place El Segundo, all made the playoffs. Torrance, however, got the big achievement of going the furthest, making the CIF-Southern Section Division II semifinals and the CIF-Southern California Regional finals. The Tartars, behind all-purpose player Ryann Orange, lost to eventual champion Mission Viejo in the Southern Section Division II semifinals and to Chula Vista Mater Dei Catholic 2-1 in the regional championship on June 4 at El Camino College. Narbonne High’s baseball team advanced to the CIF-L.A. City Section Division I final but fell to Garfield 5-3 on May 28 at Dodger Stadium. The Gauchos were led by Juan Garcia. Torrance High’s baseball team made the CIF-Southern Section Division II championship before falling to Rancho Cucamonga Etiwanda 6-1 on May 21 at Cal State Fullerton. The Tartars were seeded third in the Southern California Regional Division II but lost in the first round to Rancho Bernardo from the CIFSan Diego Section 2-1 on May 31 at ECC. Torrance was led by UC Santa Barbara-bound but possible pro prospect Corey Nunez, who was named the Daily Breeze South Bay Player of the Year last week. In boys’ volleyball, Carson captured the CIF-L.A. City Division I championship with a five-set victory L.A.-Los Feliz Marshall High and Narbonne was the L.A. City Division II champion with a sweep of Van Nuys. Both games were played on May 26 at Venice High.

Photo by Joe Snyder
Serra High running back Troy Crozier slips past Santa Ana Foothill High tacklers during last fall’s CIF-Southern Section Division III quarterfinal game. The Cavaliers went on to capture their fourth CIF-State title in Division IAA with a 21-16 win over Bakersfield Liberty in December.
Photo by Joe Snyder
Guard Dara Tokeshi attempts a three-point basket just outside the
key for the North Torrance High girls’ basketball team in a CIFSouthern Section Division I playoff game against Harvard-Westlake