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LOREN KOPFF CELEBRATES 25 YEARS AT THE LOS CERRITOS COMMUNITY NEWS – 605 League is formed, another is created later and a global pandemic rocks the athletic scene

 

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final part of a series looking back at the past 25 years as a member of the Los Cerritos Community News

 In early January 2018, ground was broken on the new athletic fields at John Glenn High, thanks to the Measure G bond in which the school received $25 million out of the $375 million that was given to the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District. Glenn’s first-ever on-campus football field was built, and new baseball and softball fields were put in. All athletic fields at the school have field turf surfaces. A few years later, Norwalk High would get all new athletic field turf facilities.

On the court, the Cerritos High girls basketball team won its second straight, and what would be its final Suburban League title with a 56-46 win at Mayfair High, giving the program its first undefeated league season since the 1997-1998 campaign when the school was in the Mission Valley League. Cerritos, under head coach Marcus Chinen, who was in his fourth season, went to the CIF-Southern Section quarterfinals before ending a 24-5 campaign with a 60-47 loss to Flintridge Prep High.

The Cerritos boys team won 20 games and lost less than 10 games for the first time under my time covering the program but finished in second place and were bounced out in the second round

Staying with Cerritos, a trio of girls wrestlers were making news at the CIF State Championships as the Dons finished in 19th place out of 258 schools. Desiree Estrada finished in second place in the 126-lb. class while Nile Jernigan, at 131 lbs., and Chimura Cooper, at 160 lbs., both finished in the top 12.

The Cerritos softball team hosted West Albany High out of Oregon as the sister of its head coach, Ryan Borde, connected with Cerritos head coach Kim Ensey two years prior about putting a non-tournament game together. Cerritos would win the game 3-1 and then later win its second straight league title before being ousted by Edison High, 2-1, in the first round of the playoffs.

For the second time in three seasons, Norwalk’s softball team, which would finish with a 13-11 record, advanced to the quarterfinals where it would lose to Sonora High.

Gahr High’s softball team posted a rare blowout win against league nemesis Warren High, 15-3, as the first round of San Gabriel Valley League action ended. The Gladiators, who finished 24-6 overall, would go all the way to the Division 1 finals where it fell to nationally ranked Norco High 8-2.

In baseball, Glenn was making waves as the Eagles went 20-9, finished in second place in the Suburban League and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. The only thing stopping the team from a league title was La Mirada High, which posted a 3-2 victory at La Mirada. The strength of that team was the pitching tandem of Joseph Angulo and Humberto Chiquito.

On April 26, former Norwalk and San Diego State University star Rashaad Penny, in the 27th pick, was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks while in track and field action, Valley Christian High’s Gavin Fua had the top discus mark in Division 4 with a throw of 177-1 and Jake Leue was the top shotput thrower at 51-3.50 at the CIF-SS championships. As a team, V.C. came in second place in the division with 68 points. Fua, along with Norwalk’s Misty Diaz (1600-meter run) would move on to the state preliminaries.

My top feature of the summer was on Artesia Punishers 18 Gold pitcher Yamila Evans, who was disrespected and ridiculed by her former coach and other personnel at San Marino High but bounced back to be a major force in the circle for the Punishers. I followed that feature with one of former Gahr softball slugger Alyssa Kumiyama, who missed most of her senior season, only to have instant success at the University of South Carolina once she was 100 percent ready to play as a freshman.

The Cal A’s travel softball program, headed by Brian Iseri, was expanding to Hawai’i with a pair of teams while the Punishers program was staying busy with late summer major tournaments at the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championships (18 Gold), the 12-Under and 16-Under teams playing in the United States Specialty Sports Association Far West National Championships and another 16-Under team participating in the Triple Crown Sports World Series in Reno. The Gold team would have its best success at the PGF National Championships, finishing in third place in the Platinum Division.

As the fall season was approaching, I interviewed CIF-SS Commissioner Rob Wigod again with the main topics being competitive equity and divisional realignment, an earlier start of the school season in August and new championships. Another change was taking place at V.C. where the school changed its mascot name from the Crusaders to the Defenders.

The season would also mark the inauguration of the 605 League with charter members Artesia, Cerritos, Glenn, Oxford Academy, Pioneer High and Whitney High. With competitive equity being the reason why the league was formed, the Artesia football team went 10-4, won all three league contests and advanced to the Division 12 championship game where it lost to Linfield Christian High 70-32. Glenn would finish in second place and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2002 along with defeating Norwalk 48-7 to snap a 15-game skid to its city rivals. Norwalk would lose all 10 games for the first, and only time in my 25 years covering the program.

