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STATE OF ARTESIA HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETICS: Winter season strong for Artesia High athletics with fall, spring sports showing promise

 

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

This is the first in a series of stories on the athletic programs of the area teams from the past 15-20 years and the immediate future of most of those sports. Each story will have comments from that school’s athletic director, or one of the co-athletic directors on most, if not, all the sports that school competes in.

Up first is Artesia High, one of three teams that moved from the Suburban League to the 605 League two years ago to join three other schools. Already, the Pioneers have had success in the new league where the teams are more comparable with each other than if they had stayed in the Suburban League.

FOOTBALL

In the past 20 years, the program has finished anywhere from first place to seventh place, finishing within the top three on five occasions. The program’s lone league championship came in 2018 and in that same season, the Pioneers reached the CIF-Southern Section Division 12 finals. Co-athletic director Joe Veach, who took over the helm in 2007, says there was a lack of consistency during the time the school was changing football coaches from 2000-2008. But since Veach took over, there has been some consistency. Veach took over the head coaching position four games in to the 2009 season and towards the tail end of his tenure as head coach, which lasted through the 2016 season, the program has seen increasing numbers.

“It’s hard to really look back on the last 20 years and say that we’ve had some success, but we’ve had some down years,” Veach said. “I don’t want to say it’s easy to anticipate, but I think we can anticipate having a decent amount of success. If you can have a level of consistency in your leadership, it’s easier to predict when you’re going to have success.”

Veach said going to the finals, the first in school history, was a great experience and was the results of a lot of things. He went on the add that it was something that the program may not have needed, but something the school needed. The program figures to be a playoff contender for the next several years with four league schools fielding football programs (Oxford Academy and Whitney High do not field football teams).

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

This has been a program that has struggled to find consistency and has not finished higher than fourth place in over 20 years while going through seven different coaches. Only once have the Lady Pioneers reached the playoffs, and that came in 2010. Even then, Artesia is seeking its first winning season since prior to 1998.

“I think we’re on the way up,” Veach said. “If you look at where we’ve been the last few years, up is almost the only place you can go. But I think it really is one of our programs on the rise. [Former head coach] Mailelei Penn took over a few years ago and she did a great job of just creating a program that was valued within our school.

“Tommy, who is here now, our new coach, is another club guy, but has really bought into being at Artesia,” he continues. “He’s got our girls playing…a lot of our girls are playing year-round. I think volleyball is going to have a good run in 2020.”

Veach is referring to Tommy Dube, who took over last season and guided his team to seven victories, the most since 2015 and tied for the second most victories since 2001.

GIRLS TENNIS AND BOYS WATER POLO

These two sports have never been popular on campus and it shows with girls tennis winning six league matches since 2002 and boys water polo going 1-40 in league since 2002. The last league win for tennis came in 2010 and for water polo, which did not field a team from 2009-2017, that program has one league win in history (2005). Veach admits Artesia will struggle in these sports because the community of the school doesn’t play a lot of these two. Because of that, the Pioneers are constantly having to start from scratch.

“Both programs are similar in that we don’t get a lot of kids in our community that have played a lot of water polo or tennis before they walk on campus,” Veach said. “While we’re playing some schools that have a lot of those kids, we’re going to struggle. There’s no way around it.”

However, brighter days may be ahead for tennis as it has started to get leadership and consistency the past two seasons since Matt Soriano took over as head coach.

CROSS COUNTRY

Veach believes cross country is a sport the school should be better in than they are and says it’s just a matter of getting kids to come out and run. Willie Martinez, who ran cross country and played soccer at Artesia, has been the coach for a few years and has had some individual success here and there and a little bit of team success. The numbers from this past fall have been the highest in five or six years and Veach thinks the program is on the rise.

BOYS BASKETBALL

Since the 2000-2001 season, the boys basketball program has won 352 games, nearly 100 more than any other sport on campus. Dating back to the 1990s, the program was once one of the strongest in Southern California and even the nation. But following a CIF state title in 2007, the program has been average and has not won a league title since that season. Still, the program has finished second, third or fourth in league nine times since winning its second state title.

“I think you can look at basketball in general and it’s hard to look at 20 years and say, ‘oh, in the last 20 years we have won five league titles and [three] CIF titles,” Veach said. “I really think you have to look at prior to 2008 and then 2008. I really see a division there.”

