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Game On - High School Teams Prepare to Battle for Local Domination
October, 2006 - Issue #24
One year ago, most of the preseason prep sports hype centered on the football rivalry between Valencia and Hart.

Would Hart regain the Foothill League title it lost to Valencia after ruling the valley for a decade, or would the Vikings build on the success of its 2004 campaign and take the next step to a CIF title?

Twelve months later and the conversation has shifted. These days, all the talk is about Canyon - at least in football circles. And rightly so.

The Cowboys come into the 2006 season as the reigning Foothill and CIF-Southern Section Division II champions, after all. They have appeared on several preseason national polls and are the hands-down favorites to run the Foothill League.

Of course, that's just football.

With the fall sports season comes a host of questions and more than enough intrigue to keep even the most grizzled local high school sports fan interested between now and Christmas.

The valley will field a defending state champion in girls cross country, for starters. In girls tennis, one valley team will attempt to repeat its improbable 2005 run to the section finals.

This fall will also mark the first season in which local teams will play all Foothill League games - road and home - in the SCV. Burroughs and Burbank High have yielded to upstarts Golden Valley and West Ranch High.

In almost every sport save varsity football, the battle for local supremacy is now a six-team affair. Every league game, match and meet will be local. Every contest a local rivalry.

How will it turn out? Check back in three months.

In the meantime, here are some things to look for.

Football

All signs point to another big year for Canyon, which appears primed to follow its 13-1 2005 season with an exclamation point.

The Cowboy defense lost starting middle linebacker Tyler Hawkins but its offensive and defensive lines remain intact.

That's good news for Brigham Young University-bound running back J.J. DiLuigi, who rushed for 1,870 yards as a junior last year while setting an SCV record with 43 touchdowns.

"All signs point to another big year for Canyon football, which appears primed to follow its 13-1 2005 season with an exclamation point."
"We're like one big family," DiLuigi says of his team. "We're definitely motivated to show that last year wasn't a fluke. Everyone is going to be coming after us, but that's football."

Canyon did lose quarterback Austin Civita, who shared CIF-SS Division II Co-Offensive Player of the Year honors with DiLuigi. But senior Ben Longshore, who battled Civita for the starting job all summer in 2005, has looked sharp in summer league action.

"You've got to figure Canyon is the favorite," says Valencia football coach Larry Muir. "They are just so tough."

Challenging Canyon again this year will be Hart and Valencia, but don't overlook Saugus. Centurion coach Jason Bornn is changing some of the team's offensive playbook this year to keep pace with high-powered Hart, Valencia and Canyon.

Hart, meanwhile, will look to senior quarterback Alex Pettee and junior running back Delano Howell.

Pettee saw plenty of action filling in for an often-injured Tyler Lyon last year. Howell, on the other hand, lost much of 2005 to injury. Many expected the speedy running back to challenge DiLuigi and Valencia's Shane Vereen as one of the valley's top rushers last season.

Valencia enters 2006 with a new signal caller. After a luxurious three years with California all-time passing yardage leader Michael Herrick under center, Muir and his coaches had to select a new quarterback for 2006.

Juniors Graham Wilbert and Jim Baughman auditioned for the job throughout the summer and early fall. Muir named Wilbert the starter just days before the start of the season.

"We've basically competed for the starting job for two years," Wilbert says. "But we're friends. We push each other."

Wilbert will likely spend a good deal of time handing the ball off to University of California, Berkeley-bound Vereen, the Vikings' best running back prospect since UCLA graduate and current Washington Redskin Manuel White.

Vereen amassed 2,538 total yards from scrimmage last year - 1,638 on the ground - and scored 36 total touchdowns.

Not that he's all that interested in personal statistics, though.

"I'd rather have two yards rushing the whole season and win a title than to have a great season personally and yet lose as a team. It's all about the team."

Whoever ascends to league supremacy will sit atop a group of five teams instead of six in 2006. Burroughs and Burbank are gone. But while a still-young Golden Valley team joins the fray this year, West Ranch is playing its inaugural varsity season as a freelance team. The Wildcats will round out the Foothill League in 2007.

Girls Tennis

The girls tennis scene will likely revolve around Valencia again in 2006. The Vikings went 21-3 last year and won the league title last year, then marched all the way to the Valencia CIF-SS Division III championship match against Brentwood before falling 10-8.

Viking sisters Cassie and Alexa Strange graduated, but Michelle Stock and sophomore Isabella Fraczek headline an otherwise large cast of returning varsity players.

"This is sort of a rebuilding year for us," says Valencia coach Annie Kellogg. "But I've got a bunch of enthusiastic kids coming in. Our returning players had so much success. I think we can build on that."

Cross Country

The spotlight in cross country will shine most brightly on Saugus in 2006.

UCLA-bound senior Shannon Murakami returns to defend her Division I state title, and alongside her is a girls team that finished sixth in the state.

Katie Dunn returns, and she will be joined by sophomore Brianna Jauregui and Shannon's sister Amber Murakami, a freshman. Only one member of that team - Chelsea Johnstone - is gone, leaving the Centurions as a legitimate state title contender.

"I think getting sixth in state last year set the bar pretty high," Saugus coach Christian Standley says. "This year we'd like to do even better. I've heard a lot of talk about winning state, but we haven't even won a Foothill League championship yet. We've never beaten Canyon and until we do that, it's not in the books. First things first, you know?"

The boys side looks like a dead heat. Defending champion Hart lost Alfredo Coronado and Sean Frohling to graduation. Canyon will look to press that advantage this fall.

Girls Volleyball

The Vikings ruled the SCV last year with an undefeated league season, but that was with heavy hitting Taryn Robertson patrolling the net. The Vikings lost seven seniors, but graduation also gutted rival Canyon. That could open the door for Saugus. Hart, meanwhile, will look to make strides under new head coach Mary Krisan.

Girls Golf

In golf, the question is, will Hart have enough to catch Jasnin Samson and defending champion Valencia? The schools finished one-two in the Foothill League last year and appear to be headed for another showdown this fall.

Look for Saugus to make it interesting. Canyon, with a new coach at the helm, will be looking for a fresh start. And don't forget about the new schools. Golden Valley and especially West Ranch may challenge sooner than people expect.
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