In girls volleyball, Cerritos began a stretch of what would be three straight 10-0 league marks and three straight seasons of at least 24 victories. Gahr, with Gerryn Claxton taking over as head coach, had the first of consecutive 18-win seasons and SGVL championships while Whitney benefited from the new league and came in second place in Ole Nervik’s final season as head coach of the program.

At Norwalk, the Lancers lost the last five matches of the season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Their 5-11 record was the program’s worst since that same season when that team won one match.

The winter season would begin with the Whitney girls basketball team defeating Paramount High 52-35 for the consolation championship of the Glenn/Norwalk Tournament while the Artesia girls basketball team fell to Desert Hot Springs High 40-37 in the championship game of its own tournament.

For the first time as non-league members, both Norwalk basketball teams showed they were still the dominant programs in the city as the boys defeated Glenn 68-44 for the 18th time in the past 21 meetings while the girls won 44-29 for the program’s 15th straight win over the Eagles.

One of the 605 League openers for girls basketball was already proving to be a nifty city rivalry for years to come as Whitney rallied to defeat Cerritos 46-44 while one night later, both Gahr basketball teams would lose to Dominguez High in the SGVL opener. It was the first time in a decade the Gahr girls had fallen to Dominguez.

When the winter season had concluded, it was all about Cerritos in most of the sports. The boys basketball and girls soccer teams won league titles while the Cerritos girls basketball team went to the quarterfinals for a second straight season despite a 7-3 league mark.

The girls soccer team went 10-0-0 in league and to this date, still has not lost a league contest. Its 2018-2019 season came to a shocking halt in the Division 4 second round as three minutes into overtime, Kaci Holliday of Palm Desert High scored on a corner kick that never touched a player or the ground.

The softball season began with Whitney pitcher Taylor Genera striking out a school record 19 batters in a 3-2 loss to Dominguez while the V.C. baseball team began the new campaign winning four of its first five games.

On Feb. 17, I ventured to San Diego again to cover the San Diego Fleet of the Alliance of American Football as it was hosting the Atlanta Legends. That league was very short lived as it couldn’t complete a 10-game season and had to fold.

Later in the softball season, Gahr High had a ribbon-cutting ceremony as upgrades were made to the baseball and softball facilities courtesy of Major League Baseball’s ‘Baseball Tomorrow Fund’. Both teams would win the SGVL and for the baseball squad, it would be its fifth straight title while the softball team, with Rey Sanchez the new head coach, advanced to the semifinals before losing to Great Oak High 12-4. The Gladiators finished the season at 22-6.

Whitney would end a 15-9 season, one of the best in two decades, with a 2-1 setback to Westridge High in the Division 7 quarterfinals. In the game, Genera, who not only was the ace in the circle, but also the team’s leading hitter, was intentionally walked all three times she came up to the plate.

I would do a story on the unfinished work done on Glenn’s new baseball field, which was to have been completed before the official opening ceremony for its football stadium, which was held on May 14.

The summer began with the inaugural Los Angeles/Orange County Southern California Prep Bowl, which was once known as the 605 All-Star Game. Glenn had five players represented while Artesia had four players.

Jon Nielsen, who seems to do everything and then more, was now in charge of his own travel softball team, the 14-Under Athletics while I did a feature on Kieren Lopez of the Punishers 18 Gold team who puts the travel into travel softball as she hails from Bakersfield.

As the team was preparing for another trip to the PGF National Championships, I did a feature on the 10-year anniversary of the organization, interviewing co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Dan Hay. He talked about where the PGF began and where it’s going as it keeps expanding in many ways.

The PGF High School All-American Game followed the championship games and Gahr’s Jazmine Hill, who is attending Arizona State University, took home the MVP award as she went two for three and drove in two runs as the West defeated the East 6-3.

Dean Gray would return for his second stint as Norwalk football’s head coach, reinventing the double-wing offense. The Lancers won three games overall and went winless in the four-member Suburban League, marking the first time since 1999 Norwalk did not win a league game. V.C. football also had a new coach, albeit for one season, as Bill Garner guided the team to a 7-4 overall mark and a 4-0 Olympic League campaign.

