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STATE OF CERRITOS HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETICS: Football, boys soccer anticipate better days ahead while rest of athletic program keeps excelling

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

This is the second in a series of stories on the athletic programs of the area schools from the past 15-20 years and the immediate future of most of their 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.

Next up is Cerritos High, one of three schools that moved from the Suburban League to the 605 League two years ago to join three other schools. This is a school that has a very high student participation rate, according to co-athletic director Robert Adams. He added that the school has a high number of athletes and still tries to promote multi-sport athletes. Two words that Adams will continue to say throughout his assessment of the athletic program is commitment and consistency.

FOOTBALL

When the next high school football season gets under way, Cerritos will see its 10thhead coach since 2000. Despite the futility the program has gone through since its last trip to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs in 2001, many on campus are optimistic about the future and there is a lot of energy. The program has hit a little speed bump, though, because of the COVID-19 situation because the kids are not allowed on campus and contact time is being lost, according to Adams. But he believes with new head coach Brad Carter, the next era of Cerritos football will be better than what it has been.

“I think it’s a slow building silver lining,” Adams said. “I think we’re improving, and I think our situation has improved. I’m very thankful for the coaches that we had [in the past]. But the coach that we have now seems to be the most prepared than we’ve had since [Kurt] Bruich and [Dusan] Ancich. Coach Bruich was basically catching lightning in a bottle. Obviously, a high caliber coach and again, without overpublicizing the lack of success we had under several coaches in between, I’m optimistic that we might be, at least, on the right track right now with this particular coach.”

Bruich coached until the 2001 season and went 22-10 in his final three seasons with the Dons. To put that in comparison, the Dons have won 18 games in the past 13 seasons with seven head coaches. Ancich, in two different stints with the school, went 12-19. The program has seen three winning seasons since 2000 and has reached the playoffs twice (2000 and 2001). The program also hit a major snag in the 2012 season when the varsity team played four non-league games on the field, then dropped to junior varsity status the remainder of season. Adams called it ‘the bottom’ and said the program was at risk at that point. He says since then, the program has been finding a little more success each year.

“The one thing about high school is that it’s not a college and so our fan base rotates every four years,” Adams said of the culture of the school. “The kids who are around now have never seen a winning football season at Cerritos. They weren’t even born, or most of them weren’t even born when there was a winning season.

“A lot has changed, and it’s changed in many different ways,” he continued. “It started with [switching] leagues; that gave us a different footing and a different attitude; a little bit of an attitude adjustment there and a little bit of hope.”

Adams cites the booster club as an ‘incredibly strong organization compared to what it was 10 years ago’ and calls it highly optimistic for the school. He also said the student body is ready for it now, adding that the numbers are up, and the demographics are changing a little bit.

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

This is one of many consistent programs throughout the school within the past 20 teams with its teams finishing above fourth place in league 17 times. In fact, the 2002 season has been the only non-playoff team the program has seen during that time. The 2009 team, under former head coach Khanh Vo, reached the CIF-SS Division III-A championship finals and finished that season 25-4. Vo was the head coach for six seasons and current head coach David Cuthbert has kept the winning tradition going for the next seven seasons, taking his 2016 squad to the quarterfinals.

“Almost the opposite of the football program, consistency is key,” Adams said. “We’ve had a very consistent set of coaches working through. Coach Vo and coach Cuthbert have been a very consistent presence on campus; both of them are on-campus teachers. I don’t think you can look past that. That’s a situation that when it’s working, it offers some stability. It’s one of the areas that we’re looking in the 605 League to make sure that we hold up.”

The Lady Dons have yet to lose a 605 League match and have advanced past the first round in the playoffs five straight times and nine times in the past 12 seasons.

GIRLS TENNIS

The one word that comes to mind when talking about the girls tennis program is dominant, especially in league action where the Lady Dons have won 209 league matches while losing three since 2002. The program lost in the Division 4 finals in 2011 but captured the 2012 and 2013 Division 4 championships. The program has also advanced to the semifinals four other times and the quarterfinals another four times in the past 18 seasons.

