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STATE OF WHITNEY HIGH ATHLETICS: Smallest area school doing the best it can with limited facilities, gymnasium practice time

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter• JUNE 30, 2020

STATE OF WHITNEY HIGH ATHLETICS

Smallest area school doing the best it can with limited facilities, gymnasium practice time

 

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

 

This is the seventh in a series of stories on the athletic programs of the area high schools 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.

Next up is Whitney High, a school that has bounced around a couple of leagues before settling down in the 605 League, which is set to begin its third year of existence. Whitney athletics have gone all over the Southland for league events, playing the likes of Campbell Hall High, located in Valley Village and Montclair Prep High, located in Panorama City, to the north when it was in the Delphic League and travelling as far south as San Juan Capistrano to play St. Margaret’s High when it was in the Academy League.

The one thing that has stood out and will continue to stand out is the fact that Whitney, known more for its academics, has not fielded a football program in its 45 years of existence. Athletic director Jeff Day stated that there’s a lot that goes into putting together a football program, including time and facilities.

“It would be a no go,” Day said. “It might be a little bit of a challenge because our school is about 60 percent girls and 40 percent boys. The positive [of not having football] is it give me much more time to focus on all the other sports because, let’s be honest, football takes a lot of an athletic director’s time all year round. I’m able to put that time in all my other sports.”

In the last two years, the Whitney athletic program has been the second best in the 605 League and according to Day, that says something when people think of the school as being all academics.

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

Because of the two leagues Whitney had been in, and this will be a recurring theme with a lot of the athletic programs, girls volleyball has spent most of the time in the past 20 years finishing in either fourth or fifth place. The last time the program saw a league championship was 2000 when a 17-5 season ended with a quarterfinal loss. The previous season, the team got to the semifinals and was 18-5. Since 2001, the program has seen five coaches, gone to the playoffs six times, and has had three winning seasons, two of which have come the past two seasons as members of the new league.

“Volleyball is one of our most popular programs on our campus,” Day said. “I get the most interest for a single gender sport, and a sport that we have to make the most cuts in. From the seventh grade on, it’s a very popular sport with the girls.”

Day is quick to point out that 95 percent of the past 15-20 years, the school was in the Academy League where, for girls volleyball purposes, it had teams that would win CIF-Southern Section divisional championships like St. Margaret’s and Sage Hill High. Factor in a Crean Lutheran High in the later days as a member of the league, and it would be difficult for any Whitney team to finish above fourth place.

“Coming in fourth place behind those three teams, so be it,” Day said. “I’m excited now; we’re in a good league that’s fit for us. Girls volleyball, especially in the last 18 months, has more [players] joining club volleyball; more interested in joining volleyball.”

Since moving into the 605 League, the program has gone 26-16 with a pair of second place finishes with two coaches. One of them was Ole Nervik, who was the head coach for 12 years before former head coach Alonso Ledezma coached last season’s squad. However, the best season for Nervik was 2018 and Day said Nervik brought consistency to the program, made practices fun and made it family oriented.

GIRLS TENNIS

The lone league championship for the program came last season when the Lady Wildcats shared it with powerhouse Cerritos High. But since 2002, Whitney has finished anywhere from second place to fourth place, compiling 75 league victories.

“The Academy League, once again, CIF perennial powers,” Day said. “I called it the country club league that we used to be in. We have some really good tennis players [in the city] and we’re lucky that of the students that come to Whitney who qualify to get in, [they] are very talented athletes.”

Day added that one of the challenges the program faces is where the tennis teams play. The school doesn’t have tennis courts on campus and has been playing at the Cerritos Sports Complex because there are not enough courts behind the school and adjacent to the Cerritos Olympic Swimming Pool.

Whitney has a varsity and a junior varsity team every year and usually has 35-40 girls in the program. Day says he’s very lucky to find Eli Alejo last summer to be the new head coach of the program. The program has also been sending a player or two every three to four years to play collegiate tennis.

“Our best players are usually come in ready to go as freshmen,” he said. “We have a lot of four-year varsity players and obviously, Cerritos is currently our biggest challenge in our league.”

BOYS WATER POLO/CROSS COUNTRY

It’s been hard for the boys water polo program to advance to the postseason and in fact, the program has produced 19 league wins since 2002 without a league championship or a second place finish. It’s been tough going to claim either of the top two positions with Cerritos and Warren High predominantly owning the San Gabriel Valley League in this sport.

The cross country program has been doing well with numbers and has had a few individuals here and there do well in the ABC District Meet over the years. Last fall, the Wildcats had a league champion.

“We represent pretty well with the cross country program,” Day said. “I have 47 coaching positions currently for my high school athletic department and 44 are walk-ons. My two cross country coaches are both full-time teachers at Whitney, which makes it so much easier with communicating with the athletes in that program.”
Day said he has more kids that are signed up for cross country this upcoming school year than he has seen in his four years as the school’s athletic director.

