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Cerritos High fall season senior athletes anxious to get games in


Cerritos high school logo, don

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of recognizing the area high school seniors of the fall season sports who have had their seasons cancelled or limited because of COVID-19.


Cerritos High fields five athletic programs in the revised 2020-2021 fall season the CIF-Southern Section put together last July, and the seniors of those programs are crossing their fingers that they will have an opportunity to put their uniforms on at least one last time before their seasons officially come to an end. What once looked bleak a few months ago seems more promising based on the news the CIF-SS gave last Friday, in which the fall season sports can return to play as early as today if their county reaches at least 14 cases or fewer per 100,000.

Those numbers were updated this past Tuesday and Los Angeles County’s case rate dipped to 12.3, which means the fall sports can return for practicing and eventually games. Boys and girls cross country has already begun at several schools within the CIF-SS and other parts of the state and with an end date of Mar. 27, that gives Cerritos head coach Jason Watanabe one month to get up to three cluster meets in.

“It’s a little tough in the sense that we haven’t started while other schools have actually been competing, mainly Orange Country, though,” Watanabe said. “But at the same time, we have been able to meet with our athletes and give them workouts. Obviously, it’s not the same.

“It’s looking hopeful, and like I said, I don’t like to give people false hope,” Watanabe later said of returning to action. “But it’s looking hopeful that we might be able to have at least some competition, whether it’s just a handful of schools or our league schools with a limited cap to be able to race this year.”

He added that instead of the whole team running together, some of them have branched off to run in smaller groups. They have also been logging their workouts, but Watanabe isn’t sure how accurate they are.

Since cross country is good to go in the county, Watanabe said he is hoping to run a junior varsity team, with a cap on the runners, and the two varsity teams, which would be no more than seven runners each. That would mean there would be no more than 42 boys’ runners and no more than 42 girls’ runners for each 605 League varsity race. The ideal dates of the league races would be Mar. 13, 20 and 27 and would be held on the Cerritos High campus. It’s also important to note that the CIF-SS previously cancelled all fall sports championships but gave its member schools the option of still competing if and when that time came.

Normally, the 605 League cross country action would be at Don Knabe Park and La Mirada Regional Park. But for this season, the three league meets at Cerritos would begin on the soccer field so that the runners would have the ability to make a wide start. From there, the runners then go towards the black top and onto the track where the runners would make one complete lap on the track before going around the entire grass portion to the baseball field. The runners then would go back on the blacktop, around the gymnasium to the parking lot along Bloomfield Ave., through the school before making a left in front of the office and proceeding towards the other parking lot before making the same loop again and going around the baseball fields, but in reverse and ending on the track.

“I like to be straightforward in saying, ‘I’m not sure on this, but this is what I’m hearing’,” Watanabe said of returning to play. “I never want to say, ‘we’re going to start here’ and then say, ‘no, we’re going to start in two more weeks’. I’m always really cautious on what information I give them.

“We were lucky enough that we actually physically have a class on Zoom,” he continued. “So, I’ve been able to go over things like focusing on goals and mental strength and preparation.”

Watanabe also said that the social aspect part has been key as he has been giving the runners a lot of activities to do online, like online paint night and online breakout rooms where each of the captains organize activities for the athletes so they can meet each other. He said that by using this type of social connection, it will give them the motivation that they need.

The seniors of the Cerritos cross country program are: Ahmer Abbasi, Mohit Agrawal, Chris Amaro, Anuska Bimali, Kaela Brickner, Samantha Chang (captain) , Nathan Choi, Kellie Fernandez, Andrew Gillispie, Anrei Giordano (captain), Kevin Hamakawa (captain), Micah Hernandez, Noah Hong, Kuval Ingale, Kyli Joe, Seung Jung, Emilie Kim, Kayla Kim, Jayson Malhi, Adrean Martin, Kenneth Masa, Evaristo Mateo, Donita Mercado, Eric Perez, Rahul Pratap, Prisila Rodriguez, Naman Satish, Keoni Usi (captain), Sofia Vasquez (captain) and Isaac Yi.

The girls volleyball team, who are coming off a stellar 2019 season that saw the Lady Dons finish at 25-6, including a perfect 605 League campaign in 10 matches, had eyes of another strong season and a deeper run in the Division 4 playoffs. Last season, the Lady Dons were bounced out in the second round by La Serna High, falling in five sets. Cerritos has had consecutive seasons of at least 24 victories, the first time that has happened to the program in over two decades, and the Lady Dons have yet to lose a 605 League match.

Head coach David Cuthbert, who is in his eighth season, has amassed 119 victories and was returning four seniors with middle blocker/right side hitter Madison Agabon and libero/defensive specialist Maile Grace Tabon being the top two of those four.

Tabon has been on varsity for three seasons and Cuthbert says she has been a major contributor to the program’s success over the past two years and was expected to be the team’s starting libero and team captain. Agabon, who also would have been a captain, has been on the varsity squad for two seasons and would have been a big presence for the program, according to Cuthbert.