“We’ve been very fortunate with the kids that come into our school to be as devoted to that program as they have been,” Adams said. “Yeah, we’re just very lucky to have that situation occur with girls tennis.”

Adams talks about competitive equity within the CIF and how it’s going to change the success in different sports at other schools.

“If you’re looking at tradition in an athletic program on how many CIF titles you might have, the system is not built for that to be the case anymore,” he said. “You’re not going to see a lot of back to back [CIF titles] or these long playoff runs.”

BOYS WATER POLO

Just like the girls tennis program, boys water polo has excelled quite well in league competition since 2002, losing four times in 83 games, winning 14 league titles, and finishing in second place four other times. The Dons also captured the Division VI championships in 2006 and 2007 and the 2008 Division IV title. Adams says the school is fortunate to be attractive to students who want to attend Cerritos High School and be strong in sports such as tennis and water polo as well as in the classroom. He adds that it has helped sustain some of those programs. If there is one blemish, Adams admitted that water polo, as a sport, is going through a flux because the school has been in constant negotiations with the city in terms of trying to get facilities.

“That’s a very facility-driven sport,” Adams said. “It’s a shame we’re not on campus; I would love to be on campus. If we were, I think you would see a much more sustained success. Our water polo program is pretty consistent. Because of our success in league, we struggle a little bit to find success within the CIF structure.”

CROSS COUNTRY

This has consistently been another strong athletic program at Cerritos, primarily because of the number of runners that are on the lower level squads, making for stiff competition to be among the top seven that make it to the varsity level.

“When you look over the records, coach [Jason] Watanabe…the consistency involved with cross country is obviously foundational to its success,” Adams said. They’re a tremendously cohesive program. They have a great alumni group that returns. It’s just a machine. That aspect of a program is where all our athletic programs really want to be. They all want to have alumni to come back and [have a] strong tradition and that’s what is going on with cross country.”

BOYS BASKETBALL

Adams says he doesn’t anticipate a lot of inconsistencies with the boys basketball program and is very hopeful the school can sustain the success of the program as they move forward. In fact, both basketball programs are the only ones on campus to record over 300 victories in the past 20 years.

“We are very well-coached in boys basketball,” Adams said. “It’s our flagship program right now as far as the way that it’s run-organization, consistency and development. Unfortunately, if you’re winning games on a consistent basis that you’re not supposed to win, competitive equity will not drop that program.

“I’m so proud of our players and our athletes and how committed they are to the program,” he continued. “But if you look at our talent level, when we get to those quarterfinal matches and things like that in CIF, we don’t have the same talent pool that some of these other schools do. And as long as we keep winning games, we’re not going to move divisions, and if we don’t move divisions, we may not see that kind of success.”

The program has seen just three mentors in the past 20 seasons. The 2001-2002 season saw Ian Desborough coach his final team. That same season, Jonathan Watanabe was alongside him as a co-head coach and was elevated to head coach the next season. It has been Watanabe ever since until the 2015-2016 season when Kevin Enomoto joined him as co-head coach.

“He’s an example,” Adams said of Watanabe. “He’s done a tremendous job trying to make sure that his program stays involved with the campus. It’s something that we strive to do in all of our different athletic programs; to make them part of our overall culture of the campus.

“It’s good to have a personality like him walk around [the campus] and have the success that he’s had and generate the fan support that he does,” he later added. “That’s what he does for our campus. There’s just a consistent, dependable, predictable effort that comes out of that group. I think it’s a very high bar, and when you get involved as a 14 or a 15-year old student with the boys basketball program, there is no doubt what the expectations are going to be. And those that work their way through into their junior and senior year, they just stack right on top of that.”

Since 2000, the program was won its lone league championships the past two seasons and has won at least 17 games nine times, reaching the quarterfinals three times.