GIRLS GOLF

While Mike Hamada is the head coach, Day is an assistant coach with the program and the Lady Wildcats compete for either the league championship or second place every year. Whitney, which graduated two golfers from last fall’s team, will have its biggest group of girls when the season begins in the fall. The program has over a dozen athletes, which is more than double what the school usually has.

“We currently have one of the best freshmen, going into a sophomore, in the state returning in Sarah Yoo,” Day said. “We’ll see what we can do and hopefully we can get out there on the course sooner than later this summer getting ready for the fall. Our goal is to battle for a league championship in girls golf.”

BOYS BASKETBALL

This program is the second most winningest at Whitney in the past 20 years with 204 overall wins. Although there hasn’t been a league title in that time, two teams have finished in second place and four others have claimed third place. There have been eight head coaches with current John Glenn High head coach Ruben Guerrero lasting nine seasons and taking six teams to the playoffs. One other former head coach, Gerald Winston, lasted three seasons from 2002-2005 and took all three teams to the playoffs. There has not been another Whitney team to advance to the playoffs in the past 20 years.

“It’s been turnover and turnover and turnover,” Day said of the coaching carousel. “It’s just getting the consistency with the coaching staff and carrying through to the players. Obviously, I was a basketball guy for a long time and was very successful at it. The most important thing is just a regular routine and that comes with the consistency from your freshmen coach to your varsity coach. Having the same coaching staff for three, four, five, six years…we’ve gone through three or four head coaches in the last five or six years. It’s just a start over every year, kind of like the wheels are spinning in the mud.”

Whitney has had only four winning seasons in the past 20 years, the last coming in the 2011-2012 season. But, current head coach Lance Convento, who played at Cerritos, won nine games this past season, the most the program has had in four years, and the team has one of the best players in the 605 League in Ethan Wong, who will be a sophomore next month.

“Over the last five years, we’ve played a pretty tough schedule,” Day said. “If you look back a couple of years ago, we played Mayfair, we played Sonora…we played pretty tough schedules and honestly maybe we should have not played. I think we’re finding ourselves, better than we have in the past.”

Day said the program has been getting its numbers up and has been making sure to get at least two full squads, sometimes three. He added that once again, it’s all about the lack of facilities and practice time for all the teams. Once the season ends, the basketball teams don’t see the gymnasium in March, April, May and hardly at all in June.

GIRLS BASKETBALL

With a 306-217 mark, this is the school’s winningest athletic program in the past 20 years. Even though there have been seven head coaches, including Day, who coached for six seasons, went 101-56, won a pair of league titles and advanced to the quarterfinals three times, the program has also seen five losing seasons. The 2009-2010 season was the only one in which Whitney failed to make the playoffs since the 1998-1999 season.

“If you look at the competitive equity stuff that the CIF has out there now, where teams are moving up and teams are moving down [in the divisions], we pretty much have stayed where we’re at,” Day said. “We’ve pretty much been in the same division and that Division 4 AA is a pretty darn tough division. From Division 3 and lower, it’s probably the toughest division.

“But not bringing in a single transfer for athletic reasons, I’d have to say we are the only high school that I know of that does not and cannot and does not get kids in because of athletics,” he continued. “Our goal is to win league championships and I feel we can come in the top three in every sport we play.”

Day said the school has been lucky with the players it has seen walk through its doors. The program went four straight seasons, under three different head coaches, without losing a league contest. During that time, the Lady Wildcats compiled a 91-20. But over the last six seasons, the program has not had a season of more than 20 wins and as put together 89 wins.

Since Day stepped away from the coaching reigns, there have been two head coaches in as many seasons with both teams advancing to the quarterfinals, the sixth and seventh times the program has done that since the 2007-2008 campaign.

“Being on campus, I’m able to connect with all the girls,” Day said. “We’re able to have our own tournaments. We don’t stray away; we play some good teams and we’ve had some good wins as well as some tough loses.”

BOYS SOCCER

This is one of six major programs to have won a league championship over the past 20 years, but there have been just three winning seasons. It’s also one of seven major programs to have gone through at least six head coaches since 2000. With that said, 10 teams have advanced to the playoffs with quarterfinal appearances in 2009, 2010 and 2017.

“We have a lot of skilled players, we’ve had players who have gone on to play in college, we’ve had MVP’s,” Day said. “We’ve had a pretty good showing. We now have Rob [Sarfaraz] coaching the team. His dad was our coach for many years.”

One of those winning seasons came in Sarfaraz’ first season in which he guided the 2016-2017 team to a 13-5-1 campaign, the best the program has had in the past 20 years. That team also finished in second place in league.