Setter Livia Bui, a three-year varsity athlete, and defensive specialist/libero Loren Kim, who has been with the varsity team for two years, are the other key returning seniors. Cuthbert said that Bui is a ‘very capable setter’ who has backed up a previous four-year starting setter the past two seasons and Kim was expected to play significantly more this season.

Cerritos also has six other seniors who are new to the team: right side hitter/middle blocker Kassidy Alabanza, middle blocker Breanna Cuison, defensive specialist Samantha Davalos, outside hitter Taylor Kim, defensive specialist Kaisie Rivera and defensive specialist Leilani Sison.

“During this challenging time, the girls volleyball program has continued to do live workouts two times a week and we were able to get a couple of on-campus practices in late 2020 before the [COVID-19] numbers spiked,” Cuthbert said. “We are hopeful to be able to get some volleyball contact in later this year to help us prepare for next season. There is going to be a lot of change as we will have new faces in the fall of 2021. But we have a strong junior class that will be vital in ensuring the traditions and culture that our program has built over the past few seasons will survive going forward. In the couple of practices we were able to get in, I was able to meet our freshmen and see them in person and I believe our freshmen class this season is probably one of the best and certainly deepest classes I’ve had since I started coaching at Cerritos.”

The last date that girls volleyball can play a match is Mar. 20 and although the case rate for Los Angeles County has gone from 20.0 last Friday to 12.3 this past Tuesday, it’s unsure how many matches the Lady Dons will play, if they do, before Mar. 20. According to a release last Friday, CIF-SS Commissioner of Athletics Rob Wigod said the office will continue to be in discussions with Governor Gavin Newsom’s office and the California Department of Public Health on a plan for return for the indoor sports.

It has been tough going for the football program, which has struggled for the past 19 seasons and has had one winning season during that time. On top of that, Brad Carter, who was hired a year ago to become the program’s ninth head coach since 2006, has yet to coach a game with his new school.

The program has until Apr. 17 to play how many games it seems fit and according to the latest numbers and based on the recent scenarios the CIF-SS put out, it was eligible to condition as early as this past Tuesday, be in pads as soon as today and play its first game as soon as Mar. 11, if it chooses so. That would give the Dons up to six games. There are other scenarios with corresponding dates where teams could play five or four games.

“Our entire school and coaching staff are extremely proud of our football seniors,” Carter said. “To say they have overcome great adversity would be a complete understatement. They have continued to work hard each and every day, even though the possibility of a senior season becomes dimmer and dimmer. These players have set the foundation of excellence for years to come, and our program is forever grateful.”

The 2020 Cerritos senior football players are: Andrew Barron, Anthony Biacan, Nick De Giuseppe, Nathan Endo, Malekai Granflor, Gio Magana, Maanav Mehta, Joseph Quibrantar, Jace Ramirez, Andrew Ramos, Will Reed, Matt Rezendes, Jonathan Sagun, Chaz Sanchez, Derek Toguchi, Moises Vargas, Pablo Vega, Trent Wilson, Kfir Ben Yossef and Kenneth Fletcher.

Should football play some games, Quibrantar would be a possibility at the quarterback position while the Dons would boast a solid rushing attack led by Ramos (29 carries last season, 125 yards, one touchdown), Reed (13 carries, 127 yards, three touchdowns) and Vargas (99 carries, 634 yards, four touchdowns). Sanchez and De Giuseppe are the leaders in the wide receiving department, combining for 10 receptions and 288 yards with a pair of touchdowns last season while on defense, De Giuseppe (67 tackles, two interceptions), Endo (33 tackles), Quibrantar (46 tackles), Ramirez (48 tackles, six and a half sacks), Reed (29 tackles, four and a half sacks) and Sagun (36 tackles) would pace the Dons.

Among some of the comments Carter said on a few of his seniors, Barron is a ‘leader in the trenches for the Dons’, Magana ‘leads a strong rushing attack for the Dons due to his strength and speed’, Ramirez is ‘a quarterback’s worst nightmare with his strength and speed on the edge’ and Vargas is ‘one of our biggest weapons on the offensive side of the ball and is a player that opponents must know where he is at on every play’.

Again, with no playoffs in the picture, the Dons could have St. Pius-St. Matthias Academy, Segerstrom High, John Glenn High, Artesia High and Pioneer High on the potential docket. Those would have been the final five games on the revised schedule put out late in 2020.

Normally, girls water polo is played in the winter months, but has been grouped with boys water polo for the 2020-2021 athletic season. Head coach Al Reyes said that the program really wanted to have the chance to compete this year, but with or without a season, the seniors from the 2020 boys team and the seniors of the 2020-2021 girls team will always hold a special place in his heart. The end date for water polo is also Mar. 20.

The seniors from the boys team are Landon Blechinger (captain), Eric Estrada (captain), Kobe Hurtado (captain), Jose Linares, Thomas Luther, Layth Sabha and Dave Son. The seniors from the girls team are Jillian Crockett (captain), Jillian Gerial (captain), Kaya Glynn (captain) and Priscilla Perez.

“There is no doubt in my mind that given the chance, these 11 leaders would have led us to more victories and championships this year,” Reyes said.