Former head coach Greg Taylor took the 2010-2011 team to the quarterfinals but since then, the program has seen the second round of the playoffs once. Two years ago, Ray Walker guided that team to a second place finish in the 605 League. Now, Jeff Myles has taken over and Veach thinks the program will keep getting better. Of the 352 games won in the past 20 seasons, 165 have come since the days of divisional and state championships. This program is on track to remain among the top three in the 605 League for quite some time.

GIRLS BASKETBALL

Girls basketball was another program that was among the Southland’s best early in the 2000s. But up until this past season, the Lady Pioneers were floundering to a combined nine sixth or seventh place finishes in league play. Head coach Shontya Pouncey, who just completed his seventh season, is beginning to return the program to prominence as the recent Division 5 AA championship will prove. In five of the first seasons of the 2000s, the program won at least 20 games. Then came a stretch of single digit wins in nine of 10 seasons. But the program has won 38 games the past two seasons and is headed in the right direction. The 26 wins of this past season were the most the program has seen since the 2001-2002 campaign.

“I think he might be the hardest working guy in girls basketball,” Veach said of Pouncey. “He is constantly going to games and scouting teams. He’s got his girls in the weight room year-round and they’re on the track and they’re in the gym. I think you saw it pay off this year, obviously with the CIF title.”

If a league title isn’t in the cards for the program in the near future, then you can anticipate a top three finish, which will guarantee an automatic berth to the playoffs instead of going to the postseason as an at-large representative.

BOYS SOCCER

One program that does not have to worry about struggling is this one, with only one losing season (2014-2015) and absent from the playoffs in two seasons. The architect of the program was Rudy Magallon, who took one team to the semifinals and five others to the quarterfinals. Now, former girls soccer head coach, and co-athletic director Octavio Marquez has taken over and is keeping the winning tradition going. In four seasons with the boys, Marquez has gone 66-26-7 with a trip to the quarterfinals and two more to the second round. However, there will always be that big question of advancing to the CIF finals.

“I talk to Tavo all the time and the main thing that he wants to see, and I want to see from boys soccer is getting over that last hump, that last hurdle,” Veach said. “We do have a lot of kids that grew up playing soccer. Our goals should not be, ‘oh, let’s just have a good, solid team’. Our goals for that program should be postseason success. And we’ve had that where we’ve won a game or two or three. But we really want to see a CIF title in the next couple of years because that’s a program that our community really gets behind.”

Veach says the goals in boys soccer are a lot different than their goals in a lot of other sports. That’s one of the reasons why the program has the third most victories in the past 20 years than any other program, behind the two basketball programs, and all three are the only Artesia programs with over 200 wins.

GIRLS SOCCER

Many could say that Marquez put the Artesia girls soccer program on the map. He was the first girls soccer coach the school has ever had, and when Marquez was playing soccer at Artesia for Magallon in the 1990s, there were a few girls on the team.

“Girls soccer didn’t exist in our area, which is just crazy to think of,” Veach said. “But that’s what it was. With Tavo coaching the boys for a few years, then finally starting the girls program…yeah, he went through some rough years; that’s for sure. He’ll be the first one to tell you. But the same thing I go back to with all the other sports is we had a level of consistency. You find a good person to do a job and you keep him there. And they’re going to have some up years and some down years. But you just try to stay consistent and Tavo is a good coach; he knows the game.”

After flirting with the postseason a couple of times but coming up short, Marquez coached the first Artesia team to go the playoffs in the 2008-2009 season. That was the first of six straight trips to the playoffs, including a quarterfinal appearance in 2013. However, Marquez stepped down from coaching the program after the 2015-2016 season and the program has taken a talent hit the past few seasons and didn’t have the talent level to play with Cerritos or some of the other schools in the area.

Veach says current head coach Hugo Umana reminds him a lot of a younger Marquez just in that he’s a young guy who loves the sport, loves the game and loves coaching the girls. Veach added that Umana is somebody they need to try to keep on campus because he’s great with the girls and the program is ‘in good hands” with Umana.

GIRLS WATER POLO

There have been three teams in school history (2003-2004, 2006-2007 and 2007-2008) and none have won a league contest. Veach would love to have girls water polo but says the numbers so far have not justified having a program again. The girls who have been playing the sport have been playing with the boys the past couple of years. There have been a couple of years where the school has been on the borderline of putting together a full team but have not been able to get more than six or seven girls.

