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At about the 750-meter mark of an 800-meter race, it began to look as if it wasn't going to happen for 2004 Canyon High graduate Alysia Johnson. That's where Johnson found herself suddenly behind a surging Hazel Clark, the defending 800-meter Olympic Champion and two-time world title-holder, at the 2007 U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Finals in Indianapolis on June 24. Johnson could have simply accepted second place. No one would have faulted her. Just a college junior at Cal-Berkeley, Johnson is years removed from her professional peak, after all.
In light of the kind of year our local high school athletes enjoyed in 2006-2007, you could argue that the Valencia softball team topped it off in fitting, if not inevitable, fashion. First, there was the Saugus girls cross country team, which won its California state title in November. Weeks later, the Canyon football team followed suit, capturing the state championship with an upset win over previously undefeated Concord de la Salle.
Canyon sprinter/hurdler Trevor Habberstad doesn't have to think very long to remember his worst day on the track. It took place at the Foothill league finals two years ago, when he was just a sophomore. Habberstad, already the surprise league champion in the 100 high hurdles, was coming around the turn, about 200 meters into the 300-meter hurdle finals. He had the lead and he had fuel to burn. He was on his way to another league title and he knew it.
Dave Munroe's career in coaching has been marked by two constants. The first is family. The second is winning. When he was a boy, he followed his dad, Phil, the first baseball coach at San Fernando Valley State College (Cal-State Northridge) from game to game. When he turned 21, he followed his uncle, Jerry Williams, who coached the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles from 1969-71, to training camp.
Canyon High shocked the high school football world last month at the Home Depot Center. Behind a near-perfect first half from quarterback Ben Longshore, a 146-yard rushing performance from senior J.J. DiLuigi and a stubborn, punishing defense, the Cowboys toppled Concord De La Salle, the number-one-ranked team in the nation, 27 to 13, to become CIF Division I state champions. Canyon (12-2) trailed just once, 7 to 6, early in the second quarter. But Longshore, who threw for 151 of his 163 yards in the first half, connected on a 30-yard score to Kenny Suber on the ensuing Cowboy drive to make it 12 to 7.
The object of the game is as simple as it is difficult. Put a round ball through an 18-inch hoop suspended 10 feet off the ground. Do this more than your opponent in a 32-minute time span and you win. But there are many factors which determine who will do it better. Which team is faster? Who is taller? Who can jump higher or shoot with greater accuracy? Which team plays the toughest defense or makes the crispest passes? Which team plays harder and which team has the best game plan? Who wants to win more? It is in discovering the answers to those questions that basketball becomes art - potentially beautiful and almost always unpredictable.
When you look back on the 2006 SCV high school football season, what will you remember? Doubtless, the answer to that question depends on which team is your favorite. Will you recall Saugus' historic 36-21 win over Valencia - the one that put the Centurions in position to finally crack the Foothill League top three? Or perhaps it will be the Cents' upset of number four-seeded Atascadero in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoffs.
Fall was a difficult season to cheer for Golden Valley High sports. The Grizzlies struggled to find their footing during their first trip through the competitive minefield that is varsity Foothill League sports. League wins were rare for the girls golf team and the cross country teams, and rarer still for football, girls volleyball and girls tennis. Heading into the final two weeks of the fall season, only the girls golf team and the cross country teams had registered Foothill League wins, and those were scattered at best.
If you're a fan of local high school football, this has to be your favorite time of year. After watching the Santa Clarita Valley's teams entertain a long line of tough non-league opponents (some of them common), you can finally stop guessing which one will rule the valley in 2006. The Foothill League season is officially underway. The battle for SCV supremacy has begun in earnest. But is local supremacy the only high school football prize worth eyeing as the weather turns colder in the SCV?
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.
How many seasons does it take to change the complexion of a high school football league? How many athletes? As far as Santa Clarita Valley's all-powerful Foothill League goes, the answer to those questions may be, respectably, one and two. One season to turn the pass-heavy, quarterback-dominated aerial onslaught that is SCV football into a league of running backs, and two tailbacks to do it.
You could say 12-year-old Victoria Bauer was born to ride a horse. By the time she was 4, after seeing a picture of an equestrian rider atop a horse, she was asking Mom and Dad if she could do it. By age 7, Victoria was riding regularly, her lithe body guiding an 850-pound animal over obstacles most adults five times her size wouldn't dare. But the story of Victoria Bauer isn't really about a girl who rides horses, though she rides well enough to be going to next month's National Pony Finals in Lexington, Kenkucky.
The way people feel about Valencia pitcher Jordan Taylor is really a matter of perspective. Teammates love her, and for good reason. The affable junior is always smiling and joking. She almost never loses, yet she always views her individual accomplishments through the filter of team success. Says Valencia head softball coach Donna Lee: "She's well-liked by all the girls. She's the consummate teammate."
Saugus High runner Shannon Murakami doesn't believe in following in anyone else's footsteps. That's obvious just by watching her run. The junior rarely trails when she races, at least not unless it's part of her strategy. Even then, it's not for very long. Last spring, she outran the competition twice at the CIF-Southern Section Division I Championship, capturing gold medals in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters.
For more than 10 years, varsity athletics in the Santa Clarita Valley's Foothill League has belonged to four local high schools. For the most part, Canyon, Hart, Valencia and Saugus have had the run of the SCV. But not any more.
With two-thirds of the local high school sports year complete, few would argue that 2005-2006 has been one of the best ever. Already, the Santa Clarita Valley has seen a pair of local football teams -Hart and Canyon - meet in a CIF-Southern Section final.
It's 2:30 p.m. on a Tuesday and coach Andy Smith sits in his classroom at Canyon High School, surrounded by more than a dozen young men. School has ended and Smith's North L.A. County Wildcats - the first-ever high school rugby team in the Santa Clarita Valley - is arriving for practice.
Depending on which Santa Clarita Valley teams you root for, the fall of 2005 was either the best of times or the worst of times. Or perhaps it offered a taste of both.Streaks were snapped and extended. State records were shattered and section records fell by the wayside. CIF titles were won and lost. There were jaw-dropping upsets and title runs no one could have predicted. There were two state championships - one lost, the other gained.
The seeds of this year's Foothill League football intrigue were sown under the Friday-night lights of Cougar Stadium last October. Hart and Valencia fans will remember the moment well. Viking quarterback Michael Herrick, having just pushed his way into the endzone late in the third-quarter against archrival Hart, picked up his helmet off the COC turf and thrust it skyward on his way to a jubilant Viking sideline.
Familiar faces are around every corner, and most likely, Tomas Girgado is one of them. You probably stopped to read this article because you know the man smiling back at you. How could you not recognize Tomas? This local hero/umpire served the fields of William S. Hart Baseball and Softball for the last 12 years - until the middle of May when he was picked up by paramedics at his home in Saugus for what he thought was the flu. Unfortunately, he wasn't suffering from a virus but from a cancerous ulcer that required the removal of most of his stomach. But after meeting with Tomas only a few days after his surgery, I could tell that the love of the game is holding him together and making him stronger and stronger each day.
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