GIRLS BASKETBALL

The success from the late 1990s under former head coach Ann Dena Sjoredsma has fed off to five other coaches, including current head coach Marcus Chinen, who wrapped up his sixth season three months ago. This program has produced 326 wins in 20 seasons with one trip to the semifinals (2005) and three trips to the quarterfinals, all within the past seven years.

“They’re a great program as well,” Adams said. “They support each other by the way; the whole basketball program supports each other and I think that’s a tremendous thing. Coach Chinen has done a great job over these years. He’s getting more on campus coaches involved and I think with the consistency there, the expectations are that they’re going to put in the effort necessary to be able to move forward.”

BOYS SOCCER

The beginning of the 2000s began with an undefeated Suburban League season but two seasons later, the program went downhill fast. The program has finished in last place 12 times and has yet to win 10 games since the 2000-2001 campaign. But the program broke through this past season and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since Adams coached that team which capped off its second straight 12-0 Suburban League season.

“It’s been a struggle,” Adams said. “However, the program broke down under my leadership in the early to middle 2000s. We’ve really, really struggled to try to put together a consistent program since the early 2000s. We’re optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction. I think releaguing helped a little bit with that. I think boys soccer can follow along a lot like football did at Cerritos High School.”

He says consistency is really important, but you need to have some consistent quality as well and the school is trying to work towards improving that. Head coach Edward Vasquez, in one season, has put some spark into the program and many on campus are hopeful the teams of the immediate future can return to the playoffs.

“Coach Vasquez is doing a really good job,” Adams said. “He had a tremendous run in the playoffs this year and I think that might be the stepping stone to finding some consistent success because the kids themselves, and the young ones in the program, see some results from all their efforts. Hopefully, that will help us move forward and we keep it consistent there for a while.”

GIRLS SOCCER

For a long time, the program had made it a habit of finishing in third place in the Suburban League behind La Mirada High and Mayfair High, then fall in a wild card game or lose in the first round. Somewhat of a consistent program, 15 teams have advanced to the postseason since 2000 under seven coaches. Still, the Lady Dons are seeking to get beyond the second round.

Even though the program has been solid, Adams says it’s hard to compare the leadership under himself, who has been the head coach for five seasons, and the leadership under the previous head coach, Tony Montalvo, because Cerritos was in the Suburban League at that time and the level of competition is different. He also said the program has struggled with the competitive equity stuff and the 605 League has presented a new challenge similar to the tennis programs. He added that the boys basketball program is working its way through those challenges.

“I don’t really know what it’s going to take to get us up to another level,” Adams said. “We’re going certainly move forward. At Cerritos, league titles are the primary target. That’s the first goal of any program and then we’ll look at CIF as we move forward from there.”

GIRLS WATER POLO

The first time Cerritos had a girls water polo team was the 2003-2004 season and it was an instant hit. Since then, there have been three league championships and nine second place finishes. The program won Divisional VII championships in 2009 and 2010.

Adams talked about being a leader in the development of that sport in CIF and part of its growth and increasing some of the girls’ sports which is something the school is always interested in doing. Says they’re solid in that area but is struggling a little bit right now with consistency.

“Coach [Paul] Park is the common denominator through those middle years when we saw a lot of success in both the swim programs and the water polo programs; aquatics in general,” Adams said. “We’re working on the facility areas there. We’re really proud of our girls; they did a good job this year at the end.”

WRESTLING

Even though it’s relatively new among females, this is another sport where the girls program has been tremendous. The program is going through a coaching change on the boys side and the school is hopeful that it can put in some consistent coaching there and get some consistent participation and effort, which would allow the program to develop and stabilize. The 605 League should help with that as John Glenn High is dominant in wrestling.

“Wrestling period is still wrestling, and I think when it’s done well, it’s a great spectator sport if we can get the student body in to see it,” Adams said. “Usually it’s a very raucous and loud environment. It’s exciting and something I think even the right atmosphere can grow a little bit.”