WRESTLING

For Veach, the sport is the hardest to find a coach for, especially if there is not a teaching position that comes with it. He was able to find Chris Youngblood a few years ago who had just graduated from college. But Artesia had already hired a coach who didn’t pan out. Veach emailed Youngblood to offer him the job without a teaching position.  Now, Youngblood is also a physical education teacher at Artesia as well. The program has been getting better the past few years and Veach believes it will continue to get better.

BASEBALL

Since 2015, the baseball program has been one of the laughing stocks in the area, winning 16 games overall and two league contests. The program has gone 12 straight seasons without a postseason appearance. Before that, there were four trips to the playoffs in the previous five seasons, including one trip to the quarterfinals. Michael Gaoghagen has coached the program since 2003 and immediately went 18-11 with that trip to the quarterfinals.

“I was excited for this season for baseball because I thought we were in a good spot in our league, and I thought our team was going to be better than we had been the last couple of years, ” Veach said. “I thought we could have made some good strides this year.”

The last few years, Artesia has not gotten a lot of talented baseball players from the area, according to Veach. Still, Gaoghagen is out there on the weekends in the fall or winter dragging the field or throwing batting practice to the kids in the summer.

“I tell people all the time if anybody asks me about baseball, I’ll always say about Mike, that guy…knows so many things about that game,” Veach said. “I love baseball and I think I know baseball. But then I talk to him and I always walk away going, ‘I really don’t know much about baseball’. He just knows so much about the game.”

He added that he thinks Gaoghagen does not get enough credit, but instead gets a lot of grief because of the record over the years and thinks he’s an underrated coach. Veach has told him as long as he wants to coach at Artesia, he’s going to coach at Artesia.

“I’ve said to [Artesia principal] Sergio [Garcia] and I’ve said to Mike, ‘that guy is our coach until he doesn’t want to be our coach anymore,” Veach said. “At some point, yeah, we’re going to have to find somebody. I don’t look forward to that day because finding a coach is never a fun process. But I think this year we were going to surprise some people. Next year, if Mike is back coaching again, which I don’t know why he wouldn’t, I think we’ll be even better.”

SOFTBALL

Like the baseball program recently, the softball program went through its share of futility, finishing in sixth or seventh place of the Suburban League (17 times in the past 20 seasons). That included eight seasons in which the Lady Pioneers didn’t win a league game. Then came former Artesia and Michigan State University standout Dayna Feenstra and the program has suddenly taken off. Feenstra was known throughout the community even before taking over the Artesia coaching job.

“I think she brought a level of softball respect to where people look and [say], ‘oh, Dayna is coaching’,” Veach said. “People know who she is; they remember her from the community. She knows people. When you can hire somebody like that, of course, they’re going to do a good job because they know the game. But also, people start to take notice. Kids that are in middle school, young kids and their parents, are going to say, ‘oh, we know her. She’s been giving hitting lessons down the street’.”

In Feenstra’s fourth season, Artesia advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1992. Then in 2019, it went 17-4 and shared the 605 League title with Cerritos High. Veach says Artesia is now a destination for softball players whereas before Feenstra took over, the school would just have to take whoever they could get on campus to play on the team. With Feenstra being on campus, it has helped open the doors for those experienced softball players to come on campus. Feenstra has been the head coach for seven seasons. Before that, the program has had eight coaches since 2000.

BOYS VOLLEYBALL/TENNIS

Boys volleyball has had some success the past two seasons and Veach says that the sport at a lot of schools is a program that could be really good because boys volleyball in general is not a popular sport in the area.

“It’s just a matter of can you boys volleyball coach go out and get athletes to play volleyball,” he added.

Veach has coached boys tennis for five or six years and says just like girls tennis, the sport is tough because the school is not in a community where there are of ton of kids who grow up playing tennis. Both programs have combined to win 53 matches since 2002 and neither has finished higher than fourth place in league.

As far as moving from the Suburban League to the 605 League, Veach says as a whole, the new league has been a positive and suits Artesia pretty well.

“I was at Artesia for 11 years while we were in the Suburban League and we never had a CIF finals appearance for a team sport,” Veach said. “We’ve had some individual and some track champions. In two years in the 605 League, we’ve had a CIF finals [appearance] and a CIF champion. I don’t think you can argue that it’s been a positive for us. It’s obvious that the league been a positive for Artesia High School, not in every single sport. I’ll give you that much, and we knew that going in, that there’s no perfect fit.”

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