Day added that the program needs another five to eight players each year in order to have both a varsity and a junior varsity, or freshmen team. He said the younger kids need to play because right now, they’ll have four to 10 kids who are expected to be at practice every day, like the whole team.

GIRLS SOCCER

There have been three head coaches in as many seasons, but the latest one, Miguel Mendoza, went 14-7-0 this past season and took the team to the playoffs. It was the program’s first trip to the playoffs since 2006 and the third time in the past 20 years.

In fact, Whitney has had three other winning seasons since 2001 and has not finished above third place in that time. Leading up to the 2000-2001 season, Whitney had at least three straight winning seasons with a combined 35-12-3 mark.

But more recently, the program seems to be coming around as three years ago, former head coach Lyle Stamps guided his team to a 9-8-2 mark and the year after, former head coach Johnny Torres went 10-7-1. From the 2006-2007 season to last season, the program finished in fifth place nine times and fourth place twice.

“Once again, all I have to say is country club,” Day said. “The Academy League, with those three spots-St. Margaret’s, Crean Lutheran and Sage Hill-those teams were once again top in their division. So, a fourth place finish wasn’t necessarily that bad for most of this. We’re in a pretty strong league for soccer, boys and girls, and we had a good group of seniors who we’re going to miss a lot. We do have some promising [sophomores] that played a lot on the varsity team [this past season].”

Day said that the biggest challenge, which is the same with some of the other programs, is that there are not enough girls participating to field two teams. Going into the fall of 2019, Day didn’t have a coach, but added that Mendoza is one of the best up and coming coaches in the area, if not the CIF.

“I’m just holding my breath and going to be happy for as long as we have him because it’s going to be a college coach, probably a college educator,” Day said of Mendoza. “I’ve been very impressed with him this year for a first-year coach right out of college. He brought in a lot of new ideas, he brought in a lot of discipline, but not in a commanding way. He expected things to be done a certain way and the kids responded. They wanted that and it showed.”

GIRLS WATER POLO

Last winter was the first time the school had a girls water polo team and was considered a freelance team instead of being place in the San Gabriel Valley League with Cerritos, Gahr High, and La Mirada High, to name a few.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Day said. “I asked coach Mark [Johnson] two years ago and just by going to water polo games in the fall and seeing 35 kids there for Whitney setting the pool up and doing the clock and doing everything…I’m looking and said, ‘there are more girls playing boys water polo than boys for Whitney’.”

At that point, Day mentioned to Johnson that there should be a separate team. After thinking about it for a full school year, a team was formed. Day doesn’t believe the program will be in a league this upcoming season but is fine for now freelancing.

BASEBALL

Up until the 2017 season, this has not been a popular sport on campus. The Wildcats failed to win more than five games in any season from 2000 to 2015 and did not even put a team together in 2016. Then came head coach Jason Tani, who has won 26 games in less than four full seasons. From 2000 to 2015, under six different head coaches, the program won 30 games and never finished above fifth place in league. The program has also not been to the playoffs in over 20 years.

“Jason has done a good job,” Day said. “He brought in good coaches around him, which is the biggest part of [the success]. Being able to play our baseball games and practice at the park adjacent to our school is tremendous. This year’s team, before we got halted, we were aiming to battle Cerritos in our league. We were expecting, at worst, to come in second place in baseball in our league. That’s where we thought we were going to go.”

Day said he wished the numbers would be higher as there were less than 15 in the program and added that baseball can move fast at times and can be very dangerous. He wants to give all the kids who want to play an opportunity to plat at the level that suits each kid the best.

SOFTBALL

The program has been a mixed bag over the past 20 years, finishing anywhere from first to sixth place in league. Of the major programs, it’s the third most winningest at Whitney with 172 wins since 2000. The program has been to the playoffs 10 times, has had nine winning seasons under half a dozen head coaches with the 2000 team advancing to the semifinals.

“We’ve had a consistent group of 12 to 18 girls,” Day said. “Most of the time, they’ve played throughout their high school career. We’ve been lucky in that we had a four-year star pitcher who graduated last year. Before that, we had a three-year or four-year star pitcher who graduated. Over the last 10 to 15 years, I think we’ve had three or four pitchers who were able to pitch 90 percent of the games.”

Day continued to say that even though you can ride a pitcher as far as keeping a team competitive, you need the position players as well. The program also has its share of challenges as it has had to practice, at times, and play its games at the Cerritos Sports Complex. Because of that, Day believes it has kept some girls away from playing softball.

Burt Ojeda is the current head coach but before that, Luis Lavayen had been Whitney’s head coach for 14 years. His last team advanced to the quarterfinals and had a 15-9 record, the program’s best mark since the 2012 team went 15-5. Before Lavayen took over, Whitney had four head coaches in five years. In addition, the program did not field a team in 2009.