But the highlight of the football season came from Glenn where, in his sixth and final season as head coach, Vince Lobendahn guided the Eagles to a 6-5 record and the program’s first league title in 30 years. Glenn also defeated Norwalk 20-7 to post consecutive wins over its city rivals for the first time since winning four in a row from 1999-2002.

V.C. girls volleyball captured the Division 4 championship with a four-set win over Norco for the program’s first title since 1998 to wrap up the busy fall season.

In boys basketball, V.C. won its own tournament, defeating La Mirada 67-49 in the championship game while the Whitney girls squad fell to Paramount 49-44 in the consolation championship contest of the Glenn-Norwalk tournament. The V.C. boys would end 1999 by capturing the San Pedro Pirate Shootout Tournament and entered 2020 with a 16-1 record.

Prior to its 605 League opener against Artesia, the Cerritos boys basketball program honored former star Evan Leonard, who at the time was a senior at the University of California, Irvine. Leonard is the program’s all-time leader in points scored (1,806), three-point baskets made (222) and steals (243). Cerritos would go on to win the second of three straight league titles and went as far as the quarterfinals for the third time in the past 10 seasons.

League champions were also crowned for the Cerritos girls basketball and soccer teams, the Artesia and Norwalk boys soccer teams and both V.C. soccer teams. But the biggest, and unexpected story coming from the basketball season came out of Artesia where the girls basketball team, which went 3-7 in league and finished in fourth place, powered through the playoffs to win the Division 5-AA championship for the program’s first title since 2003. The Pioneers knocked off San Jacinto Valley Academy 46-39 but was upset to learn they had drawn a road game in the Southern California Regionals where they lost to Lancaster High 66-40. The team’s 26 wins were the most since going 26-6 in the 2001-2002 season,

Norwalk’s boys basketball team which went 16-12 overall and finished in third place in the Suburban League, stunned fourth-seeded St. Margaret’s High 60-48 in the first round of the Division 4 AA playoffs. The season would see the Lancers play over 75 percent of their games on the road.

The Glenn boys soccer team advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 after finishing in second place in league while the Cerritos boys squad ended even a longer playoff drought, this one dating back to 2000. The Dons lost a heartbreaking 2-1 contest to Charter Oak High in which it was decided in penalty kicks, 4-3.

The Gahr girls soccer team, getting to the playoffs for the first time since 2003, fell to San Dimas High 1-0 in the Division 5 second round that was also decided in penalty kicks, 4-3. The team finished with a 15-8-2 record, the best for the program since going 14-4-3 in the 2001-2002 season.

A few weeks into the spring season, the world was immediately hit by an unprecedented roadblock as the Coronavirus pandemic was upon us. All high school athletics, as well as college and professional athletics, were immediately stopped in the middle of March with area baseball and softball teams playing anywhere from five to 11 games.

During the upcoming months, I would interview athletic directors on the tough task of putting together a fall schedule without knowing what was going to happen several months out. I also did a series of ‘State of (fill in the high school) Athletics’, which looked back at each school’s athletic programs of the past 20 years and the immediate future of them.

With no more athletics going on, including travel softball in the summer, I did more features, including Whitney’s guru of aquatics, Mark Johnson, former Gahr football standout Dwayne Washington as the newest million-dollar man for the New Orleans Saints and his high school teammate Joshua Perkins, who was now playing for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Gahr baseball program continuing to be one of the Southland’s top programs and La Mirada native Chase De Leo playing for the Anaheim Ducks, his favorite team growing up.

I interviewed Wigod on all possibilities for the 2020-2021 season, which included compacting the fall, winter and spring seasons into a fall and spring season, which meant moving several sports into temporary new seasons.

I did a feature on the passing of former Cerritos United Soccer Club president Ben Prado and a commentary late in the summer on the return of professional sports while high school athletics was still dealing with unanswered questions. When it was all said and done, the first high school athletics would be scheduled for Dec. 12 beginning with boys volleyball, normally a spring season sport.

I did a feature on former Gahr and UCLA baseball standout Mikey Perez on his experience playing in the San Diego League, also interviewing the vice president of marketing and public relations, Mark Rogoff.

Although California was shut down for youth activities, I went to St. George, Utah to cover the Punishers 16-Under team as it played in the American Fastpitch Association Southwestern Nationals. The Punishers were one of 32 teams to make it to Utah, where the mask mandates were not as strict as California’s.

In November, I covered the Punishers Gold team as it went to Las Vegas to play in the Surf City Tourney’s Las Vegas Showcase. Early in October, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak had opened the state for youth activities.