BASEBALL

Much like football and boys soccer, the baseball program had its share of bad seasons, both in the win-loss department as well as the performance on the field. The program went through 16 non-playoff seasons. But, under the leadership of head coach Brooks Walling, with the help of former head coach Scott Parsonage, the baseball program has been making strides and has been improving since 2014.

“When you have coaching staffs that are that committed to doing the work and are putting out good examples for the kids, much like our boys basketball program, it’s amazing how quickly they will come up,” Adams said. “As long as there are some good examples in there for the kids, that’s an area where they will improve.”

Adams said the program has had some really consistent high-level coaching with a lot of energy and positivity as well as some really good players. The program has seen the playoffs in three of the past four seasons and had it not been for the global pandemic, this might have been one of the best teams in school history. Adams said he is very disappointed they didn’t get the chance to finish the season because he felt it was a strong team and was looking forward to seeing how deep in the playoffs they could have gone. But he predicts the program will be okay over the long run.

“Coach Walling continued what coach Parsonage started,” Adams said. “But it’s an accountability issue. Coach Walling made sure he established an accountability factor, both on the field and off the field for those players. They’re holding themselves accountable and those errors go down because it matters to them. They’re playing for each other.”

SOFTBALL

The 2000s began with the second of back to back Division II championships and even though there have been half a dozen league championships since then, there have been no trips to the semifinals. The school has not landed on somebody who has had a long-term ability to stick with the program. But, Adams says it’s a testament to the girls who have come through the program that it’s maintained any type of consistency at all and admitted he is not sure where the program will be with the inconsistency in coaching.  There have been nine coaches since 2000 and the program has won 295 games. He added that the spring sports in all the schools who have walk-on coaches will be tested in the next year or two.

“From an athletic department’s standpoint, we really appreciate all of our walk-on coaches,” Adams said. “There’s no doubt the amount of time they’re putting in; the commitment that they’re putting in and trying to keep the programs up.”

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

The program has won six league titles and finished in second place eight times since 2002 and the 2017 team advanced to the Division 5 finals. Adams says Vo is a consistent presence on campus and is an extremely talented coach who is very knowledgeable about the sport. This program overachieves a lot every year developing players and Adams doesn’t anticipate the program doing anything other than what it’s done in the past. He compares the program to the boys basketball program in that it tends to win the games it’s not supposed to win.

“The league titles will take care of themselves; we’ll be very competitive in league,” Adams said. “No doubt about that. CIF performance will be affected because it’s not a system designed for teams who are overachieving. If you’re an overachieving team, it’s going to paralyze you a little bit because you’re going to be put into a slot that you really don’t belong in until something shakes out.”

BOYS TENNIS

Not many negatives to say about the program as the Dons have won all 214 league matches since 2002 and made three straight trips to the Division IV finals, losing in 2007 and winning the next two seasons. Adams says the school is just fortunate in that the student body has enough commitment. The program has had enough coaching and currently has a consistent presence.  It has also been able to survive coaching changes while continuing the winning tradition. This is another student body-driven program.

TRACK AND FIELD/SWIMMING

Just like in cross country, Jason Watanabe and his coaching staff continue to see the numbers rise. Adams believes track has the most diverse coaching staff because many of the coaches Watanabe has are involved in other aspects of the athletic program or on campus. He says he looks for good things in track.

The entire aquatics program has been nothing short of solid with the boys capturing the Division IV titles in 2001, 2002, 2014, 2015 and 2016. The girls have also claimed Division 4 championships in 2013, 2014 and 2016.

On moving to the 605 League to gain more competitive equity, Adams says he thinks it’s a sport to sport situation and has been very impressed with the way the other schools are trying to grow their athletic programs.

“We have a very wide range of schools within the 605 League,” he said. “So, the smaller schools are really working hard trying to get their participation level up and we’re hopeful that that continues to happen. As that happens, the 605 League will grow and improve.”

 

 

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