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Spring Sports Preview
How do your Favorite High Schools Hold Up?
April, 2006 - Issue #18
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.

Saugus junior Shannon Murakami won a state championship in cross country, right about the same time Valencia quarterback Michael Herrick was setting California's all-time passing record.

The winter season brought another all-Foothill League CIF championship. Again, it was Hart against Canyon, only this time it was in girls basketball.

Two CIF titles and a state championship - and all this a year after no valley team claimed a section title for the first time in a decade.

SCV prep sports, you could say, is back with a vengeance.

So what can we expect for an encore? With the spring season kicking into high gear this month, what new stories remain to be told?

The best part about it is that no one knows for sure. But we can speculate - that's at least half the fun.

Baseball

"For the Valencia boys volleyball team, the question is never 'Are you going to win league?' It's 'Are you going to win CIF?'"
What's most interesting about the 2006 Foothill League baseball season is its parody. You have your front-runners in Hart and Valencia, but Canyon and Saugus are not far off.

The Vikings, who won three straight league titles before falling to third last season, will be looking for revenge - or at least a return to the style of baseball that brought them so much success.

"Last year we struggled defensively," said Head Coach Jared Snyder. "We made something like 60 errors and that was indicative of why we were 15-13. We worked on defense this year and we're hoping that puts us over top."

One advantage the Vikings will have is experience. Ten seniors return to this year's squad, led by third baseman/pitcher Casey Mulligan and second baseman/shortstop Armando Gallardo.

"We return all our key players from last year and that puts us at an experience level higher than most," Snyder said. "It all depends on what the kids decide to do with that experience."

Softball

Of late, Foothill League softball has belonged to Valencia. The Vikings have claimed five straight league titles and seem poised to add number six in '06.

Last year, Valencia rode the arm of pitcher Jordan Taylor all the way to the CIF championship game, and Taylor was only a sophomore. With Taylor in the circle, Valencia won't need to score many runs to win, and the 2006 team will be able to score.

Only four members of last year's squad were seniors, and most of the offensive punch is returning.

Still, the story will be Taylor. Expect a no hitter or two between now and June.

Boys Volleyball

For the Valencia boys volleyball team, the question is never "Are you going to win league?" It's "Are you going to win CIF?"

This year will be no different.

The Vikings won a pair of CIF titles from 2003-2004. Last year, they fell in the finals to a senior-laden Corona Del Mar squad.

This year, they are the senior-laden team. And this year, they're hungry.

"I like our chances (to win CIF)," said Head Coach Marc Knudsen. "We've got basically our entire stating team from last year returning, and they're retuning with a lot of desire and fire. We've got six guys who were there last year and feel like they deserved it. They want to redeem themselves."

Among the returning starters will be seniors Teddy Goetz and Kevin Ker and sophomore James Ker. That's good news for Valencia and bad news for Saugus, Canyon and Hart.

Not that Knudsen is taking anyone lightly.

"Those (league matches) are the nine most important matches we play up to that point. We take them seriously," he said. "I don't know how league looks, but I'm sure every team will come out with their best against us and we'll have to answer."

Boys Tennis

The 2006 boys tennis season will pit defending league champion Hart against Valencia, the team it knocked off the perch last season.

The Indians return seven starters, including the league's top player in senior Matthew Taoatao. Valencia hopes to counter with its depth.

"We should be very good," said Hart Coach Chris Mansfield. "But Valencia is going to be good, too. They're going to be tough."

Even so, Hart is the favorite.

"Up and down the line we should be pretty good," Mansfield admits. "It's nice to be the defending champion. It's been a long time. Only now the players have the pressure to defend it."

"Saugus' Murakami is taking aim at perhaps a pair of state titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters."
Track and Field

There are several intriguing stories in track and field. The Hart girls are looking to repeat after wresting the league title away from Canyon last year, and the boys race is as wide open as it has ever been.

Saugus' Murakami, meanwhile, is taking aim at perhaps a pair of state titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters. The reigning state cross country champion took fourth in the state in the 3,200 last year and could have run in the 1,600 had she not elected to drop the event to focus on the longer race.

Then there's Saugus' Lauren Moore, who advanced to the state meet last year in the high jump. This year, she could also get there in long jump and triple jump.

Saugus' Jeanette McConnell will make a run in shot put and discus, and Valencia's Virgil Hill, who is playing baseball, could still manage a state run in the 400 meters if he opts to try.

Swimming

Hart's boys have won league every year since 1998, but the gap is shrinking. Watch for Valencia to challenge. The Indians lost most of their All-American relay team to graduation and they could be vulnerable.

"We're in serious rebuilding mode," said Head Coach Steve Neale. "But both boys and girls are looking solid."

Of note is the departure of Saugus standout John Criste. The national junior record holder and Olympic hopeful in breaststroke transferred to CIF Division I champion Mission Viejo.

"You lose a lot of points without Criste," Neale said. "But Saugus has a lot of strength. They'll be good."

Boys Golf

The question heading into 2006 is, how will Hart respond to the graduation of Foothill League MVP Joe Greiner?

Look for Saugus and Hart to battle all spring, but don't take your eyes off of Canyon or up-and-coming Valencia. There could be some surprises.
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