During the fall, I talked to all the athletic directors again on putting together an abbreviated schedule for the fall and spring seasons. V.C. was the first area school to bring athletes back for practices.

Late in the year, I did a feature on former Cerritos softball star Jadyn Nielsen on her verbal commitment to the University of Hawai’i and on La Mirada softball head coach Brent Tuttle winning $50,000 from Harbor Freight Tools as part of the Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence program. Tuttle is also a welding teacher at La Mirada.

I would also do a two-part series on the demolition of what was once San Diego/Jack Murphy then Qualcomm, then San Diego County Credit Union Stadium. The new Snapdragon Stadium would be built yards away to the west and is the new home for the Aztecs football team.

My last features of December would be on former Whitney diver Alex Mo, who was going to take his talents to Northwestern University and former Gahr baseball pitcher Jake Faria, who was coming home to play for the Los Angeles Angels, which was his childhood dream as a kid.

Once January 2021 arrived, it was clear that any football in the near future was going to be an abbreviated season and it would start in the middle of March. Some teams in the CIF-SS would play anywhere up to six games with no playoffs. The CIF-SS also announced it would not crown any divisional champions for the fall sports and in fact, none of the area schools had a girls volleyball season.

The first sporting event I covered in 2021 was V.C. hosting the Olympic League cross country cluster meet both teams winning. I would do a few more features on area athletes choosing their respective colleges to pursue their athletic dreams, as well as academic dreams. One of them was on Cerritos resident Kelly Chen, who did her high schooling online but played tennis before going to Duke University where she became the school’s third player to have earned All-American honors in all four years at the institution.

My first football game I covered came in the second of those six weeks and was Norwalk visiting Downey High. But now came the challenge of also covering the winter and spring sports at the same time while navigating through the shortened football season. For the first time since 2001, Cerritos won a league title in football, winning all three league contests while the rest of the 605 League played one league game. Gahr would play four games, losing all three SGVL contests while Norwalk went 1-4.

In boys basketball, Cerritos went 10-0 in league for the second straight season and won a league title for the third straight season but was bounced out in the first round of the playoffs while most of the area teams played anywhere from 10-24 games.

It would be more of the same for area soccer teams, playing anywhere from eight to 18 games. Whitney would also not field a girls soccer team and has gone two seasons without a girls program. However, a few of those girls played with the boys and the Wildcats advanced to the Division 7 finals where they fell to Sierra Canyon High 3-2 in overtime.

In the middle of the spring season, I did a feature on Punishers president and coach Bob Medina, who became the newest addition to the Chaminade University softball coaching staff. I would also do a feature on longtime Cerritos boys basketball head coach Jonathan Watanabe, and co-head coach of a few seasons, Kevin Enomoto, stepping away from the varsity ranks. Watanabe would stay with the program as the head coach of the freshman team.

Gahr’s softball team would see its streak of six straight SGVL championships stopped while Cerritos would go 22-2 and advance to the semifinals where the Dons fell to Sultana High 4-3.

The V.C. boys volleyball team was swept by Marina High in the Division 4 championship match, marking the first time all season it had been swept. Another successful season came from the Glenn softball team where the Eagles advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1990, going 10-6 overall and getting to the Division 7 quarterfinals.

In late April, I did a story on the passing of Rich Day, father of former Whitney athletic director and girls basketball head coach Jeff Day, who was a longtime high school basketball assigner. After a one-year absence because of the pandemic, the PGF National Championships were back for its 11th season. The Punishers 18 Gold team would have an early exit, not recording a win in bracket play for the third time in eight trips to the organization’s top summer tournament.

The high school fall season started on time and while some things looked the same, others were not. Stricter rules were being put in place on the fields and inside the gymnasiums when it came to wearing masks. Girls volleyball returned but there would still be some unanswered questions.

The season would see Norwalk’s football team returning to its dominance over Glenn in the annual Mayor’s Cup, winning 51-7. I would cover my first La Mirada-Mater Dei High football game in which the Monarchs won in convincing fashion, 58-7. Cerritos won its second straight league title with Artesia finishing in second place and five of the area’s seven football programs advanced to the playoffs. La Mirada, though, would be the only team to post a first round win. The Cerritos football community would lose one of its own as offensive line coach Webster Peters passed away from a heart attack.

In girls volleyball, Artesia made its way back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 before falling to La Mirada in a Division 7 wild card match while Cerritos made it 30 in a row as far as league victories.