“Going into next year, as of now, we have more kids that are showing an interest in playing,” Day said. “We have a big group; two or three pretty good freshmen coming in, and it’s one team. It’s varsity softball, so we don’t get to develop those younger girls and bring them up as slow as we want.”

Another challenge, according to Day, is that because of the low numbers, everyone who comes out for softball has to know that even if they are a pinch runner or play in the outfield, or spend one year on the team, they have a role and are an important part of the team and will bring something that will benefit the team. It’s a challenge that Day tries to let his coaches know.

“We’re pretty young,” Day said. “At least half the team are ninth or 10thgraders. From what I’ve been told, obviously our school is a middle school and high school, there’s a pretty good group of seventh, going to be eighth graders as well. Over the next three to five years, if all these things I’m hearing about are true, then we’re going to have a decent squad for softball.”

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

Although the program has yet to win a league championship, it’s been like the girls program in that there have been a combined 15 third and fourth place finishes in league since 2002 with a league mark of 88-100. The old Academy League has had powerhouse teams that have made it hard for Whitney to win a title, and again, there’s the number factor where the school has more girls than boys.

“If you’re not in the top three, it’s hard to make the playoffs,” Day said. “Being a school where it’s mostly girls, our boys’ numbers are down. But we have some good boy athletes. The biggest thing going is facilities; gym time.”

Day continued to say that of the teams that practice in the gymnasium, they are there for an hour and a half to an hour and 45 minutes. That’s because Whitney only has one gym whereas a lot of schools in the area have enough room to hold at least three basketball and/or volleyball courts. He said Whitney gets about three and a half hours of gym time a day while other schools get 18-24 hours of gym time utilizing all three courts.

He also said that Whitney has had a lot of great athletes who have played the sport and they are usually taller than those who play basketball.

“It’s a long time coming for them because they don’t get a lot of play in the summer,” Day said. “[They are] probably one of the teams that’s the most anxious to get under way. Good athletes, though. Coach Ole has a lot of fun with the boys and he mentioned this year how this is the most fun he’s had coaching in a long time with this past year.”

BOYS TENNIS

This is a sport that may not be popular at a lot of high schools, but at Whitney, the program has been one of the more successful ones in league competition. Since 2002, Whitney has gone 120-46 in league play with nine championships, two second place finishes and four third place showings. In fact, over the past 18 years, the 2014, 2015 and 2016 failed to make the playoffs.

“Another big sport on campus; one of our sports we actually have to have tryouts for to make cuts,” Day said. “I wish we could have three teams. I wish we could have frosh, j.v. and varsity. Obviously, that’s not a possibility especially not having tennis courts on our campus. But we’re going to be right there, one-two [in league]. We expect to go more than a round in the playoffs every year. Since I’ve been at Whitney for eight years, I want to say every year we’ve had one or more boys advance in individual singles and doubles. There’s a lot of tennis talent in the city of Cerritos.”

TRACK AND FIELD

Day wishes the numbers would be up in the program if Whitney is to compete for a league championship, but anticipates the league going back to cluster meets next season as opposed to dual meets.

“Being such a small school, we always seem to have a couple of athletes every year that are competing in an individual league championship in their event,” Day said. “We just graduated Ola Ogan who is the school record holder in the long jump. We have a couple of younger kids who I think would have broken school records and probably would have been league champs this year if they were able to compete into May.”

This is another program in which there are limited facilities as the school does not have a track surface. However, in the last three years, Day has updated the discus, long jump and shot-put areas on campus.

BOYS GOLF

Day says the program can battle in the 605 League and currently has a sophomore who is one of the best two or three golfers in the league. Whitney also recently graduated a couple of four-year starters who had decent years.

“Every year we can gain about two or three boys,” Day said. “It’s one of those sports I try to tell all the kids, ‘go out for golf, go out for golf, it’s the one thing you’re going to be able to play for the rest of your life. It will be for enjoyment, or business, or socializing’. We have more than doubled our golf numbers over the last couple of years.”

As far as being situated in the 605 League, unlike Artesia High Cerritos and John Glenn High, who got out of the Suburban League, Whitney joined the 605 League because the Academy League was disbanding. Day said the athletic program has benefited tremendously because the school probably kept a couple of student-athletes because of their time commitments in relation to traveling for league contests. He used the example of having tennis teams going to the San Clemente Country Club or golf teams having to play at the Monarch Bay Resort.

“Our longest drive was approximately pushing 40-something miles,” Day said. “Our longest drive now is six. Sometimes we had to leave at 12:00-12:15. Now, we leave between 1:30-2:00. That’s huge just right there. Also, the parents; how many of our parents are going to get to go to an away game at St. Margaret’s on a Friday? Our parents can go and support their children more because they can make the games [now]. They’re in our neighborhood, they’re in our backyard.”

 

 

 

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