My 25th year would begin the Cerritos girls basketball team claiming third place in the Corona Del Mar Tip-Off Tournament while navigating through some early season challenges while the top boys soccer game in December was old Suburban League rivals meeting as Norwalk hosted Artesia. The Lancers got a goal from Antonio Bautista in the 79th minute to nip Artesia 3-2.

And the Artesia boys basketball team would begin the season with 11 wins in its first 13 games as the Pioneers headed to San Diego to play in the prestigious The Holiday Classic.

With still more uncertainties with the pandemic and the postponements and/or cancellations of basketball and soccer games, the 605 League decided to count the first of the two league contests only in the event teams weren’t able to complete the customary home and home series. Artesia boys basketball won its first league title since 2007, but still won all 10 league games while Cerritos, Pioneer and Whitney girls basketball were tri-champs, all going 4-1.

Gahr boys basketball missed the playoffs for the third straight season while the girls made it five straight non-playoff seasons. However, the biggest boys basketball story came out of Glenn, which had its first winning season (14-13) in over 25 years and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. For added measure, the Eagles advanced to the quarterfinals

Despite a streaky season that saw the V.C. girls basketball team lose its first 11 games, then win the last three games of the Garden Grove Tournament, the Defenders would finish in a three-way tie for third place in the Olympic League for the third straight season and advance to the playoffs

In soccer action, it was status quo with league champions coming from the Artesia, Norwalk and V.C. boys and the Cerritos, La Mirada and V.C. girls. All six would not lose a league contest. Then, for the first time in school history, the Artesia boys program claimed a divisional championship as the Pioneers defeated Quartz Hill High 1-0 in overtime for the Division 5 title. Artesia ended the season 23-2-1 and won its fourth straight 605 League crown.

The Cerritos boys soccer team ended with a 7-9-3 mark and was tied for third place, but advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time where the Dons lost to Geffen Academy 1-0 while its girls basketball team was playing in the program’s first divisional championship game where it fell to La Salle High 64-51 in the Division 3-AA finals.

Meanwhile, the La Mirada boys basketball team hosted San Juan Hills High in the Division 2A championship game where it lost 59-49 in front of a packed crowd at the school’s renovated and roomy gymnasium.

In the spring. Cerritos was celebrating the school’s 50th anniversary and the festivities began with a time capsule from 25 years ago being removed from inside the walls of the gymnasium. Martin Rodriguez began his first season as the Cerritos baseball coach, replacing Brooks Walling who resigned a few months earlier.

Shortly before the softball season started, the Norwalk and softball community mourned the passing of Vic Juan, who was to have been the head coach of the Lancers. Fred Perez replaced him and coached the team to a 20-8 season, the program’s first 20-win season in over 25 years.

In late March, I did a feature on Genera (Chaminade University) and former Cerritos softball star Jennifer Morinishi (Biola University) as their teams faced each other for a pair of doubleheaders at Biola.

The first week of May would see the area’s two powerhouse baseball teams, Gahr and La Mirada, meet in what would a preview of what to expect for a long time as the schools will now be league rivals of the new Suburban Valley Conference. It’s a merger of the SGVL and Suburban League with the 11 charter members to be divided into the Gateway and Mid-Cities Leagues based on CIF-SS power rankings on a sport by sport basis.

The playoffs would see Artesia and Norwalk baseball advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and 2013 respectively with the former getting to the second round. Cerritos baseball won its 26th straight 605 league game while Gahr posted its fewest wins, 12, since the 1998 campaign when that team went 13-12. Still, it was good enough for second place in the SGVL.

In softball playoffs, Gahr went to the Division 1 semifinals before losing to Roosevelt High 3-0 while Norwalk fell in the quarterfinals to El Toro High 4-3 in Division V action.

On tennis courts, the Cerritos boys edged Nordhoff High 10-8 to win the Division 4 championship while in Division 3 action, Whitney lost to Flintridge Prep 15-3 in the title match.

Not much went on this summer except for the Artesia Punishers program staying busy, culminating in the 18 Gold team losing a pair of games this past Tuesday in the PGF National Championships after winning 3-2 in the first game of bracket play a day earlier.

Wow, that’s a lot over the past 25 years, and more, at the Los Cerritos Community News. I know I probably missed a key story here and there, but I look forward to covering more events, championship games and interviewing new athletes, coaches, school personnel and community residents.

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